Update, 7:35 PM: WHOA! Google doesn’t want to let Facebook do this any more! Did they have a lover’s spat? http://reut.rs/aE7vni
Today, while eating lunch in a restaurant, I opened the browser on my phone to look something up. That’s the reason I love easily portable Internet access the most: I have a curiosity that pokes its head up at the slightest provocation and wants its whim indulged.
My phone browser likes to give search suggestions as I type. But this time, I didn’t even have to start typing to trigger a suggestion. All I had to do was to be in a certain place.
The suggestion was a site about tipping.
Now, it’s nobody’s fault but my own that I can be tracked by GPS. I own a phone that I was aware was GPS-capable when I purchased it, as, indeed, I believe they all are now. I keep the GPS enabled. In fact, I have an app that calibrates it, because I often use the feature that gives me driving directions, and I prefer them to be accurate. So, whenever I use an app that involves location, I can expect to be pinpointed and targeted to.
But I hadn’t been aware that my phone browser was location-enabled without my approval. In fact, I dimly remember telling it not to enable that feature…or was that an app?
Oh, rats; it was an app; my Twitter app. (Which, currently, is Seesmic; it is not the one that came with the phone.
I cannot find a way to disable GPS on the browser.
I have become accustomed to ads on the sides of webpages that offer goods and services in my hometown, because they use IP addresses to find me. IP addresses are static, unavoidable, and have been used for many years for this purpose. And I have recently noticed that Google is starting to add, invisibly, my location to my searches. It still triggers my radar, but I’ve become resigned to this as well.
But when my phone does it, it still gives me a start. The line from “Minority Report” nudges my memory, emanating from a screen-bedecked support post in a building: “Mr. Anderton! You could use a vacation!”
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Axis of Hyperidentity.
You see, my phone is a Droid, and Droid is powered by Google software. It is just about impossible to use a Droid for anything but a phone without getting Google involved. When I bought it, the sales clerk insisted I input my Gmail address. If I didn’t have one, I would be required to create one before the initiation of phone function could proceed, and the phone had to be activated before I could leave the store with my purchase.
(This is not strictly true, by the way. I’ll tell you why in a moment.)
I did have a Gmail address, as it happened, though I’d never used it. This was because there were a few services that one day, all at once, decided I had to have a Gmail address before I would be allowed to log into them. If I recall correctly (and I may not), these included Google itself, YouTube, and Blogger. I’m sure there were several others. I had a Google login, but it now had to have a Gmail account to link to. My previous logins would not work without it, even if I opted to use them instead of my Gmail.
Now here is the part that yanks my chain. Droid, unlike the Blackberry that was my previous phone, does not store your contact list internally. Guess where it stores it? That’s right.
So, whether I like it or not, the rest of Google has access to the contents of my contact list.
And this means that Facebook has access to the contents of my contact list.
Facebook and Google became pillow buddies a little while back, and since then, I have been inundated with suggestions that I follow people whom I happen to know…but who were mentioned nowhere in my Facebook account. One was a professor I’d taken a class from at a community college. He either didn’t like to use the college’s provided email account, or he didn’t have one because he was part-time. So he had us all give him our email addresses so he could input them into his…
I knew that that was how Facebook made the connection between the professor and me, because I checked to see if we had any mutual friends. We did not. I don’t know how far back Google’s six-degrees-style algorithm goes back, although I am certain it has such a thing. But my professor’s Gmail account provided the only step necessary.
Let me note that this happened after the class was over, and I would have expected him to purge that list. I don’t know whether he did so, but I’m sure that the elephant I call the Axis – Facebook and Google and all the other services slaved to them – never forgets a contact, once entered into its lumbering behemoth of a database.
Let us move back now to the phone store, where I was, as you recall, purchasing a Droid.
I attempted to put my Gmail login into the phone, but, since I never used it, I had forgotten the password. I could have come up with it using the association process I use to remember such things, but I wanted to get the hell out of the phone store. My fingers were slipping and sliding and thoroughly defeating my use of the touchpad, and I wanted to go practice it in peace. So I allowed the sales clerk to make me a temporary, which she assured me could be deleted in favor of my first address once I got home.
I told her a login to use. She misspelled it.
So now I had a shiny new misspelled Gmail account to satisfy the dictates of the Axis. We completed the process, and I went home.
Whereupon I discovered that I could not associate the phone with my true account.
I picked up my landline and called the phone service company. The associate walked me through the scrubbing of everything the salesclerk and I had accomplished in the store, and reactivated the phone with my new account. Yes, I could have done this whole thing in the comfort of my own home.
End Axis of Hyperidentity Rant, Part One.