From time to time I suffer from Google-anxiety. Prompted by somebody reminding me just how much data I hand over to the search giant, I begin to wonder if I've put too my trust in one company's services and applications. Google knows about every email I send and receive, my social network as dictated by my email address book, the blogs and news sources I read, my calendar, and, of course, the searches I make. Wow, that's a lot of data. And yet it happens in such a subtle manner, since most of Google's services aren't overtly linked beyond the convenience of the company's single sign-in and some limited data exchange. However, Google anxiety is compounded by the fact that we know the company snoops on this data, or more accurately, Google's algorithm does, in order to target ads.
With news that Google is working on developing a set of social graph APIs which sit on top of, and join together, a user's social data across the company's many services, it will soon become that bit more explicit how much Google knows about us, as third-party applications, with our permission, will get access to much of this data and be able to mash it together to create interesting and useful applications and functionality. At this point, however, it's no longer an algorithm which is snooping on our data, but human eyes.
Whose eyes will depend on how the individual application is constructed, and who you give permission to access that application's data. But, as Facebook's third-party applications prove, users aren't always aware of what they're giving away when they click install and accept any associated terms and conditions. Giving outside applications access to my social graph on Facebook is one of the reasons I'm less and less inclined to "play" on the site. I'm convinced that most users are completely unaware of what they giving away when installing Facebook applications, and this problem will be even more evident when Google rolls out its own social networking layer and third-party development platform.
I may have convinced myself that it's just computers that are snooping on my Google data, but when third-party apps can also access and make sense of that data, this will no longer be the case.