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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Editorial: The Googlebrain knows all

    The mission statements of most big companies are composed of incomprehensible corporate drivel about “”action-oriented energization”” or “”achieving market leadership and operating excellence”” slapped together into a passable paragraph.ÿPull up Google’s corporate homepage and the story is a little bit different. Its near-mythological mission is simple: “”to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”” And unlike most firms, over the last few years, it’s fulfilled that mission with remarkably rapid success.

    From humble beginnings as a simple search engine to today’s online information powerhouse – indexing e-mail, maps, books, images, videos, all the bytes it can get its digital hands on – Google, both on the Internet and in the marketplace, has had a meteoric rise. With a share price that topped $600 this week, and a market capitalization exceeding $195 billion, Google has the financial resources to pursue the otherwise impossible goal of becoming the Library of Alexandria for a digital world. More important, Google is an increasingly pervasive part of daily life. It’s even been immortalized in the haughtiest reference manual of all – last year, the verb “”to Google”” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary.

    Most students have probably used Google Maps to get directions, or pulled up satellite photos of their house on Google Earth. This week, Google rolled out a new feature; called “”Street View,”” it’s mapping software that allows Web surfers to scroll through virtual, panoramic on-the-ground images, just like walking down the street. Google has indexed street-view images in 15 major cities around the U.S. – and Tucson is one of them. Within Google Maps, it’s now possible to take a virtual tour of the UA campus from the privacy of your dorm room. There’s no doubt the technology is awe-inspiring. But the growing omniscience of Google is almost as unsettling as it is nifty.

    The street-view service has been a source of enduring criticism from privacy advocates. Google captured street-level images by mounting panoramic cameras atop trucks and driving them through the cities they photographed, later using computers to stitch the photos together. Although the photos were all legally taken from public roads, they’ve caught some drivers and pedestrians doing things they might wish remained private – a man scaling a chain-link fence, a car caught speeding on a digital read-out, and sunbathers and strip-club patrons galore. Quickly peruse the images on campus, and one can see pedestrians on University Boulevard, cyclists riding along the Mall and even a student headed into the Campus Recreation Center. Although Google voluntarily removed images of sensitive locations like women’s shelters – and photos can be flagged as “”inappropriate images”” – many users still find the service a tad troubling.

    Perhaps more troubling is the fact that Google’s phenomenal success – and usefulness – relies on the fact that users are willing to entrust the Googlebrain with more and more personal information – search logs, ad clicks, email, calendar events, documents, photos – to help it tailor search results and help make use of its massive knowledge database. Google is quickly becoming a custodian in charge of a huge repository of private information. As more and more of our lives are posted online and indexed by Google (and other search engines) we hope the private caretakers of hoards of personal data will follow their other, more informal mission: “”Don’t be Evil.””

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