Conspiracy theories are generally pretty silly. When people talk about a “conspiracy,” they are usually referring to the very common occurrence of someone taking power over someone else — by force, allure, deception, whatever. This doesn’t stop theorists from inevitably seizing the first possible chance to compare anything they want to “the Nazis.” Naturally, when a company like Google gets Big, it’s a great excuse for everyone to get all X-Files about it.
One dramatic video claims that Google — with the lion’s share of the search engine market — is collecting individual data with which it could easily create detailed profiles of its users. “These men pursue a great vision,” it explains, “the Google Master Plan. Any kind of information will be accessible to anybody, controlled by Google itself with the credo: don’t be evil.”
The video, the thesis of two German students, goes on to address Google’s well-known policy of scanning G-mail accounts for advertising purposes. “Google is methodically collecting personal data in many more ways, using cookies and account information — merely to offer relevant text ads?” In addition, “a former CIA agent” alleges that Google is cooperating undercover with the US government; they are also purportedly involved in decoding the human genome – clearly, sinister stuff.
The CIA — this is pretty much the staple of any conspiracy story. In fact, one wonders what conspiracy theorists even talked about before they had the elusive organization to fall back on.
I don’t imagine you’re entitled to much privacy over the internet. I’ve never read the fine print of any software agreement I’ve clicked on; I’m pretty sure that’s why they make them so long and impenetrable. I take for granted that anything I do on a public information exchange network is accessible to anybody who wants to bother. It’s safe to assume you’re not safe. Do I share information I shouldn’t? Yes, all the time. Do I believe most people care? No. You should definitely be as protective as possible of your financial assets and personal privacy, but within reason. The one thing online privacy has going for it is the overwhelming quantity of information. A company like Google is inundated with a flow of data that would be so tedious to organize, it would be simpler and cheaper just to take over the world by force.
Much focus in the video is put on the ways in which Google could take control. Hardly any is spent on the question of why they would want to.
If Google had a “personal dossier” on every user in the world, what would they do with it? Steal our money? Tell the government about our habits? Come surprise us at dinner? Map out our individual genomes and turn us into human slaves at their beck and call? Anyone who ever watched Pinky and Brain knows how that turns out. If Google has an agenda, it’s probably super banal. It’s about gain, and gain — if it’s not world domination — is usually about money. Right now, they’re making money in a traditional, legal way — by selling an abstract idea.
There’s some egomania in the notion that “someone is watching” and actually cares about what you do, where you live, what you eat, who you associate with, or what your genes look like. But if people want a deity, I’m sure Google is just as good as any other. I heard someone say once, in reference to the Kennedy assassination, that what people really refused to believe was that one little guy like Oswald could kill someone like the President. Whether he did, or every sinister plot that’s been implied is true, I think the point is telling — people don’t like the easy, disappointing answer.
If we can weave Google into a Nazi fairytale, all the more exciting. Intelligent debate? No, give us Indiana Jones. How boring if they didn’t try to take over at this point.