I just spent the past hour+ disconnecting from Google+. I was extremely disconcerted a few days ago when I googled Charleston County Airport for general information and my upcoming flight popped up at the top of search results.
The disconnecting was not easy. And by that I don't just mean Google doesn't make it easy to break-up -- and they don't -- I mean emotionally it was nearly traumatic. Because at this point in our relationship, Google and I have been together for so long that I don't know where they end and I begin. If I disconnect from Google+ what will they do to my Youtube account? I don't want to get notifications from Google+ that I didn't ask for, but now that we are no longer a thing, apparently I can't chat or have circles (whatever they are). I was surprised to find that my son and another friend were actually in my Youtube circle (or group or page or family), so that meant I was also cutting them off. I think. For all I know they aren't aware that they ever joined.
So it wasn't easy. The threats -- offered as "more information" -- sound scary. "Are you sure you want Google to stop notifying you when your children are in town?" "If you decide to decline to use your full name in every program in which Google has influence your driver's license will be revoked." "When you click on okay to terminate your participation in this program your identity will be wiped from your memory." The actual threats were little less ominous.
I love Youtube. I can learn how to do very nearly anything there. I only have a handful of videos myself, mostly of my foster kitties, so I never felt like I had much of a "profile" there. But a few months ago, Youtube began insisting that I give up my screen name and use my real name. I mean, really being pushy about it. And because we aren't that close, I kept saying no. But, now that I've split with Google+, I don't know whether I even have a name on Youtube; the warning sounded like if I quit I will forever more be nameless.
And while I'm at it, a good privacy rant just has to include Facebook. I don't ever put personal information on my Facebook page. A few years ago I was playing Words with Friends with my daughter, and a minute after I had searched Expedia for hotels in Providence, my Words with Friends page had Providence hotel suggestions. And I don't know how they found out I was overweight, but I got really angry about the weight loss ads. Are there really people out there who don't mind (or don't notice) that advertisers have got their number, weight-wise? As someone who believes one's religion and one's weight should be private, these ads are as offensive as the spam email that thinks I want a larger penis. And who knows what will happen now that I've typed the word "penis" in my blog.
Anyway, shortly after Facebook stepped over the line with their targeted ads, I became aware that Gmail also had targeted ads based on words I had included in mail I had sent out. Like, if I send an email to my daughter telling her a mutual friend is pregnant, the next time I look at my email, there will be ads for pregnancy kits. That's just yucky.
Targeted ads alongside your gmail is like sending someone a letter in a sealed envelope and mentioning that you were concerned about your drinking and then getting mail and phone calls from rehab centers. Except that now, today, everyone can see your email. And your Facebook page. Especially advertisers, and followed by our government. Then come the people that Facebook, Google+ and all those other overinvolved software geeks have decided you should want to include in anything you put out online.
I don't know whether it's worse that people don't know about all this, or the fact that those that do know aren't horrified.
And the absolute worst thing about all this lack of privacy and personal control is that I -- myself -- am ambivalent, mostly because of what I don't know is happening to all this information. I like that I am not going to lose emails I want to keep; when I decided to stop using Outlook a number of years ago, I lost all the wonderful emails my kids had sent me when they were much younger, that if they had been snail mail would still be in a box somewhere. And, to be perfectly honest, even though it's so much easier to stay in touch today, I would love to have those letters in a box.
What is this "cloud?" And what is Google going to be keeping on those barges? Why is it that, the less tangible my information is to me, the more is collected about me?
Let me end on a happy note. At some point, Google search began putting ads at the top of my search results. Not ads in an separate box like they used to. These were ads that looked like search results. So I looked around and found a website with a free download called AdBlock. It's wonderful. It's as though you have free will in determining what you want to see online. Not that you actually do have free will, but it is almost just like it.