Thursday, August 13, 2015

Family Tech : Some online sharing can be beneficial - April 10, 2014

In my column for August 14, 2015, I comment : 
On another topic, there has been a lot of press about Windows 10 giving away your personal information. The reality is Microsoft is using your information to sync your various Windows 10 devices and allow Cortana to better serve you. What Microsoft is doing is little different from what Google does for Google Now. I wrote about that in April, and that column is at this week.

This is that column, from April 10, 2014.  You can pretty much replace Google here with Microsoft, and Google Now with Cortana, and the thinking is the same.

While I warn against too much sharing online, such as inappropriate photos, I actually believe a certain amount of sharing of your personal information reaps benefits for yourself, and for society.

I share a great deal through my primary email provider, Google. I track my appointments in Google Calendar and list my to-do items in Google Keep. I write these columns in Google Drive.

If someone calls the number I give out as my cell number, they are actually calling my Google Voice account. My phone is an Google Android phone and it is tied to my Google account. When I send or receive a text, I use the Google app Hangouts. When I take a photo, it is backed up to Google.

I search using Google Search from my Google Chrome browser.

Clearly, if I was a terrorist or a criminal, all this sharing would be my downfall. From what Edward Snowden has leaked, the NSA is capable of digitally listening in on all the information I send to Google, or anyone else for that matter.

Instead, I reap lots of benefits.

The scripts that read my email determines which are Spam emails and keep them out of my inbox. Google Voice can screen my calls for me, and sends me transcriptions of voice mails. If I mark a number as undesirable, I never receive a call from that number again.

On Android phones, Google Now is a page that tells me things Google thinks I need to know. Beyond the weather, and how stocks are doing, if it notices in my email that I have a flight reservation, it lets me know if the flight is on time.

While on the trip, Google Now tells me the time locally and at home and the weather in both places.

When I am anywhere new, Google Now uses the phone’s location to give me suggested places nearby which I might find interesting.

Remember Microsoft ads about being scroogled? The campaign demonized Google for reading emails in order to target ads to us.

If we enjoy a free service like I do Google services, I expect to receive ads. If I have to see an ad, I would rather see an ad relevant to my needs and interests than an ad with nothing to do with my life.

And it is not as if someone at Google is reading my email. All the parsing of my information is done by scripts.

We tell Facebook our real name, and the names of our friends. In return, it sends us targeted ads, but also let us socialize easily with friends. Over a billion users have decided that is a fair tradeoff.

Unless you pay cash for your prescriptions, your pharmacy knows you by the drugs you take. In return, my pharmacy emails me when I should renew, and again when my prescription is ready. I can scan a pill bottle with my phone to reorder.

Even those zealous about not sharing information have more out there than they know. Unless they want to forgo all grocery store discounts, they have loyalty accounts. That lets stores know exactly how many Twinkies and six packs of beer they have bought.

I haven’t even touched on how much the government knows about us from calls to or from our landlines, or when our license plates are scanned, or our EZ Pass machines are pinged.

I am in the camp that believes we cannot avoid leaving digital tracks as we move through life, so we might as well reap the benefits we can.

And the benefits are not only for us individually, but for the society as a whole. Google has a page where it tracks the spread of flu across the country. By watching as people search for terms about the flu, and knowing where they live, they can provide this information.

Google Trends reports on what people are searching online. I hope the Centers for Disease Control watches the page for people searching for unusual symptoms so they can track the outbreak of a disease before it becomes too widespread.

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