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Google Outrages Me

What will be the next sneaky trick they pull? What will it do to me next?

Patrick Powers

I use the forum at a web site for artists. I posted that I liked the harmony singing of a famous band. I go back to Youtube and all of the sudden I see four recommendations of that band. What the heck? Is the artists' forum sending everything I write to Google?

Well, not exactly. Google has a robot that scans that forum constantly. Everything that is posted there goes into their data base pronto.

I also post on a very obscure web site. Before I came there no one had posted anything for a month. But it is the same deal. Everything turns up in Google search almost immediately. I was quite impressed with how thorough they are. I mean, if they are watching such an extremely low-traffic site, then they watching everywhere.

Now there is nothing illegal or even unethical about that. It's a public place. But I'd rather they didn't use that info. If I type in a brand name then their advertising may follow me around. That happened when I mentioned Diane von Furstenburg in an email. For a month her advertising appeared every cyberwhere I went. No problem, I kind of liked her style. But what if I had typed in that brand name because I found DvF advertising intolerable? Gross. Do I have to start writing about MacD*nalds and W*lm*rt so as not to trigger some robot?

Well, I found out. It started when I dared to use "Sex" in an email title. Physics and Sex. Their robots decided I'd make a good candidate for anime porn. Not good, believe me.

I always knew that they could use my data to target advertising, but that seemed OK. Google provides a most useful service for free, they need to make their dough somehow. But once it began to actually happen, it was like seeing your reflection distorted in a funhouse mirror. The worst part is that once it starts you can't stop it. All you can do is not rise to the bait and wait a month or so for the storm to pass.

What to do? I can't stop them from collecting my public posts. As to email, if I change to another email provider then Google will still get all the email that I send to Gmail users. Even going to Free Software Foundation stuff would not make any difference unless I go the whole nine yards and use anonymizing software. But if I use that then I draw the attention of the NSA. I'm starting to get the feeling that I cannot win this game. The only way out is to friggin' stop using the Internet.

I was hooked, with no Twelve Step program to guide me. But I could make a small symbolic gesture. I'd get off of Gmail. I'd change to new email provider. That'll show 'em. Or so I thought.

Google has made it as difficult as possible for me to get my sent mail out of Gmail. Indeed, with the computer I have I can't reclaim my email at all. I'd have to buy a new one or else do the job at the library. I have mucho email, so even with a new computer it would take weeks of tedious labor. Smart of them. It just isn't worth it. I had no idea I was walking into this trap when I signed up for their service. Very sneaky.

Note that Gmail has no such difficulty moving my email about. They can copy the entire bulk of it with ease. It is only I who is faced with onerous difficulty in copying my email. Google can access it just fine. whom doth said email belong? Them or me?

Sadly, I must conclude that my email belongs to them. They control it, I don't. If I delete my copies, they will keep theirs. Not only that, they can deny me access to "my" email. They did that to me once. Google wouldn't let me log in until I coughed up my telephone number.

So I started to shop around. Then at least Google wouldn't be able to hold my further email hostage. Any other US service is...well, you know. How about overseas? I'll get this global citizen thang working in my favor.

There's Protonmail. It's from Switzerland. Run by former CERN employees. Their symbol is a photo of the Matterhorn. It's encrypted. How respectable can you get? But... so many people want the service that I had to get on a waiting list. And protonmail has been subjected to heavy denial-of-service attacks. Someone doesn't like what they are doing. Do I want to get involved in that?

It could be worse. I could have a smart phone. The service agreement empowers them to record everything, including all of your passwords.

But what bugs me most is what will happen next. What will be the next sneaky trick they will pull? Google has to make billions of dollars in profits every year to appease their investors. Google is hungry for money. What will it do to me next?

A few years back I thought of a short story where the marketing robots mistakenly decide that some poor schmuck loves hardcore porn. It surrounds him wherever he goes. His wife divorces him. His employers use the robot data to evaluate him, so he gets fired. His only hope of survival is to work in the .... porn industry. No one else will hire him. So now I've dared to use "porn" in a published article. This will go into the Google database immediately. What's going to happen to me now?

Maybe I'll just give up on computers and take up macrame. It would be a lot more restful.

Patrick Powers is a bass guitarist and poet, formerly of Bali, now living in northern Michigan.

Copyright © Patrick Powers. All rights reserved.