“We don’t need you to type at all because we know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less guess what you’re thinking about … Is that over the line?” – Google Chairman Eric Schmidt
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away there was a Galactic Empire, a beady-eyed Emperor and his heavy-breathing sidekick, Darth Vader. Ever since, we’ve identified the corporate villains we love to hate. We had AT&T in the 70s, IBM in the 80s and of course Microsoft and Bill “The Conqueror” Gates in the 90s.
Today we have Google. Don’t let the geeky façade, whimsical multicolored logo and “Don’t be evil” mantra fool you. Google may very well be the most sinister threat and wicked incarnation of them all.
In an interview with the Atlantic, the search empire’s dark lord himself, Eric Schmidt, said, “Google policy is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it.” He said, “I would argue that implanting things in your brain is beyond the creepy line … at least for the moment until the technology gets better.”
Then things got even creepier when Schmidt added, “We don’t need you to type at all because we know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less guess what you’re thinking about.” Then he paused and asked, “Is that over the line?”
Clearly, this creepy virtual line of Google’s is not just a moving target but a highly subjective one. How do they know when they’ve crossed it? Perhaps the more appropriate question to ask is how many lines does Google have to cross before its executives realize – before we realize – that they’re doing evil?
It’s easy to forget that Google once had a deep partnership with Apple. Then, while Steve Jobs mentored co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin and Schmidt sat on Apple’s board of directors, Android magically transformed from a BlackBerry-like phone with a physical keyboard into an iPhone clone.
And all the while – right up until the FTC forced Schmidt off Apple’s board on anticompetitive concerns – he maintained that Android did not compete with iPhone. A year later, Apple’s iPad was immediately followed by Android tablets – which I’m guessing were not competitors either.
Does that cross the line? Is that evil? Jobs certainly thought so. He was furious over the betrayal, calling Android “a stolen product” and vowing to “go thermonuclear war” on Google in Walter Isaacson’s biography of Apple’s iconic CEO.
When Google acquired Nest, Rob Enderle said, “I kind of think Google read ‘Big Brother’ and took it as a career goal.” The long-time tech analyst has serious privacy concerns about Google “knowing when you are home and what you are doing there through the device sensors” and that “future products would have far more sensors, cameras and other technologies …”
Between Google Search, Gmail, Maps, Android, YouTube, Glass, Now, Books, Wallet, Chromecast, Wear, Nest, Waze and its alliance with car companies, Google now knows more about you than you do. It knows what you want, where you are, whom you’re with, what you read, what you buy, even what pictures and videos you create and look at.
While much of that is ostensibly “with your permission” and to “improve your search results,” as Schmidt says repeatedly, that’s just part of the story. Permissions are notoriously difficult to find and manage. And when you’re logged into your Google account, rest assured that the omnipresent eyes of Google are upon you.
Infoworld’s Robert X. Cringely once quipped, “Santa works for Google now.”
Remember that nearly all of Google’s massive profits and revenues come from search advertising. That’s what funds the company’s ever-expanding presence in our lives. So when Schmidt or Page talk about improving search results, they really mean improving their ability to target you with contextual ads.
Not to sound paranoid or anything but before long those ads won’t just be limited to computer screens. They’ll be anywhere and everywhere Google can reach you.
And that’s just for starters. The Google Empire is expanding into everything from self-driving cars and virtual reality to broadband fiber and neural networks. It’s even collecting genetic and molecular information from thousands of people to map humans in a way that’s eerily reminiscent of how it maps the world’s streets.
Page says he wants Google to be much, much larger than it is today. In a Wired interview where he talked about the dozens of disparate projects the company has going on – what they call moon shots – he said, “Imagine what we could do if we had a hundred times as many employees. Anything is scalable.”
That would give the company millions of employees and make Google far and away the biggest and most powerful company in history. That’s why Schmidt, Page and Brin created Alphabet — a new holding company for Google’s many moon shots.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The Internet of Things means everything will be smart. There will be smart sensor networks embedded in everything from your car’s dashboard and fridge to your glasses and clothes. Pretty soon when you stop and smell the roses they will smell you right back – and suggest a cologne you should buy.
What do you think will happen once we inevitably cross over into the all-consuming media realm of artificial intelligence and augmented reality? When machines and smart digital assistants will know literally everything you do and store all that information for instantaneous retrieval in the cloud.
You’ll get ads whispered in your ears, beamed directly to your eyeballs and someday straight into your brain, that’s what. And that’s when things are going to get downright creepy. Is that over the line? Gee, you think?
A version of this originally appeared on FOXBusiness.com.