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Using Google via a German Actor-Network

imageAs a follow-up, or rather continuation, to my last post on a Rhizomatic ANT in Germany, I have been thinking about the role our ideas play in helping (challenging? confronting? supporting?) us move our actions forward. While traveling, I find myself coming back again and again to the single web presence to help me plan for and navigate, my trip: Google.

Who doesn’t use Google, after all?

That may be one of its benefits / strengths . . . or one of its weaknesses.

Whether for drafting documents in Google Docs or uploading PDFs in Google Drive or even discussing them with colleagues in Google+ or through a Google Hangout, the sheer utility and relative ease of use makes the Google infrastructure something useful for collaboration and sharing. What can be easier than updates in real time or notifications of comments made by team members asunchronously?

Oh yes, Did I mention it is all free?

Be careful, mind you, as nothing is free. Alas, things that appear too good to be true may be, or may otherwise cost us in other ways. Take a look at the Terms of Service that Google provides . . . you know, the legal stuff they provided which, most likely, you did not read when you signed up for their account. So happy for their cool features, many of us will say anything to use them. Our writing colleagues, friends, and collaborators are using them, too! How bad can it be if everybody uses them?

Did you catch this part in their Terms?

Our automated systems analyze your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection. This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored.

Their systems scan everything we do to sell it for advertisers, at the least. And at the most . . . I do not know. With $17 Billion USD in first quarter 2015 revenue, they must be selling an awful lot to somebody for them to make so much “free” stuff really free. I cannot speculate as to their intentions as I do not know their business model (beyond making money, the key goal of all profit-making corporations), but I am suspicious, especially as I write this while on holiday in Berlin.

Berlin is a city that has had its fair share of nefarious organizations that have mastered the practice of surveillance and maximizing what it learns for its own ends. Very different ends perhaps, but collecting and using great amounts of information in a structured way to promote its own agenda, and I cannot help asking questions. All while freely continuing to use Google services, of course.

As a sign of the times, Google’s data generation and collecting practices have again been challenged by the German courts, so it should come as no surprise that Google itself is seen as a threat to be watched, all while it watches us.

This in no means suggests I will stop using Google Docs, that is unless I want to make collaborating and communicating and identifying information that much more difficult than it already is. Just know that free is not always free — $15 Billion USD free.

Odd how the network maintains itself, all while we try to make free use of someone that costs us in different ways. This is a job for actor-network theory, insofar as many of us have not explored the various levels of our collaboration events with what Google takes from us. Nevertheless, we continue to use though many strands of he networks in which we work remain murky at best.

That is, as long as they continue to work in that way, as the black box can be so comforting when it is in our favor!