It started with a simple problem: I couldn’t sync my work calendar to my phone because my job didn’t work on the exchange network. Whatever the technical details really are, my smart phone and my e-mail and my appointments and everything in between were not on the same page. In my honest opinion, nothing is worse than not having your work and personal life in sync — that is to say, not conflicting with one another.

Because I didn’t have it together , I ended up double-booking my time for a weekend — once for business and once for a personal matter. Both required a financial investment, a retainer of sorts for a seminar and money down for a flight. That’s what I call an unforced error.

In response, I went the traditional route and caved to the idea of having my work e-mail and calendar go to my phone, something I had been avoiding to keep some sort of separation between church and state. As I just wrote, that didn’t work out for technical reasons I cannot explain or regurgitate without feeling sick in the stomach.

Some contextual history

A long time ago, I thought it might be cool to keep an online calendar on Yahoo! It was a short-lived affair for two reasons:

  1. A lack of appointments. I literally didn’t have much going on, other than the occassional dinner date, movie, etc. That doesn’t need a calendar at all, just a sharp mind — if that.
  2. There was an emphasis by Yahoo! to utilize the ability to share your calendar with other Yahoo! contacts or make it a publicly available calendar. Being outside of the business realm at the time, a red flag went up for me. I consider my time and the things I do a private matter not for mass consumption. Especially to the entire world. (It’s not like I was a public person at the time, but it was really the principle of the matter. You don’t need to know what I’m doing.)

So with a bit of paranoia spurred by movies like “Hackers” and “Enemy of the State,” I gave up on that. Wasn’t a big deal at the time.

Fast forward seven years. The advance of Google’s Gmail and other services (including those they have purchased) have had a significant impact on my online world. I use Google Reader to keep track of hundreds of sites and blogs. I use Blogger for my sports blog. I use Google Maps for directions, mapping for my jogging routes and to find restaurants. (Yeah, I know. That’s a lot.) And of course, I use its search to bridge the gap to the rest of the internet.

Last week, I took another step with Google, utilizing its calendar for all of my work, blog and personal needs. With the help of Google’s mobile prouduct, Google Sync, I’m able to get the same calendar on my phone with the ability to update from either the web or the device. (BTW, there was definite trouble getting this all to run smoothly, but that’s another entry.)

The interface of is alluring, despite being a distant fourth in the search engine business -- if that.
The interface of is alluring, despite being a distant fourth in the search engine business -- if that.
If you’ve been following, you can see what kind of picture I’m painting. Google knows what I’m reading, knows my interests based on search queries, knows my location and jogging routes, and now what I’m doing most of the day. I’m starting to realize what kind of power this company has over me. The privacy concerns I had once before, have quadrupled twice over.

This makes my next set of choices very easy and very slim:

  1. Spread out my online services — I don’t need gmail/gchat. I can use my domain e-mail. (Currently, I’m having it imported into my gmail — I know, but it’s this synergy thing I’ve got going.) I can utilize other search engines, such as Yahoo, Cuil, MSN, or Ask. I sort of like Ask’s interface and it gets the added benefit, as does Cuil, of not being a portal. I can use Newsgator RSS products to follow blogs and sites. WordPress for my blog and etc., etc. Basically, I don’t have to use their free services. There’s lot of free services out there that do a lot of what Google does, and sometimes better.
  2. I can have faith in Google — There is an option, found here, to turn off personalized Google advertising through Adsense and Adwords. It has to be used on each computer you access your Google account. But that’s explicitly for the purpose of targeted advertising. It doesn’t erase the fact that some administrator can undoubtedly look through my history and glean all the personal details necessary to target me maliciously. (It’s not like I’m hiding, but nonetheless it’s there.) That’s why I have to hope Google is vigilant in its protection of my information and deletes or clears the cache of information on its servers on a regular basis.

Because the allure of synergy and portal Web sites are so compelling with Google, Yahoo, MSN and others, it is too easy to get caught up in taking advantage of the readily free services. I think the best practice will be to diversify your online endeavors among the leading industry sites, rather than invest your entire online life in one portal. If anything, it’s protecting yourself. Just like I hope it will protect me.

Google Products I use

  • Adsense
  • Alerts
  • Blogger
  • Calendar
  • Docs
  • Gmail
  • Google Friend Connect
  • iGoogle
  • Mobile
  • Picasa Web Albums
  • Reader
  • Google Talk
  • YouTube

Link: Google Privacy Center