Yesterday, I was checking out the “new and improved” Google Now feature on my iPhone, and when I pulled up the weather card, I was met with this remarkable temperature:  125 degrees in the light rain in Jersey City at 11:18 in the morning.

What?

Huh!

I quickly checked my other favorite weather site — forecast.io — on my iPad, and learned the actual temperature in Jersey City was a balmy, but humid, 75 degrees with scattered rain.  A 50 degree bogus increase in temperature is a really bad result from a company you pay to trust.

It was a little alarming to see how bluntly and boldly Google Now delivered the absolutely wrong — and dangerous! — temperature.  Sure, mistakes happen, but there was no subsequent notification, or even acknowledgement later, that the 125 degree temperature was a hiccough in the Google world — and that should concern us all.

When Google burps, we all involuntarily swallow.

When we give the entirety of our lives over to the internet and, in particular, to one of the Big Stacks — like Google and Microsoft and Apple and Facebook and Twitter — we are asking for massive trouble for living in the forsaken safety of that technological bubble.

Here’s what I think: Your technology will work perfectly within the silo and with an individual stacks’s (temporary) allies. But it will be perfectly broken at the interfaces between itself and its competitors.

That moment where you are trying to  do something that has no reason not to work, but it just doesn’t and there is no way around it without changing some piece of your software to fit more neatly within the silo?

That’s gonna happen a lot: 2013 as the year of tactically broken bridges.

When all Google services dropped offline for two minutes last week and 40% of web traffic died in situ, we should begin to realize we may be communally invested a bit too much in a single silo:

We’re aware of a problem with Gmail affecting a significant subset of users. The affected users are able to access Gmail, but are seeing error messages and/or other unexpected behavior. We will provide an update by 8/16/13 8:37 PM detailing when we expect to resolve the problem. Please note that this resolution time is an estimate and may change.
The incident lasted 1-5 minutes.

In March of 2004, Gmail was still in Beta.  If you wanted to get in early on having a righteous Gmail email address before the open, madding, stampede, you had to pay to play.

Beta testers were selling Gmail invitations on eBay for $40.  I shelled out the money to get the email address I desired — but my excitement was tempered by a tech support person who was working at the university where I was teaching.

The Tech argued he would never have a Gmail account because Google “scans the email and reads it to give you contextual advertising.  Sure it’s free email, but you pay by losing your privacy.”

After considering his argument for a moment, I asked him what difference it made if Google computers were parsing email to present an Ad or if they were pre-filtering your email into Spam or Junk folders just like every other email service on the internet, including the university’s system.

The Tech felt there was a mediation of intentions:  Junk filtering protects us while serving advertising sells out our privacy to the highest bidder.

I still think now what I thought then:  “A distinction without a difference.”

Parsing email — for whatever noble or scurrilous purpose — violates user privacy by function and definition, but if you want to play in an open internet, you’re going to need some protection, and you’re going to lose a lot of your intimate moments in the exchange.

As a society, we require the necessary immunization of our children, not only for their future benefit, but for our immediate safety, and the same is true of the new, non-transparency, on the internet as no secrets are held or kept — except by our electronic captors — but if we want continued access to an imaginary freedom, we are going to have to play along and practice the Dark Magic Art of repression and self-immolating collusion.

2 Comments

  1. That is a huge mistake to make – I wonder how many people went on alert because of that ? I always double /triple check what I find these days – especially if writing here. I always try and find corroboration outside of the stacks.

    Facebook and twitter are very often rumor based – thank goodness for Snopes!

    As for Gmail scanning our mail – at least we know that is what it does and they are up front about it – we can always use another mail program if we wish. Far more insidious were the hotmail clauses that used to claim copy-write of everything sent over their mail system – and Instagram changing their terms of service to say they owned the rights to all images using their server.

    Like

    1. It was a system shock to see 125 degrees, and for a moment, I thought it was somehow true — then, when I double-checked Google… something I have never thought of needing to do in the past… the truth was revealed. That was a bit of a foundation-shaking experience.

      I like your idea that we need to always fact-check the stacks. I think that’s the new way of the world. Currently, they’re warring with each other, but once everything settles down, and they inevitably become collaborations and not competition, all will begin to tighten around us.

      Some of those software licenses were just as insidious. I don’t understand the need to control the content of consumers who pay to keep you in business!

      Like

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