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Will Google Mine Meet?

Ali - April 30, 2020 - 0 comments

With Google Meet taking on Zoom by adding a host of cool features and also becoming free for all, thousands of meetings will flock from Zoom and other providers to this new sensation in the webinar world.

Given the questionable track record of Google mining our personal and private data, with or sometimes without our consent (remember Project Nightingale?), it is hard to imagine for Google not to be tempted to feed hours and hours of precious video from all over the world into its machine learning algorithms.

A handful of Google services that could ultimately benefit from this sheer amount of data come to mind: Translate, Photos, Search, and who knows what else.

Voice and video data in the form of facial expressions, languages, dialects, accents, and other sounds and tones are pure gold for those algorithms.

Add to it people’s habits, such as punctuality, meeting discipline, as well as the material shared in screen-shares, chat boxes, calendar invitations, etc. It will be only a matter of time for Google to get a good grasp of the way people meet in professional and personal settings while (and I’m speculating) having its intelligent machines eavesdrop on every second of these meetings.

Now, let’s combine all these with the intelligence gathered from Google’s assistant, mail, calendar, and office apps. Then add Google Home to the mix as a garnish.

Of course, this will only make our beloved Google services (see above) even better, but the eternal question is: at what price? Privacy? Your business secrets? National security?

If you rely on the government to take action, you better be ready for a long and uninspiring ride. Governments are slow to react by design, and with all due respect, the people in charge are often not equipped to comprehend the gravity of the short-term and long-term impact of technology on boring topics, such as privacy.

“You know something is wrong when the government declares opening someone else’s mail is a felony, but your internet activity is fair game for data collecting.”

E.A. Bucchianeri

Sure, there is GDPR, and a host of other privacy and antitrust regulations, however, they are usually vague, cumbersome, outdated (because by the time they kick in, technology manages to pose new dilemmas), and sometimes easy to circumvent.

We know that Amazon is competing with its sellers by practically stealing their private sales secrets. Modern Feudalism at its best. Let’s wait and see when affirmative action will ensue by the countries affected.
But there are privacy policies and terms of service that will protect us, you might wonder. Google (or whoever is planning to munch on your private data) asks for permission beforehand. All they need to do is ask, and we can be adults about it.

“Privacy means people know what they’re signing up for, in plain language, and repeatedly. I believe people are smart. Some people want to share more than other people do. Ask them.”?

Steve Jobs

Although I agree in principle with the late wizard of Cupertino, I’m not quite sure how smart people will be when they are presented with legally crafted and obfuscated terms of service.

We are as smart to make decisions as the amount of information we have in hand. Not all of us are skeptic enough, as we are not trained to be. Not everyone takes the time in the midst of an emergency to weigh the big-picture implications of letting something as grand as their privacy and secrets be peeped in.

What can we expect from an average citizen when the government of the sixth-largest economy in the world is so oblivious to reality?

All said, every day, we see essential meetings, even those of the politicians with expectedly classified conversations, being held on Zoom. And it is just a matter of time for some of these sensitive meetings to move to Google Meet. At least Google doesn’t have a leaky boat taking a detour through China. But their AI is notoriously information-hungry.

Now, with our business and behavioral information mined by the gods of G, what can we expect our borrowed future to be like?

With great power comes greater responsibility. Tech companies possess unprecedented power, and they are expected to act more responsibly. Expectation often leads to disappointment. Inspection is key. Capitalist technology is a greater force than any and needs to be supervised closely and regularly.

[Originally posted on Medium and moved here.]

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