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Scott Cleland


Big Brother Inc.

Posted: 05/23/11 10:17 PM ET

Google Inc. has become a more intrusive and effective "Big Brother" than even George Orwell imagined in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Google knows what you want, think, believe, say, read, write, watch and intend to do.

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt once boasted: "Google's policy is to get right up to the 'creepy line' and not cross it." But they have crossed it. Without asking for permission, a Google Android phone tracks your location a thousand times a day; Google's search and ad-serving technologies track everywhere you go online; Google Street View cars photograph your house and eavesdrop on your wireless network; Google reads your email; and now Google is integrating all of the private information collected by their 500 products and services to create user profiles that make Facebook look, in contrast, merely skin deep.

Google may know you better than you know yourself and certainly better than Orwell's Big Brother could. Google knows everything about you because it is their business to know. Google is in the influence business; it clandestinely converts your private information into behavioral targeting data to fuel its $30 billion targeted advertising monopoly.

Consider the "creepy" ways that Google targets you:

Your Identity: Google is meticulous about identifying you so they can target you at all times. There's no hiding from Google; they have more creative ways to identify you than anyone -- most without your permission. Google's omnifarious applications harvest your name, street address, personal profile, and a host of digital identifiers including email addresses, IP addresses, wifi addresses, phone numbers, voiceprints (via Google Voice commands), faceprints (via Picasa pictures), your government ID numbers (Social Security, passport, license), your financial information (bank accounts and credit cards) and your medical records. Google is even investing in fingerprinting and DNA identification technologies.

Your Location: Google tracks you 24-7-365 to better target you. Google knows where you are, where you've been, and even where you plan to go through a variety of applications including Search, Android, Maps, Earth, Street View and Calendar.

Your Associations and Beliefs: Google profiles you to better target you. Google knows more about whom you associate with and what you believe than Facebook dreams of knowing. Through its 500 free products and services and especially search, Google knows many of your contacts and groups; Google knows your various categories of friends and relatively how close you are to them; Google knows where and when you gather and why; Google even knows your political and religious views intimately because Google tracks what you search, read, watch and do over a long period of time. Google has your heart in their digital crosshairs.

Your intentions: Google tests and measures you like a lab rat to best target you. Google knows your hopes, desires, fears, and prejudices -- all of your hot buttons. John Battelle famously described Google search as a "database of intentions." Given Google's near-worldwide monopoly of search advertising, Google knows what you like and don't like; what family, health or financial worries you have; what you most want to do; and essentially everything you are doing with your life, work and play.

What's wrong with being tracked by Google as a target? Consider that Google's private information on users has already fallen into the wrong hands -- for example, a rogue Google employee (like the one who stalked a group of teenagers last year), a hacker (like the Chinese hackers who stole Google's password system in 2009), a government spy agency (like the National Security Agency that reportedly is working with Google), or a law enforcement agency fishing for information without a subpoena (Google Chairman Schmidt has said Google must comply with such requests under the Patriot Act).

The virtual laser-dot target that Google has placed on your forehead without your knowledge or permission puts you in real danger of stalking, blackmail, theft, fraud, kidnapping, intimidation, harassment or arrest. This is not the type or amount of private information about citizens that should be collected, stored and analyzed in a free country; this is the type of aggressive tracking and profiling that only a Big Brother-like government would embrace.

In a free society, no one should be an unwitting tracking target -- whether for Big Brother or Big Brother Inc.

Scott Cleland is the author of the new book, Search & Destroy: Why You Can't Trust Google Inc. Visit

Disclosure: Scott is president of Precursor LLC, a research consultancy for Fortune 500 companies, including companies that compete with Google.