If my last column -- titled "Could This Be Google's Privacy Moment?" -- confirmed anything, it was the basic assertion that Internet users are near-wholly apathetic when it comes to privacy.
Users just don't care, and Facebook and Google can have a direct pipe inside their brains, as long as they can play Farmville and also get an instant answer whenever they are met with a fleeting
impulse to seek. My opinion is based on completely anecdotal evidence of nearly 15 years of monitoring the Internet space for such issues, and the minimal number of comments and retweets on that
column, compared to my average columns (though it had a nice run toward the front page of Digg). On the MediaPost
site, the article only received six "thumbs up - this article is insightful." And five of those were mine.
But seriously, folks, this latest round of privacy wrangling has dumbfounded the likes of many a search pundit, myself included. I mentioned in that last column that I always thought a single event of heightened data awareness would be what it took to get people's pants in a bunch. About four years ago, I was at a conference manning the SEMPO booth with Gord Hotchkiss, and explained to him my theory that someone's privacy would be revealed via click and search stream, and this would kick off the user backlash. I'm sure he would rather have been receiving a root canal at that point in my rant, but AOL released its search data not long after, and the New York Times was able to identify searchers by name through that data alone. But still no backlash.
John Battelle has stated that the user backlash will happen when a murder associated with a search engine or a user's data occurs. A burglar used Google Maps to stake out a victim, and killed her in the process. Still no backlash.
I'm not trying to instigate an uprising here, and if anything, apathy around privacy issues speaks more about this generation of users than it does of Google or other engines. The real damage to privacy may just be that breaches in data only harm a small number of people, and that collateral damage is just a price paid by a small few. Which is apparently fine until that "something bad" happens to you.
Perhaps the most fascinating question in all of this is why everyone blindly gives away their data online, knowingly and unknowingly, when being asked to give away printed versions of the same data to physical persons would cause outrage. Yet passive release of this same type of data still seems to be of no consequence or concern to most people.
So the big news this week in the GoogleBalt Spy View debacle is that Connecticut is leading a probe of Google's Street View data collection, with 30 other states joining in. Even Scotland Yard is on the case. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, various government entities are still pissed, as everyone learned that data like email addresses and passwords were among Google's bounty. Stay tuned, because as advertised, this just may be Google's privacy moment. Or not.