I still remember the day 12 years ago when my daughter was born. She was 6 pounds, 3 ounces of tiny perfection. We named her Sarah, after my grandmother, an incredible woman and the eldest of 9 siblings. Her involvement in charities and community organizations was so legendary that news of her death made the front page of newspapers across North Carolina. My little Sarah has quite a name to live up to.
But Google CEO Eric Schmidt thinks that Sarah should change her name when she reaches adulthood according to an interview he recently gave with the Wall Street Journal. Apparently there will be so much baggage attached to her name, and to the name of every other child growing up in an age when youthful antics and indiscretions remain on permanent display in cyberspace, easily accessible via Google searches or Facebook and other social media, that every kid will want a new name by age 21.
In that same interview, Schmidt said, "I don't believe society understands what happens when everything is available, knowable and recorded by everyone all the time." Sadly, he is right.
I conducted a little experiment the other day. I told an intern at our office to use the internet to find out as much as he could about me in ten minutes. The only data he could use to launch his investigation were my name and the fact that I am the CEO of TigerText.
In about the same amount of time as it takes for me to make my kids' breakfast on Saturday morning, he discovered my entire work history, dating back to jobs I had almost 20 years ago, and including where I went to college and business school. He even knew my salary at several of those jobs. Not concerned yet? There's more.
He knew the names of all of my children, where they go to school, and the names of their after school sports teams. He knew not only my wife's maiden name, but the name of her father's business and address. He knew what political party I supported and to which politicians I had made donations. He knew about several vacations I had taken with my family, where I lived, and other more personal items that I am now trying to expunge from my cyber file.
The simple truth is that Google and the rest of corporate America store too much data about us without our knowledge or consent.
Google had already indexed about 8 billion pages of information on the internet by 2005, the last year for which it made such data available. In 2008, the company revealed that it had mined more than a trillion unique pages for data, with plans to mine several billion more. Because so many pages are now automatically generated from the storage of new information, some internet experts say the World Wide Web is essentially infinite. Out there in that infinite universe are many of the most private details of our lives... and we have no control over what businesses access and manipulate them.
According to Schmidt, "We know roughly who you are, roughly what you care about, roughly who your friends are." The more you post, search, email, or text, the more roughly turns into exactly. He is working toward a future in which Google does not just answer the questions of internet users, but tells them "what they should be doing next."
Are you shocked and appalled by the fact that every aspect of your biography and consumption patterns is tracked, mined, mapped, and sold? Are you concerned about the easy access that any individual and every company has to these data points that, in the aggregate, define you?
Instead of telling people to change their name to escape the virtual paper trail of their youth and working to convince internet users that they can leave their thinking to corporate America, Google and Facebook should provide us with a straightforward way to put data about ourselves through a cyber shredder if and when we see fit. But the less they know about you, the less they can profit from you, so don't count on anything changing anytime soon, unless we demand it. The time is now for a privacy revolution to begin.
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