When most of us hear the word "Google" we think search engine. When we hear "Emu" we think a big Australian bird with long legs that doesn't fly. Put the two together however and you end up with something entirely new and frankly, rather scary. That's because the Emu in question here is a company just purchased by Google that offers a brand new channel for Google to spy on what you do and sell what it finds, privacy be damned.
I get that this sounds like a Chicken Little "sky is falling" metaphor, but sadly it is not. In fact, you might want to wear a hard helmet as you read on. Emu is, or I should say was, a startup with a cool mobile messaging app. Part instant messaging client, part Siri-type virtual assistant, the app can monitor everything you are talking about when you chat. Objectively, such an app sounds useful. It could be a great time-saver and a big help by offering useful suggestions. But that's not the reality here, not when there's profitability involved based on your private data.
So what is really happening underneath Emu? The app uses an artificial intelligence engine to snoop through all your messages and then share what it finds to help you act on your messages. Like a well-seasoned stalker, the app does all this behind the scenes, letting you go about your day with no idea what is lurking in the bushes. All you see are the results that pop up as a result of your text. When you describe it that way, it sounds kind of creepy, no?
Just to be clear here, Emu currently doesn't use the app this way. But the technology was specifically designed to enable such a scenario. And after all, this is Google; the data hog that was fined $22.5-million for tracking Safari users in "cookiegate." Clearly Google didn't buy the company for what it is doing, but rather for what it can do, and that is to fill the "chat" hole in Google's ad offerings by inserting relevant links and flooding you with targeted ads. In the end, that means a new channel for advertising based on a tried and true methodology of ignoring the privacy of what you share and with whom.
Google is not alone in this endeavor. Last month, Facebook announced that its mobile app users would be forced to download the separate Facebook Messenger app in order to use the chat function. Foursquare just rolled out a new version that, by default, tracks your movements continuously, negating the need for a "check in" button. The story is the same, with the names, dates, and faces changed to protect the not-so innocent.
At what point does this all end? Do we need every avenue we use to communicate and search online mined and spied upon? This is but another sign of large service providers seeing how far they can push before people push back.
I truly feel that a shot heard round the world is on our horizon, one that pushes people over the line to take unanimous action. Companies big and small should reflect which side they are on and which side they want to be on in the aftermath. Those that choose wisely will be the ones who have true privacy and respect for their members integrated with their profitability models. Those that don't, regardless of the size and space they currently take, will become a footnote in history and a lesson on how not to do business.
As Emus go, this one won't fly.
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