Innovative, Useful, and Slightly Scarey

So, my friend’s seven year old daughter tried to call me on Google Hangouts yesterday.

I didn’t get the call because my phone was another room and I wasn’t looking at a computer. If I had my phone or if I was looking at the computer, I’d have gotten the call. And yes, I’d have answered the call. The interesting thing about all of this isn’t so much that she tried to call me. She’s a bright girl. She has an Android tablet and she knows how to use it. So her calling up the Hangouts app and calling me isn’t all that surprising.

Rather it’s a testament to Google’s ease of use and connectivity that a seven year old was able to find me on Google because of the connections Google made for her. I’ve never added her on Google+, nor do I have her email. To be honest, I wasn’t even aware she had a Google account. Yet she got into Hangouts and found me because I’d be a secondary connection from her mom and dad. Google saw that she’s connected to her mom, her mom is connected to me, so it assumed and populated my account to her connections as well. I’m sure there’s more going on in the background as her mom has emailed me and that makes the connection stronger because we’ve actually used it.

It’s either one of the greatest things ever or one of the scariest. After all, technology like this allows us a global communication network. I can talk to my friend in Belgium and they can talk with their friend in the UK. I can send a message to Osaka and hear back in seconds. Google took everything one step further and analyzed our connections to other people. I talk to John and he talks to Rebecca, maybe I want to talk to Rebecca too. Then again, it can all go sideways at the speed of light when it makes an undesirable connection. Maybe you’re trying to avoid an abusive parent or spouse or that ex-boyfriend from college who won’t leave you alone.

Suddenly, Google is all like “Hey! That ex-boyfriend talks to your friend’s husband and also to an acquaintance that you barely know! Naturally you want to talk to him too, right? Here’s your information for him and his information for you!”

That’s what makes the online privacy game so sticky. How do you easily make those connections you want without finding yourself on someone’s list you never cared to be a part of? You can tweak and modify and massage your privacy settings, sure. However with Google and Facebook these are moving targets and features are added, removed, absorbed, and re-purposed without much warning or fanfare.

I know that I won’t solve it, but I certainly think about it an awful lot. In the meantime, I’m happy that she found me and felt like I was an okay person to reach out to online.

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