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I'm not one to write incendiary headlines and I'm not exactly partial to the taste of linkbait.
But after reading a few quotes attributed to Google co-founder Larry Page, I couldn't think of another headline so at the risk of going too far, I decided to stick with "Google's Larry Page is crazy".
According to the BBC, Larry Page told journalists at an event in Hertfordshire that Google and companies like it need to be able to store more data longer because if they can't, the "more likely we all are to die". Let me repeat that: if Google can't store data as it pleases, Larry Page believes that the "more likely we all are to die".
I'm secretly hoping that the BBC is playing an April Fool's joke in May but I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that the quote is accurate.
Page's comment was in reference to long-standing but growing concerns (and anger) over the types and amounts of data companies like Google store. To address privacy concerns, the European Commission wants the Googles of the world to delete certain data after six months. Google previously stored data such as search phrases and IP addresses for 18 months but last September compromised and agreed to anonymize certain data after 9 months.
Anonymizing or getting rid of that data after only 6 months? Page thinks that's a bad idea.
He cited the recent swine flu outbreak as an example, stating:
Our up-to-date influenza estimates may enable public health officials and health professionals to better respond to seasonal epidemics and pandemics.
Now I don't doubt that there are some valuable public uses for the vast troves of data that Google can collect. But when Page suggests that were are all more likely to die if Google can't store its data, I can't help but think that Page may be spending a little too much time on Google's party plane.
Excusing my fatalism for a moment, I have news for Page: we're all going to die at some point. Unless Google is working on some sort of mobile immortality service based on Android, I'm pretty sure that the fate of the human race does not depend on my search history and IP addresses.
The absurdity of what Page is reported to have said strikes me as being just as disconnected from reality as the CEO of a tobacco company, for instance, arguing that cigarettes don't cause cancer. It simply doesn't hold any weight and it's a little bit disappointing that somebody who still plays an important role at Google is resorting to these sorts of arguments to justify questionable stances.
I love Google. While I don't always like its policies, it's a great company with great core products. And although it has its shortcomings, I admire it for going further to support good causes at such an early stage of its life. But at the end of the day Google is still a for-profit company that makes billions of dollars selling advertising, for which the significant data it collects is of great importance. Trying to defend its data collection policies by claiming that we're all going to die if it doesn't store lots and lots of data is just plain crazy. And desperate.
For companies like Google, I have a message: I'll take my chances with swine flu. I don't want the data you collect on me, however, living longer than I do.
Photo credit: dannysullivan via Flickr.