11/ 11/ 2014

A plea to the 2-3 companies that own our online lives

So today, I was finally forced to log in to my Chrome browser. I’d been holding out, but couldn’t anymore because Google will no longer be supporting the gchat desktop app. As I’m logging in, Google tries to convince me this is a good thing: “One Google account for everything Google.”

This pisses me off, even more so than the parallel effort to make one Facebook account for every social network. At least, if I ever choose to, I can stop using social media. It will be much more difficult to divorce myself from Web browsing and e-mail.

It’s bad enough that 2-3 companies own and have access to all my information, now they are forcing me to consolidate every aspect of my online life under one umbrella, for what–to make it easier for marketers to reduce me to a broad statistic (which I would argue is meaningless, because people are multi-faceted and so you can better capture their attention if you target their various identities separately than as one), or to make it easier for anyone who hacks into ONE part of my online life to find and link me to every other part of my online life?

Forget hackers, why would I want my bookmarks to be linked on every single device that I own, creating more access points to my information for people who were never supposed to see it? This should be an optional service for those weird people who don’t care if other people play with their phones/tablets/computers and go searching through their browsing history or bookmarks. For most of us, that feels extremely violating, the digital equivalent to looking up our skirts.

The more physical access points exist, the higher the chances are they will be used by someone other than yourself. So do I really want to start self-censoring my own Google searches? Every time I want to research something, or chat with someone, should I have to think to myself: wait, would I be upset if someone else accidentally saw this? With the Internet, this is always a possibility. But with all of your Internet accounts linked together, it’s a very LIKELY possibility.

Has it ever occurred to these companies that their users want to use their services in separate capacities? I can’t be the only person in the world who wants to keep my private and public life separate, hence the reason why efforts like Google Wave failed–e-mail is private. Browsing is private. Social media is public. Private, public. Church and state. Private and public naturally do not want to be mixed.

And even when it comes to their public lives, people can have multiple public images, i.e. a professional one and a social one. There are a multitude of reasons why people do not want to mix those images up, something I realized very early on working at Community Connect when they tried to simultaneously incorporate a dating microsite and a job search microsite into Asian Avenue and Black Planet.

It was the early days of social networking, so kudos to them for the experimentation. But at this point it’s obvious to me there is no logic to such efforts, outside the building where a bunch of geeks are writing the code for it and thought, gee–wouldn’t it be easier if our audience followed us rather than the other way around? What those geeks failed to see was that no one with any sense wants to look for a hookup and the next step in their career in the same place, much less under a name they use to post song lyrics and Hello Kitty gifs.

I really am not one of “those” people. I love technology and enjoy the innovations these companies have provided us. I do NOT want to have to switch to Linux and indie freeware web browsers one day, or to disconnect from all social media. But I hate that using popular technology means I have to relinquish what little ability I have to decide how I want to compartmentalize my life, or that I have to use any product at all in the way that I am instructed to. I’m not rejecting the technology, or even the rise of companies that are getting a lot of things right–I’m against service ultimatums.

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I'm a 30-something multimedia creator from New York. I do videos on Youtube centered on open discussion and co-mentorship. Once a month, I host a Q&A with inspiring people from entrepreneurs to athletes and more on The itsme Podcast. Be warned: I can be opinionated. But it's all love! Please follow and subscribe, it would mean a lot! :)

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