Innovation can create new problems, and often even new industries. Two and half millennia after the invention of the wheel, we have traffic jams–made possible by the auto industry and Big Oil. That’s two industries right there. Fast food and high fructose corn syrup caused worldwide obesity, and gave rise to factory farming as well as the diet industry. (That’s two more!)
More recently, privacy has been a recurring issue when it comes to innovation, but it was a problem pre-Internet, as well.
Credit cards opened the door to overspending and account takeover as well as a host of privacy concerns around who gets to know your spending and bill-paying habits. Then there’s EZPass and FasTrak. Who doesn’t love automated toll roads? (Hint: People who don’t like being tracked.) The list is potentially endless, but no innovation has given rise to as many industries in the last fifty years than the Internet.
(Yep, the Internet is eligible to join the AARP this year!)
User privacy is an essential part of keeping your data and identity safe online; it’s something we talk about regularly on our podcast “What the Hack with Adam Levin.”
It’s no easy task to identify the 10 biggest Internet-related privacy failures masquerading as the next best thing since the World Wide Web, but here it goes.
In 1998, the world changed forever. Theatergoers were introduced to young Anakin Skywalker, a cute space kid destined to use the dark side of the Force to menace the universe and, in a similar vein, a useful little site called Google was launched.
Originally developed as an algorithm to share academic research, the company found a different, far more profitable groove: Search.
Google’s search engine was instantly legendary. It destroyed the competition, a rogue’s gallery of unknown companies to today’s digital natives: Try asking a Gen Y kid about Alta Vista, Metacrawler, Lycos, Yahoo Geocities, Excite or the host of other would-be portals to the Internet that people used in the late 90s. Google won because it was better. Search results were as close to real time as one could hope, and you could literally find anything.
With inordinate power comes massive responsibility–or at least that’s the hope. Google introduced a motto to help it navigate the moral murk of its mission to dominate the trafficking of information online: “Don’t be evil.”
Having dominated search, the company got busy adding new, powerful, and mostly free services including Gmail, Google Maps, Google Photos and Google News. All of them harvested user information and used it to micro-target advertising but they also used our data to create new services. They knew what we wanted because of Google Search. Next came the Chrome browser, which gave Google even more information about us as it integrated everything from password management to payment information. Soon it was a near-impossibility to go online without coming into contact with Google.
When Google retired the “Don’t Be Evil” motto there was no ceremony because the company had become the Death Star-eating antichrist of consumer privacy.