I was playing around with Google Dashboard this morning. After reading the cnet post on Google’s Data Liberation Project, and Google’s announcement of DataLiberation.org, I could not help but get a excited about what they were doing. Trying to be ‘open’ and ‘liberate’ data sounds great!
Many web services make it difficult to leave their services – you have to pay them for exporting your data, or jump through all sorts of technical hoops – for example, exporting your photos one by one, versus all at once. We believe that users – not products – own their data, and should be able to quickly and easily take that data out of any product without a hassle. We’d rather have loyal users who use Google products because they’re innovative – not because they lock users in. You can think of this as a long-term strategy to retain loyal users, rather than the short-term strategy of making it hard for people to leave.
We’ve already liberated over half of all Google products, from our popular blogging platform Blogger, to our email service Gmail, and Google developer tools including App Engine. In the upcoming months, we also plan to liberate Google Sites and Google Docs (batch-export).
Awesome! I jumped right in as I had two very specific things to address. I wanted to see if I could remove some information from Google that would change Google search behavior. Those issues are:
1. After I responded to a friend’s email inquiry a few months ago (sent to my Gmail account) regarding a piece of electronics equipment, I started to see ads for that product in my search results. I have no interest in the product and it does not belong in my search results.
2. I do a lot of driving and I use Google and Amazon maps. Google has started altering my route endpoints arbitrarily. I own a home, but the address is not registered as my home address anywhere except tax records, and has never been used in any online search, much less a Google map search (for very specific reasons). But Google Maps has been altering the endpoints of my routes to direct me to this property; it’s not an address I want to travel to and I did not enter it. How Google found it and then associated it with me is a interesting in and of itself, but to arbitrarily assume I want to go there is both annoying and disconcerting.
So I plunged right and and found: zero. Nothing that showed any of that data, nor how it was being used. Oh well. I guess my expectations were far too high. So I took a step back and looked at exactly what Google is offering.
Digging in, what does the concept of “liberated” data get me? To “… easily take that data out of any product without a hassle” is a nice idea. Medical records, photos, and social media site contents would be great to have copies of. But making digital copies is trivial, and I don’t think Google is talking about removal from products or services, but taking a copy and importing that copy into another app or service. Looking at the Dashboard, control and management is absent. To put this into context, when I think of data management, I think of the Data Security Lifecycle concept that Rich and I present at conferences. Data ownership and management is totally different than getting a copy. Most people will read this ‘take’ in a non-digital, real-world analog sense, meaning to ‘remove’. Google is using the digital sense, where ‘take’ is closer to ‘propagate’.
Furthermore, I am not sure just what exactly they mean by an “an open web run on open standards”. Is Google offering an open data format? An open API to control or manage data? Or do they mean all web data being open to web search (Google), and available to as many applications (Google) and services (Google) as you care to use?
It sounded so good, but unfortunately there does not seem to be anything of substance behind the press releases! That’s why I think this is all window dressing. Call me a skeptical security guy, but it looks like Google is taking a page out of Microsoft’s handbook, in that they are creating a tool to combat user fears and concerns, but data storage and management become tied more closely to Google, not less. Taking data from one place to another provides additional attributes and context that increases its value. Google remains in control and it will be very difficult to argue who owns that data.