Google might be taking our Surveillance Valley nickname too seriously. The Information reports that the company has expressed interest in acquiring Dropcam, the home security startup that offers an Internet-connected surveillance camera, through the Nest division it acquired for $3.2 billion in January. If that acquisition happens, Google will have traded its metaphorical all-seeing eye for something a bit more literal — and maybe a little terrifying.
I shouldn’t have to explain why budding interest in security cameras from a company whose entire business model revolves around the systematic degradation of individual privacy is a bad thing, but I’ll give it a shot anyway. Google’s future depends on new and exciting ways to get advertisements in front of consumers. Serving those advertisements requires the collection of increasing amounts of information, which creates a never-ending cycle of data vacuuming.
It’s bad enough that this company is entrusted with the world’s largest mobile software platform, the premier search engine, and services on which many consumers rely, such as Gmail and Google Maps. Now it’s offering thermostats and might be getting into the home security business — in addition to creating self-driving cars and technologies that consumers will have tattooed on their arms or sitting in their stomachs. “Panopticon” doesn’t even come close to describing it.
There’s no doubt that Google will promise not to use the information it gathers from some of those products to inform its advertising network. It could even keep those promises and use the opportunity to diversify its business a bit more, slowly weaning itself off advertisements. But allowing the company the opportunity to use that information, even if there’s no sign that it will, shifts the blame from Google to the consumers who trusted it if anything goes wrong.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the Google-Dropcam news is the technology press’ seeming acceptance of the acquisition. People were worried about the privacy implications of the Nest acquisition — is allowing Google access to data gleaned from thermostats and smoke detectors more startling than allowing it to view the information collected by video cameras? If so, I’d like someone to pinch me, because I might be dreaming.