A few years ago, I wrote an essay about how Microsoft had become the new IBM – i.e., the dominant, love-to-hate company of the computer industry. In this interesting article, John Lanchester discusses how Google now is stepping into that role, with its aggressive moves into making the world searchable, and a lot more than you would like findable. Interesting point:
[…] as Google makes clear, nothing short of a court order is going to stop it digitising every book in print. Google doesn’t accept that that constitutes a violation of copyright. But the company won’t even discuss the physical process by which it scans the books: a classic example of how very free it is with other people’s intellectual property, while being highly protective of its own.
This issue, in all its various forms, isn’t going to go away. Book Search, Street View and many of Google’s other offerings simply bulldoze existing ideas of how things are and how they should be done. I was highly critical of Gmail when it first came in, on the grounds that the superbly effective mail system came at the unacceptable price of allowing Google to scan all emails and place text ads. But I soon began using it, because it was free, and because it’s such good software, and because I frankly never noticed the ads.
He goes on to show how a hard disk crash and a botched backup restore left him without his documents, until it dawned on him that, yes, Gmail had them all, ready for download. So big brothers can be nice, but they are still Big Brothers…