Don’t be evil.

Don’t be evil.


I am now using a Droid phone.

My whole life is on this device. My “real” email accounts and my “fake” ones – they’re all Gmail accounts and linked on the Gmail app. My phone numbers, credit card information and my real name. Facebook , blogs and tweets. It’s all conveniently tied together and linked to me (within a meter of my actual global position).

Google now has more on me than the United States Government. Comforting in that they’ll probably offer a better franchise, but can I trust them?

Certainly someone at Google has the ability to listen to and record everything I say or write on that phone. Have you used Google’s voice services? It’s no longer necessary to type text messages on a keyboard. Simply push a button and talk – the phone translates words into text and very rarely gets one wrong. This software can easily be programmed to listen all day long and perk up when it hears keywords – like “bomb”, “Jihad” or “Spaghetti Monster”.

I figure there are unlimited dystopian scenarios that arise from such an entanglement with Google. Go ahead and list a few. I have several. Naturally, there are also unlimited Utopian scenarios. List a few, I dare you.

The only way this ends well for me is to accept personal responsibility for my privacy and disentangle my life from Google.

This means I have to learn how to build my own server, host my own email, root my phone and install Linux on my computer. It’s possible, but it’s way harder.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

  • Aaron

    I’ve been on the Android bandwagon since it started, and I’ve never been happier. Technology is a beautiful thing.

    That said, I keep an eye on Google’s data retention policies, how they react to law enforcement, and what they do with all they have on me. So far they’ve managed to stay mostly not-evil with me.

    However, Google isn’t the only company playing this game, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s never trust companies. A company is an entity without the human advantage of a conscience.

    I think technology should always be pushed to the bleeding edge. But I also think that apropriate regulation on the government side, as well as public audit trails needs to follow just as fast.

    Google is playing it good so far, but right now there’s nothing keeping them from turning evil other than their own internal moral compass. And that’s not enough to trust.

  • Chris

    Google will follow the same trend line as all the rest who try to fight the man by becoming the man.

  • Jacob


    I switched from Blackberry and couldn’t be happier. I’m a big fan of technology. I’ve used GOOG-411 since it’s inception and always thought it was cool how Google offered that service to perfect it’s voice technology. I never knew what their purpose was until I got the Droid. I was like “Aha!” And MAN! is it good! Orwellian implications aside, speaking to send texts is great.

    At the same time, Google makes it too easy to rely on them. Their services are excellent and there are few restrictions. I depend on them for too much. That’s been ok with me for some time but I’m becoming uncomfortable with my dependence.

    But I also think that apropriate regulation on the government side, as well as public audit trails needs to follow just as fast.

    I don’t think the Federal Government is able (or even willing) to keep up with appropriate regulation. Currently there is adequate government influence, and I trust Google (at this point) to self-regulate. Chris has a point, however; who knows how long that will last?

    I linked to the Snow Crash idea of franchising because I find it somewhat plausible. Someone is going to have to pick up the slack as the Federal Government becomes more incompetent and irrelevant. Google is a likely candidate.

    I, for one, am going to limit my dependences until the point where everything falls apart and I have to make allegiances.

  • mdgeorge

    Not to brandish the tinfoil hat too much, but one thing that’s implicit in some of these “it’s good for now” posts is that you will know if and when and how google decides to become evil. It is not clear to me that this is the case.

  • Jacob


    You’re worried about the tin-foil hat when I just said that I find this somewhat plausible:

    In this hypothetical future reality the federal government of the United States has ceded most of its power to private organizations and entrepreneurs.[3] Franchising, individual sovereignty and private vehicles reign (along with drug trafficking, violent crime, and traffic congestion). Mercenary armies compete for national defense contracts while private security guards preserve the peace in gated, sovereign housing developments. Highway companies compete to attract drivers to their roads rather than the competitors’, and all mail delivery is by hired courier. The remnants of government maintain authority only in isolated compounds where they transact tedious make-work that is, by and large, irrelevant to the dynamic society around them.


    Either way. Like Aaron said, you just have to pay attention to what they’re doing with your information and their money and influence. For my part, I’m disentangling a little bit for my own comfort.

  • mw

    Interested to hear your experience. I’ve got about 9 months to run on my Palm Pre /Sprint contract, then I’ll probably go the same route. I’ll wait to see the next generation of devices on the droid platform. I love the Palm Pre, it is a great UI, but unfortunately did not catch on and it’s now a tech orphan. HP bought Palm, and I expect to see a kick-ass Ipad style device from them using the Palm Pre OS.

    I’m grateful to Steve Jobs and Apple, because they’ve made everybody else in the mobile space get much much better much much faster than they wanted to, but I can’t bring myself to buy Apple products. First, the products are too expensive, but more importantly all Apple Ipad/Iphone/Ipod users are extremely annoying. Also there is the whole Steve Jobs – “I know what you need better than you do, and you don’t need adobe flash or a real keyboard.” – ethos. Really annoying.

    On the laptop I’ve tried to stick with open source software. Thunderbird for an e-mail client, Firefox browser, Oracle/Sun Open Office for WP, spreadsheet and presentations. It’s good enuf. Have not tired to go the linux route yet. A bridge too far.

    I’m committed to the google blogger platform, but won’t use gmail except for blogging, temporary and/or spam catching e-mail accounts. I also won’t let them index my local drives for search. It is great to have all the technology available from google in the cloud, but they have to stay in cloud. I don’t want them on my drives. That’s where I draw the line with them.

    Net net… I always think back to a Scott McNeely quote, when he was asked over 10 years ago about privacy concerns in the internet age:

    “There is no privacy. Get over it.”

  • Chris

    Jacob, sounds like a tea party wet dream.

  • Jacob


    Thanks. I will keep you appraised.

    I’ve read excellent reviews from Pre users but have no experience myself with the GUI.

    I made the switch to Mac about 1.5 years ago with a Macbook Pro. There are things I really like about it – mostly that it always works and it’s pretty – but I don’t understand it at any fundamental level. Half the time I can’t even figure out where I’ve saved stuff and how to retrieve it.

    My wife is going to take over the Macbook and I’m going to install Ubuntu on the older Gateway Notebook. We’ll see if I can understand it like I do Windows.

    I also have an iPad and I’m like a living/breathing commercial for the thing. It is the single best device I’ve ever owned for consuming media (books, news, blogs, Netflix). That being said, I can’t wait to see what HP and everyone else comes out with. As long as there’s a Kindle app, call me curious.


    That’s a great point. The world Stephenson creates in this book is fantastic but plausible, there’s not a lot of suspended belief necessary to see that future. The weird part is that I don’t think it’s such a bad place – more like another step on the evolutionary path.

    Has anyone else read Neal Stephenson? MW, you might really like In the beginning there was the Command Line, an non-fiction essay that tells the story of MAC, PC and Linux from the experience of a programmer (who happens to be one of the most gifted writers of Generation X).

  • Tully

    Jacob: Read him, met him, have first editions signed/inscribed (to me) of most of his fiction including Snow Crash and Zodiac.

    The contract on my Verizon TP2 runs out this summer. Already started my casual research, with an eye towards balancing Quotient of Evil versus Functionality. If my eventual choice works with my folding Bluetooth keyboard, that’s also a plus.

  • Chris

    Jacob, I have all his books and also have some signed first editions. Not to compete with tully, but it’s the truth. He’s one of my favorite authors. I see that as a plausible future, but not one worth working towards. I think he was more visionary in Diamond Age however.

    Google is going all facebook on us, inadvertently…

  • mw

    @Jacob, @Tully, @Chris,
    Enjoyed the “In the beginning article”, as it mirrored some of my experience watching and participating in the PC market from the early days. I was so enamored of that new market I quit HP in ’79 to work at one of the first retail computer stores in Kansas City selling Commodore Pets, TRS-80’s, Altos and Apple II’s. Bad move then, but put me on a path that turned out pretty good later.

    In his OS history, Stephenson missed one of the most interesting and compelling stories of the early era. The leading OS was Gary Kildall’s CP/M and MP/M which was years ahead of Microsoft’s PC-DOS. The story goes that IBM showed up for an appointment at Digital Research to license C/PM to be the OS for their entry into the PC market. It was only after Kildall stiffed them because he was too busy hang gliding to make the meeting, that IBM called Bill Gates. If Kildall makes that meeting, Bill Gates is managing a string of Starbucks franchises today.

    I’ve only read one of Stephenson’s books – “Cryptomonicon”. Enjoyed it, and intended to read Snow Crash but never got around to it. For my sci-fi dsytopian virtual world reading, William Gibson is my favorite – Neuromancer /Count Zero / All Tomorrow’s Parties / Idoru / Pattern Recognition.

    Which reminds me, I am a couple of books behind with Gibson – off to
    Amazon to pick up Spook Country and Zero History.

  • Jacob

    I knew I liked you guys. Hard to say, but I think my favorite was The Baroque Cycle trilogy. I’m planning on rereading them soon.

    MW, I read Spook Country last year. I’ll hold my comments until you’ve read it.

    Tully, I’ve read about people using a bluetooth keyboard with the Evo. I’m not sure if you have to be rooted, though. It would be nice with the built-in kickstand!

  • Tully

    The TP2 props up on the stand on the keyboard, which is one of these. I did NOT pay anywhere near the prices shown there, though. I think it set me back $40 or so on Ebay. Useful gadget.

  • Chris

    I’ve read a number of gibson books, but I just never really liked any of them that much. I read for entertainment, much like watching movies and participating on internet forums.

  • kranky kritter

    Loved everything about Cryptonomicon except for how in the end it sort of petered out. But then, endings to novels can be really hard. It did a wonderful job with its scope, weaving together storylines from different eras. That’s a lot of stuff to juggle. I imagine the planning for writing such stuff can be quite challenging,. although in the modern era one can use databases and probably customized software to help ensure consistency.