Google has just slightly extended its grip over your online life by taking a service public that was previously a research project: “profile pages.” By effectively aggregating your personal info and contact details in one place they become a powerful search and public relations tool. But they’re also a little creepy.
As of now, if you Google someone’s name, among the typical list-and image-type responses you normally expect to receive, you’ll also get links to relevant Google Profiles. These profiles become the Google equivalent of your Facebook, LinkedIn, or MySpace profile: There’s a spot for a photo, a panel of links to social networking sites where you can be contacted, room for your latest Flickr photo roll, a mini bio and so on. Google’s even got a tool to allow someone to indirectly email you if they don’t know your address themselves. The only difference is that it’s centralized, and easily accessible from a Google search–like we all do so many times each day. (You only already have a Google profile if you use one of Google’s services like Gmail, Picasa, YouTube, or the like. You also have to click a link to make your full name, and thereby your profile, searchable on the Web.)
Sure, it looks like an extremely convenient way to have your online life centrally managed. Who hasn’t Googled someone when going on a date, or wondered how to contact so-and-so you used to work with years ago? The extra information in a Profile page would simplify all that process, and help you distinguish between two people with identical or similar names, even.
But this is Google we’re talking about here. All that personal data stored in one location is an extraordinarily useful tool–it’s ripe for data mining, and all it takes is for Google to sell that data to people, or for industrious companies to automate profile page hunts. Which then implies targeted advertising, that you may either see as a good thing or a terrible thing.
And then there’s one final thing to ponder: What happens when this service takes off, as it’s likely to? For now Google asks you to fill in the profiles yourself, which lets you choose exactly what data can be displayed when someone clicks on your profile. Will Google at some point set its data spiders crawling over the Internet, finding, cross-referencing and aggregating data about you into a profile page automatically “for your convenience”? It’s possible, and potentially that’s the creepiest implication this new tech has–it’s got that faint hint of 1984’s Big Brother to it. And if you were someone who valued your online privacy, or had reasons for not wanting a particular person to find out information about you, you’d have to take positive action to affect your profile.
However the technology evolves, it all boils down to how much you trust Google with your personal information–a company that apparently plans to “tempt” you to fill in your Profile page by redirecting Google searches for you to a blank Google Profile.