Monday, October 3, 2016

Trusting The Web

Recently, I was asked by a friend (the same friend that introduced my to drones, BTW) if I trusted Google.  In the context of our conversation of the time, the implication was that that might not be the wisest thing to do.  At the time, my answer was highly qualified:
"I trust them to do things that are good for Google.  And abusing what they know about me and everyone else that uses their services is will only be good for them in the short term.  If they go to far, then people will stop using their services and they will stop making money for their shareholders."
 - Schmoid
 Which is only a sort-of answer.  And, as things like this often do, it got me thinking.  Should we trust the large tech companies that know so much about us: Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.?  I don't really like my answer above, so I'm going to type my way into a better one.  Come along for the ride, why don't you?

What is 'Trust'?

As a humanities major, semantics are always a good place for me to start.  The applicable Merriam-Webster definition is "belief that someone or something is reliable, good, honest, effective, etc."  Using that as a jumping off point, I do trust these tech companies for some of those words: certainly 'reliable' and 'effective'.  It's the 'good' and 'honest' that are in question.

Google used to have "Don't Be Evil" as their corporate motto, but that did not survive the transition to Alphabet.  And even when it was the motto, it came into question often, especially when they started tracking users across all of their services (search, YouTube, G+, etc.) and not keeping a user's interactions with each different service separate.  It's not a good slogan for a corporation anyway because (back to semantics) there are too many definitions of what is evil and Google will never be able to avoid them all.


So, I can't trust Google, or any large multi-national entity to be 'good' because, as it is the opposite of evil, there are too many ways to violate it.  But can I trust them to be honest?  To do what they say they are going to do.  Here, I think the answer is YES.

The trouble is: What do they say that they are going to do?  Those are all of those T & C's that we all scroll through quickly, click 'Agree' and move on, otherwise we don't get what we want.    That's what they say they are going to do.  I trust them to do whatever is in there because otherwise they get sued.  That's the whole point of those T & C's: to protect them from getting sued.  That costs money and losing money is bad for any corporation.

The Real Question

So, that's what I trust them to do.  But I have been dancing around answering the real question behind "Do I trust Google [and all of the others like Google]?" which is, "Do I trust them with my personal information and not to abuse what they know about me?"

I trust them to use that information to make money.  To sell what they know about me to others who then want to advertise to me.  I'm comfortable with this level of use.  After all, it's been going on for centuries, Google et al have merely figured out how to do it more efficiently and more targeted.  Most of these companies have clauses that keep the advertiser from seeing the data from a specific individual.  Instead, the advertiser provides a collection of attributes and the tech companies post ads to people with those attributes.

Who Else Has Access

I also trust them to argue with the government as to what rights the government has to view that collected information without a warrant or without paying for it.  I also trust them to lose.  And for we wee citizens to not know when our information has been shared with government agencies.

This is the scary part: not that Google and its like will use the information themselves for 'evil', but that they have the information at all.  If they have it, it will get used.  And in a world of data breaches, they cannot guarantee who will be using it.  In the war between firewalls and hacking, hacking will always win.  Eventually.  Somehow.  Unless they disconnect the information from the rest of the world, but then it's no use to anyone.  It has to be used, therefore it can be hacked.

Bottom Line: I trust Google to do what they say they are going to do.  I don't trust their security.

Back to wearing a tinfoil hat.  Schmoid out.

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