While I quite understand people worrying, we’re not living in (George Orwell’s) 1984 just yet. Facebook keeps information about its users to direct advertising at them, but I can’t see why that’s so bad. I have no problem with companies that I choose to use using my behaviour with their product to advertise at me. They have to make money, after all, and those adverts keep Facebook free for me.
In Europe, a great deal of information about citizens is publicly available without the internet. Andrew Brown says we should try to conceal our real selves from the cloud, to maintain our privacy, but I think he’s seriously exaggerating the problem. If I share documents with Google Docs, the fact that Google might one day turn round and “Be Evil” doesn’t worry me a bit. If I had a really sensitive bit of data or information that I wanted to keep away from big brother, I certainly wouldn’t store it in the cloud.
But for non-top secret stuff, the development of cloud based applications and social networks has been fantastic. They make working together on the net a ton easier, staying in touch a ton easier, and sharing a breeze. People might think Twitter is silly and Facebook walls egotistical, but they are great ways to share things you like, and some people even have interesting thought to share.
All of these things are tools, and like any tool you have to learn how to use it. If you saw a lawn mower for the first time, you might rightly worry that such a device might be a threat to your arms and legs. Eventually, someone would show you that with due caution and care, this threatening looking machine could be used for lawn based good (unless you are made of grass). The Internet is the same – you are in control of what you share about yourself, and as long as you are sensible, it won’t chop your legs off!
I will join the “the Internet is threatening our way of life” crowd the moment Google announces its psychic G-mind-reader tool, but I believe it is some years off.