For one, business models and advertising campaigns will adapt, but the cloud also pushes every private thought further into the realm of search engine aggregation, and every private document into the realm of advertising.
At the moment and to some extent our pictures and our emails have had a home in other people’s servers for some time. But now the brands, like Google, that we’ve come to love and trust want to own and to control all of our data. This may or may not be as ominous as I just phrased it, but it’s certainly a change. And it’s a change because you technically and truthfully have at least a little less right to your own stuff when it’s in the cloud than you do when it’s housed in your own hardware.
Put another way, I own what’s on my computer, you may be able to hack it, but my information is, and has been since the beginning of personal computing, housed inside my own home or office. But in the very near future my information, all of it, from spreadsheets, to essays, to anything I might have saved on my computer will now be saved in the cloud; which is just a cute euphemism for expressing the accurate statement that Google now houses and protects everything I do in digital. And that is everything. If my digital footprint were a carbon footprint, I’d be very big indeed.
But what is the cloud? More importantly, what is Google, and what will it do with my information? To begin, and to my understanding, Google is a company that sells an audience to advertisers. Google has an audience, and that audience is anyone who uses their free services. But in exchange for their free services, Google sells user’s information. In the case of Gmail what you’re looking at in the email’s text becomes the basis upon which advertisements are posted. Likewise, when a business or individual purchases adwords or keywords from Google their advertisements or messages will either surface first in the Google paid search section or along the side column in the advertising box. In this way your searches are a commodity.
Of course hosting your digital life in the cloud will be no different. But if it is a little different, at least at first, and no ads are posted on your screen while you use Google docs, then Google is going to mine the data you store with it and sell that information in other and ever more creative ways. This is not to say that you’re information is for sale per se, but that information about your information or calculations drawn from your information will be for sale. This manner of storage changes our understanding of privacy.
Ultimately storing something in the cloud is not like putting something in a locked box, nor should it be. But this is not the point; the idea of privacy will no longer be the same in the cloud as in your computer. Security in the case of your digital imprint is not perfectly secure. Neither of course is a locked box. But the box conforms to traditional ideas of privacy, and does not have Google spiders crawling over it, or the Google mind considering it.
With regard to how Google plans to use the cloud consider that its former CEO Eric Schmidt said in a forum back in ’06 that, “What's interesting [now] is that there is an emergent new model...I don't think people have really understood how big this opportunity really is. It starts with the premise that the data services and architecture should be on servers. We call it cloud computing – ” But what he described as emergent then is here now or will be very shortly and will come to define how we interact with the digital world.
In the same forum Schmidt went on to say: “the analogous thing that happened to make this [i.e. the cloud] possible that I certainly didn't see 10 years ago was the development of advertising in this new forum.” And further to the point: “And so what's interesting is that the two – cloud computing and advertising – go hand-in-hand.” But if cloud computing and advertising go hand in hand so too does advertising and reading your documents. In order to advertise well, they’ve go to target, and in order to target Google has to know what you’re working on in their cloud. This doesn’t mean they’ll tell people what’s in your underwear draw, but they’ll want to know so they can sell that information to people who make underwear.
The cloud does not necessarily represent a malignant force on the internet, nor is it necessarily a bad thing to get mined for data and have ads delivered into your digital device while you craft docs or build spreadsheets. This method will probably be good to at least drive down the price of laptops. In fact, why should Google even charge for their Chromebooks at all? What the development does bring up are some interesting questions about security and exactly what the definition of privacy is. In the end, privacy is having people see of you only what you want them to see. If that’s even possible. But if Google has access to not just public website data but also your whole digital life then when Schmidt says, “Google is simply an aggregator of information. And the people who publish that information had better have a pretty good reason for publishing it,” it’s wise to note that soon the data they aggregate will be everything about you. At least everything you do on your Chromebook.
Google credit scores anyone...