Is Google really that unethical?

I’m stumped on this one. A friend recently invited me into gmail (we’re – what is it – 18 months into the beta version now?) and late one night having mysteriously failed to configure my existing BTYahoo account for use with Thunderbird I turned to gmail, which was very easy indeed. So I impulsively told all my friends that it would be gmail from now on.

I’ve been a Google user for a long time now, and observed the criticism ramping up – pretty much in proportion to Google’s size and aspirations. But they don’t quite convince me. About privacy I wonder could any ISP or email provider refuse a govermnent request for information? Google already has I think, the other month – denied search data to the US goverment – – whereas Yahoo complied. Not sure if that’s up-to-date. Plus we have the FBI’s Carnivore, which is already scanning email on the basis that machines are not humans and no privacy is being compromised. I have it on good authority that Carnivore is crap, but still… Besides, most, if not all, services store emails, and most ISPs scan them. Imperfect as it is, Gmail’s privacy policy is easy to find and leaves a lot less to the imagination that my old BTYahoo one, or the Hotmail one (the BBC’s is excellent – I recently signed up to play at predicting the next episode of The Apprentice). At least Google’s tells you that your emails are stored. I don’t even know what BT does with my emails. Basically on privacy, I’m not sure that this isn’t a legal problem rather than exclusively a service provider one. The Net seems to be closing in on our digital rights.

Google’s advert generation on the back of all this email scanning is also a bother (though not a particular distraction – I have enough trouble noticing what’s in the centre of my monitor, let alone anything that discreet). But it’s not spyware, and if it’s as ephemeral as they say I don’t really have a problem with my free services being funded by advertising.

The censorship on google.cn. Maybe I’m naive, but isn’t ‘breaking into China’ that the kind of thing that all PLCs dream of? And wouldn’t missing the opportunity of China be a mortal wound? Alright, self-censorship is an enormous compromise, and if I were Google I wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole, but then again I wouldn’t have floated and I’d be a not-for-profit collective. Google’s regular search engine is still available in China, providing a useful comparison the transparently self-censored Google with the rubbish, slowed-down Government-censored one. And Google self-censors in several countries that make a crime out of Holocaust denial – and god knows what else.

Of course I care about privacy and freedom of speech – if I find anything better than Google, I’ll use it. Or if I find a proper reason – specific to Google over and above all the other providers out there – why I really shouldn’t use it, I’ll stop.

I like blogging

It’s day two. I realise I like blogging – if I can only keep my mouth shut, this blog is going to be an anonymous, very positive outlet for my never-ending steam.

This evening I left ‘Matt’ sawing some plywood to fit over a gaping, filthy hole in the bathroom and set off to the farm shop (Ha! What a euphemism) to buy some aubergines. When I reached the farm shop I had to turn straight round because it was shut. The sun was low and I caught a quintessential Essex scene – rabbits tearing nervously at the rubbish-strewn grass in the adjacent field. I only noticed them because they were such an incongruous earthy colour amidst the leaflets, newsprint and carrier bags.

I’m going now to watch the first episode of The Apprentice, which I hope is on the BBC website.

Fragments of my condition

Delighted with Open Source and Open Access – the most cheering social movement in my lifetime. Vegan and gluttonous – I love to cook. Trying to minimise soya because of the rainforests, you know. In fact I try to minimise everything, but that doesn’t always work. Lately I’ve been fighting a war on strong flavours to revive my household’s jaded palates. My household very much resents this. Celebrity chefs and food critics disappoint me because of course cream and butter make everything taste great – but where is the art? I particularly resent the vegetarian-hater Jay Rayner, not least because he’s failed to respond to my highly cogent letters of criticism. I love to walk – anywhere, especially new cities, and especially if there’s progress from place to place. I’d have made a good pilgrim. But I don’t leave the UK – especially not by air. I’m Jewish – fascinated and energised by conspiracy theories about me which, coming from minds as great as Nietszche and Ahmadinejad, I can’t help taking as a series of (OK – extravagant) complements. But if there’s no smoke without fire, shouldn’t I feel quietly proud that I’m genetically and culturally predisposed to achieve a world takeover by stealth? Honestly, my friends and colleagues have absolutely no idea… And would it really be so bad?

Awareness of my own ignorance leads to an irresistable urge to read – I have about 8 separate things I’m finishing at the moment. Last week a friend gave me her lovingly annotated Quran, which is going to take me a while, I think. I have a PhD but seem not to want to specialise – it feels like narrowing myself and besides, I’m nosey and I don’t want a career. Lately I’ve been wondering if I’m scared to commit to proper thinking though, so this may change. I work at an HE institution in London – I can’t say as what because I’ve already made myself distinctive enough for one of my (many, doubtless) readers to identify me. I’ve just had my role analysed. Were they impressed or disbelieving? Do I spread myself too thin? I like to think that dilettantes can become polymaths with time and perseverance. There is particular hope because older people will inherit the earth in my lifetime – a trail blazed by my parents’, the baby-boomers, generation. Witness the bendy buses and the Disability Act – and it’s only just beginning.

I also cherish a bit of dogma: know how to do everything yourself. This stems from a fear of alienation from my means of survival which makes me wonder if I might be a Marxist. I don’t really believe in differentiated salaries – or salaries at all for that matter. This makes being a member of the AUT quite challenging. At work I’m a perfectionist in a subject area where I can never achieve perfection. This leads me to waste precious energy doing routine jobs really, really well. I am most comfortable with black and white and my capacity to over-simplify is tremendous. Sometimes I worry I’m autistic. Or maybe bipolar. Many jokingly tell me I’m mad – but I’m very conscientious so I can get away with being a bit idiosyncratic.

I don’t really like or trust anybody except my better half, to whom I give the alias ‘Matt’. But then again, maybe I just have a high threshold for liking – I put people on a pedestal so I can idolise them, but I usually knock them off myself in a fit of disappointment. That’s not so healthy and it’s not fair either. It takes me 10 years to make a friend, and I don’t seem to be able to practise unconditional love, but I have friends and I love most of them from a safe distance. I’m not sure they know me. I think I know them. Matt knows me – I must work hard to keep him (that will involve my being somewhat indulgent and turning many, many blind eyes).

I’m pleased that I haven’t looked at my keyboard since I started this post – I learnt to touch type in Memphis Tennessee, while my boyfriend was at work. It’s one of the best skills I ever learnt. Technology I find astounding. The most exciting thing I’ve done with it lately is Skype Australia. Skype has video now and I saw – met? – my new godson.

Today we learn that we’re in a drought. This is everyday knowledge, like last week when the news was full of research findings that youths form gangs not to intimidate decent folk but for self-protection. All fueling my suspicion that most journalists live in cloud cuckoo land. I like to think that not much is news to me. Or is it that I’m so in tune with Radio 4 that I can intuit what it will peddle before it even knows itself.

This diary will document current affairs, books and work. I’m writing a novel – only I’m not, because it’s not going so well. The computer is in a horrible little room in an unfinished home. I plan to plunder this instead – I can write it in my lunch hour and after work. Talking of which it’s time to go – I’ll have to make up time in fact. I’ve never been anonymous before – it will be interesting to see the effect anonymity has on me. I only hope that when I look back on my posts I’ll feel more sentimental than embarrassed – I’ll have no compunction about making retrospective changes. Authenticity be damned – that little Edit link puts paid to any of that. I hope that in subsequent posts I might have more connected thoughts.