Another extraordinary snippet from the WSJ interview with Eric Schmidt concerns the future of what Google wants to be able to do:
“We’re trying to figure out what the future of search is… We’re still happy to be in search, believe me. But… I actually think most people don’t want Google to answer their questions, they want Google to tell them what they should be doing next.”
If that sounds sort of…creepy…then his elaboration hardly makes things better:
“Because of the info Google has collected about you, we know roughly who you are, roughly what you care about, roughly who your friends are. Google also knows, to within a foot, where you are.” Mr. Schmidt leaves it to a listener to imagine the possibilities: If you need milk and there’s a place nearby to get milk, Google will remind you to get milk. It will tell you a store ahead has a collection of horse-racing posters, that a 19th-century murder you’ve been reading about took place on the next block.
“A generation of powerful handheld devices is just around the corner that will be adept at surprising you with information that you didn’t know you wanted to know.”
There are many things I don’t know. But I do know that I don’t want Google harvesting information about my every move in order to tell me things it thinks I might want to know. Why? Well, partly because of the way we know this will be paid for:
“The only way the problem [of insufficient revenue] is going to be solved is by increasing monetization, and the only way I know of to increase monetization is through targeted ads. That’s our business.”
“The power of individual targeting—the technology will be so good it will be very hard for people to watch or consume something that has not in some sense been tailored for them.”
In other words, this represents the final victory of consumer capitalism: at every turn we are fed information about what we should do – for which read ‘what we should buy’ – while data from our every act is harvested to more accurately target us for further marketing.
Our addiction to shiny new devices and technologies has to be fed somehow, and the big brands know this. They know that we will lap up ‘free technology’ – without quite realising that our free will will have been vanquished as we pay for it in advertising.
Now more than ever we need to tread carefully and this wisely about the places we want to allow big technology companies to have free access.