Google and Big Data: Are we heading towards a dystopian reality?

2 minutes to read
Lennart Driessen

Google has had an enormous impact on the availability of free information for the world to access. But are we aware of the full extent of its Big Data gathering activities? How much does Google know about us?

Who can live in a world without Google? It’s a question that repeatedly crosses my mind when doing the daily chores associated with life in the information age. The data-giant has connected all imaginable pieces of knowledge and information one could ever need at the touch of a button. When lost in a foreign city, life without the omniscient Google Maps seems cruel, old-fashioned and, most of all, inefficient. And does anyone still remember the yellow pages? Google does, as it archives a .jpeg file of another memory made obsolete by technology. In your new tab, you can instantly make a VoIP call to your desired establishment after comparing a compendium of reviews written by a local Joe, a guy you can trust. 

Want to freak yourself out? I'm gonna show just how much of your information the likes of Facebook and Google store about you without you even realising it

— Dylan Curran (@iamdylancurran) March 24, 2018

What an enormous blessing Google is. And all that information merely at the cost of our own private data. Google knows your home address, your phone number, your workplace, culinary preferences, estimated annual income based on consumer behavior and so on and so on... Why do we indulge so gently and cooperatively with these seemingly harmless intrusions in our privacy? We fear exclusion from the modern world, and worse; we just act blasé in situations where the promise of abundant information outweighs that little piece of privacy that was still our individual own. But with the apple of wisdom consumed, the world outside of paradise reveals itself – and it’s an ugly one.

Google's box of Pandora?

The data consultant Dylan Curran (2018) did the adventurous, and opted to review his own personal data that is stored by Google. The file was 5,5 gigabytes large, about the equivalent of 3 million word documents. It contained detailed information of his movements and whereabouts over the past years, everything that he ever searched for, stored, and deleted, including phone numbers and contact information. It includes the information of any app ever used, his complete YouTube history, a complex advertisement profile, and in homage to Orwell’s 1984, Google can access all cameras and microphones on most network-connected devices at any given time.

It is inconvenient and cumbersome to read and assess the terms and services agreements of the software that we use to determine what kind of information we share with these companies. But with the goods on display, it is hard to feel at ease when so much of our private pursuits are known to others. And more so, we should be asking ourselves: to what end will this data be used? Recent leaks on Cambridge Analytica have exposed how big data can be used to influence democratic processes in the USA and UK consequently. With so much raw data in the hands of single corporate entities like Google, are we about to be in for a very unpleasant surprise when we find ourselves awake in a distorted and manipulated dystopian reality?