What it means is that instead of logging into Gmail, or YouTube, or Blogger, or whichever websites you use, and being treated as a separate ‘person’ each time, Google is building up an online identity for you from each of these separate pieces. It’s going to combine your data from all these applications, so that it knows who you are and what you do, what you’re interested in. I’m not particularly against this in principle- if I am to be tormented with ads on the web, at least let them be ads for something I might be interested in. What bothers me is the loss of anonymity.
One of the great things about the web and one of the ways it encourages free speech is that you can be anonymous. It’s really allowed the flourishing of a Pagan and Wiccan community online. Practically everyone chooses a ‘craft name’ when they first start out as a Wiccan, and what this inevitably turns out to be, if you don’t have a coven, is an internet monicker, a pseudonym for use online when you post and comment as your Pagan identity. You can chat with other Pagans or even publish your own web pages explaining about the faith without it having any impact on your real offline day to day life. Your mother doesn’t need to know, if you don’t want. Your boss doesn’t need to know. Your underage and impressionable relatives don’t have to see anything.
You might think this is paranoia or cowardice. I call it discretion. I’m not ashamed to be Wiccan. But it’s a private matter which I don’t especially enjoy explaining to unsympathetic people. I don’t enjoy their jokes or light contempt. I don’t want it to come up if I apply for a job and the interviewer googles my name. And I still know mature, adult Pagans who won’t write their religion on the national census because they’re nervous about persecution. For some practitioners of coven Wicca, ‘to keep silent’ about the faith is a formal part of their creed.
I love Google, but it already vexes me by combining data when I search. Just because I looked up something for my studies about terrorists does not mean that I want Google to feed that information into my next searches- say, when I’m hunting for Christmas presents for my relatives. I have several hats in life- student, Pagan, family member, professional worker. I like to keep those parts of my life separate. If you can’t imagine throwing a party and being comfortable with your office colleagues mixing with your sports team or your coven or your drinking buddies, you might want to consider whether you really want one single Google identity. Basically, if you have any off the wall activities that are incompatible with more conventional people in your regular life, this will make you nervous.
Since my email provider merged with Google, Google now administrates my email, blog, YouTube and internet searches. So their profile of me includes not only what videos I watch (luckily mine are mostly music but what if I had been into some kind of weird porn?), the terms I search online for home and work, my identity as a Pagan blogger- linking to all my unusual religious practices (for ‘unusual’ substitute ‘scary’ to many people: harmless they may be but even my ex boyfriends got the shudders), but now they also connect that motley assortment to everyone I email- my superiors, my family, my friends. I don’t believe Google plans to do anything with all that data, but I just feel that having it stashed together is a timebomb waiting to accidentally go off.
So, I’ve decided to deny the most freaky of that information to Google. I can’t change my email address as it’s institutional, so I’m moving my ‘scary’ blog to WordPress, which doesn’t require me to identify myself to Google before I post. Apologies for the inconvenience, but I’m sure you can follow my reasoning now. The new address (with a slight name change) is http://starstainedmirror.wordpress.com/ I’ll be there from March. I suggest you think about whether you ought to take any action yourselves.