Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The old king is dead; long live the new king

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

As most revolutionaries will confess, the hardest part in a revolution comes after you’ve actually gotten what you asked for. A large number of them turn into the very people they sought to displace. Perhaps, letting them make the same mistakes as their erstwhile oppressors is nature’s way of extracting comeuppance.

In its iconic 1984 Superbowl ad, Apple sought to challenge the staid dominance of the personal computing industry by ‘big brother’ IBM. It promised to bring colour to the stifling assembly line world of all grey. Apple won that shakeout and in a few years, went on to dominate the industry. When Apple became the oppressor, it was challenged by Microsoft. Like a nagging spouse, history repeated itself and Microsoft became the market leader by ushering in cheap personal computers which were easy to use and accessible to a large swath of the population. When Microsoft tried to use its dominance of the personal computing market to try to control the Internet, it was tossed out like yesterday’s newspaper by a small start-up called Google. Now, Google’s omnipresence on the web is being challenged by the Facebook juggernaut.

Right now, Google is that movie actress who is in that awkward phase between being too old to be the leading lady and being too young to play a mother, so she resorts to all sorts of ‘compromises’ like showing more skin whilst claiming that it’s an essential part of the script. So, when Google announced this week that it will finally stop pretending not to be evil and combine the terms & conditions across the various services the company provides to make it easier for itself to collect and sell user profiles to advertisers, s**t hit the fan. Everyone seemed to be disappointed in Google, like an Indian parent who just found out that his child is in love with a person from of a different religion. HOW COULD THEY DO THIS TO US, AFTER ALL THAT WE HAVE DONE FOR THEM?

Just like tyrannical governments who aim to stifle opposition in the guise of maintaining law & order, Google is using patronizing Orwellian terms to describe its new set of policies. Apparently, it’s making these hard decisions to make things easier for you. If I had a rupee for every time a ruthless corporate behemoth claimed to care about me, I’d have enough money to open a shady Swiss bank account.

Let’s face it. Despite our empty threats, we’re not going to stop using a popular web service just because the service provider is recording all our activities in a file, like an old school intelligence agency. We’re addicted to the instant gratification of the internet, and you’re going to take away this drug from our cold, dead hands. (Although, if you’re doing that, don’t forget to upload the video to You Tube. What? We wouldn’t be able to do it, we’d be dead!). The fact of the matter is that none of us really want to go back to a world in which we cannot instantly share our every thought with four thousand of our closest friends. Or drop the pretence of keeping in touch with racist relatives and classmates we don’t remember so that they don’t bother us in the real world. And how did we ever live without being able to share pictures of every moment of every vacation with strangers on the internet?

When someone is providing you a service for free, then you are the product they are selling. Databases get sold. Accounts get hacked. Companies get desperate. In hindsight, the Faustian bargain we made many years ago to provide tech companies with all our private information so that they could bombard us with targeted adds in lieu of being given limited access to hundreds of gigabytes of free space on the internet seems to be a tad unfair.

We love our privacy. Especially when it whizzes past us, waving goodbye with a lump in its throat and a tear in its eye.

I, for one, don’t trust anybody. Therefore, I store all my passwords in a file on my desktop called passwords.

What could go wrong?

No comments: