“”If I can operate Google, I can find anything… Google, combined with Wi-Fi, is a little bit like God. God is wireless, God is everywhere and God sees and knows everything. Throughout history, people connected to God without wires. Now, for many questions in the world, you ask Google, and increasingly, you can do it without wires, too.”" – Allen Cohen, Author.
I have always been fascinated by new technologies emerging in the personal communication space and therefore seldom able to resist the temptation of buying new gadgets. Carrying forward the tradition, I recently bought myself a Samsung Galaxy S2 -an android based Smartphone. Acknowledged to be the best smart phone ever, the phone didn’t disappoint. Armed with features like bright display, multi-touch, fast processor (1.2 Ghz), Memory (1 gb RAM, 16 gb on board memory) and an 8mp camera, the phone is an ultimate treat for the techno-geek in all of us. But mighty as it may seem, the real strength of the device is not actually the hardware but its Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) Operating system (OS), the hardware configuration only plays a supporting role for bringing about the best in Gingerbread.
However, my love affair with Android ended rather abruptly and the initial euphoria surrounding its purchase soon gave way to heightened concern when within the time span of a month I realized Android was far more than being just an innocent graphics intensive Smartphone OS I had believed it to be. In fact, the birth of Android (if my hunch is right) marks the end of an era where innocent devices ruled. To understand how this has happened and why is it significant to our lives lets first understand Android.
Android, Inc. was founded in California, United States in October, 2003 by by Andy Rubin, Rich Miner, Nick Sears and Chris White to develop, in Rubin’s words “…smarter mobile devices that are more aware of its owner’s location and preferences“. Since this objective fitted perfectly with Google’s own objective of improving advertising revenues (any one who thinks Google is a software company should look at the source for 99% of its revenues) through highly targeted ads, it bought Android Inc in August 2005.
Android consists of a kernel based on the Linux kernel and has been available under a free and open source software license (means it is free for use). Google also teamed up with other vendors who were battered by the Apples I-Phone and formed the Open Handset Alliance, a consortium of 84 hardware, software, and telecommunication companies devoted to, in official words “…advancing open standards for mobile devices” which in lay man’s term would read joining hands against a common enemy.
The success of android can be gauged from the fact that as of 1st August 2011 it controlled 48% market share and growing @ 4.4% per week!! The biggest blow from the spectacular growth of Android has been taken by Nokia with its Symbian OS and Research in Motion (owners of Blackberry brand). Though Apple has not been affected much due to its premium positioning, Android devices like the Samsung Galaxy S2 are now sophisticated enough to take the iphone head on in the premium category.
Now, lets just ask ourselves two questions, 1) What is it that gives Android such a powerful momentum in the market? and 2) What’s in it for Google who gives away the license for free? The answers to these haunting questions are clear as soon as one finds out exactly what Google plans to do with android enabled phones. Lets see if we can unravel this mystery.
Google Inc. is a technology driven advertising company which derives most of its revenue from fee charged to clients for placement of sponsored links on the search results displayed on its website Google.com. Apart from web search Google has already entered segments like navigational services (Google Maps / Earth), Email, Blogging, Social Networking, Browser, Operating Systems. If you can see, the common reason for entering these services by a company which predominantly has competencies in advertising can be only for two reasons:
- Leverage demographic, geographical, and economic profile of the customer generated through services like Email, Maps, Browser, OS (web as well as mobile) etc. for attracting new Ad clients .
- Create multiple platforms for delivery of targeted Ads like Emails (Ads are place below the actual message or on the sides), Blogs (each blog carries number of ads), Maps (hover over a location and you will find sponsored entries from the area pop up).
In all probability (I am not a Google insider) Google charges its clients for both these services which more than makes up for the freebies that it doles out to end users. Android too has been kept free to ensure viability of its use for the device manufacturers and keeping end prices low to compete against giants like Apple, RIM and Nokia. With Android, Google will now have a comprehensive profile of most of worlds citizens. Our phone number, address, friends, likes, dislikes, purchases, our entire social history is being stored in Google’s databases. Not only this, which restaurants I frequent, which shops I visit, where I holiday, etc. is all profiled. Now frankly speaking, I don’t have any problems with Google using this data for making money so long as identity and sensitive information of individuals are protected. The issue is Google now sits on a mine of sensitive personal information which is fed by user data every second by millions of Android devices, Emails, Chats, Blogs across the globe, can Google be trusted with the safe keep of our information without getting greedy and selling it off to interested parties? Detailed records on millions of people across the globe, lying in the hands of just one company is an idea I am not very comfortable with.
Google is a great brand; the company has been leveraging this by extending its brand architecture across segments which present strategic or tactical advantage. Had there been any other company in Google’s place it would have done the same thing, or probably would have done much harm by now. But it should be borne in mind that an important industrial segment dominated by a single player presents a huge systemic risk which I believe should be analyzed in great detail.
For the time being I have already started curtailing the amount of personal information I disclose to sites like Facebook , Google etc. I have also started to consciously limit my exposure to internet through my phone. For this I usually disconnect EDGE/3G /Wifi connectivity after each session, avoid storing sensitive information like Credit Card numbers , User account details, in the phone, avoid syncing phone contacts, notes or calendar entries with social networking sites, avoid playing social networking games, and downloading apps from credible sources only.
I will soon return with a post on how Google and Facebook will together change the way our societies function.
YF - IThink