Is Google Too Big?

Google too big?
Illustration: Joe Zeff
From search to e-mail, from calendars to spreadsheets and text documents, more and more of what PC users read and create flows through one firm: Google.

Google's pending purchase of online advertising giant DoubleClick (the deal awaited Federal Trade Commission approval as we went to press) will give it access to yet more information: the Web browsing histories collected by millions of DoubleClick cookies. Combine that data with what Google already knows through its homegrown services--Google Apps, Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Maps, Google Desktop, and many others--and the company has the potential to know more about you than any one entity ever has. (See the chart, "What Google Knows About You.")

The question is, can you trust Google with all that information about you? And even if you trust Google, what about other groups that may try to access all that information--government agencies, hackers, and rival businesses, to name a few? Privacy and security experts say that the risk is significant, even if Google sticks to its famous "Don't Be Evil" motto.

According to Harvard Business School assistant professor and researcher Ben Edelman, companies face many risks when they use online software services such as Google's, namely loss of privacy, lack of physical data security, and lack of control over data retention. Who can access your Google-hosted data, and when, and under what circumstances? Google itself has full access to your files, which are unencrypted. In fact, searching and indexing stored data are essential if Google is to continue serving its contextual advertising.

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