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Google: Sees All, Knows All, Sells All

Deb Amlen
June 27, 2014
security camera pointing at the words 'what are you looking at?'
security camera pointing at the words 'what are you looking at?'


It’s entirely possible that Google’s recent move into home security products through its acquisition of indoor security camera manufacturer Dropcam and outdoor satellite monitor Skybox Imaging is a perfectly innocent attempt to broaden the array of services it provides to consumers. Benefit of the doubt and all that.

In fact, Google would probably say that there is absolutely nothing wrong with a company that derives most of its revenues from advertising based on what you do on your computer or inside your home. Or outside it, for that matter.

Because, really, what’s a few glances around your living room between friends? Who wouldn’t trade a little loss of privacy to know that your stuff and your loved ones are protected? 

Wait, that couldn’t happen, right? Google wouldn’t use its capability to monitor the activity in your home to sell you its advertisers’ stuff, would it?

Of course not. But it could.

Dropcam camera
Dropcam camera


Scene: A phone call in my living room. 

Customer service agent: Good afternoon, this is Google’s Dropcam customer support. How may I help you?

Smiling woman wearing phone headset
Smiling woman wearing phone headset


Me: Hello. I just installed one of your security cameras in my home, and I’m not sure it’s functioning correctly. I’m on your website, but I can’t find the FAQ.

CSA: I’ll be happy to help you. I’ll just turn on my monitor so I can see what the camera is seeing. Now, are you sure you’re comfortable?

Me: Uh, yes. Why?

CSA: Well, I noticed that you’re sitting on a really old sofa.

Beat-up sofa
Beat-up sofa


Me: Wait, all the ads on my screen just changed to IKEA!

CSA: I don’t have any control over that part of the system, but don’t you just adore IKEA? Such cute product names, and their stuff lasts forever.

Me: That’s just wrong! And it’s not why I contacted you.

CSA: No, of course it isn’t. I’m just performing some tests to see what could be malfunctioning in your system. Please continue to hold.

Me: Fine. [Sips an adult beverage while waiting.] What’s happening? Now I see an ad for the Betty Ford Center! Get that off there!

Cocktail with lemon
Cocktail with lemon


CSA: I’m terribly sorry, ma’am. Customer Service really doesn’t have any control over the advertising algorithms.

Me: For an algorithm, it’s awfully judgmental.

CSA: [sighs] And passive-aggressive. One guy I spoke to last week liked to visit his fridge at 2 a.m., and he started getting ads for lap-band surgery. He clicked Close on that one, and by the next day, ads for workout apps filled up his entire screen.

Man and dog staring into open refrigerator
Man and dog staring into open refrigerator


Me: That’s horrible! How did this happen?

CSA [reading from a script]: Google is a leader in innovation, and not just with our search engine. The company strives to make life better for its advertisers—sorry, I meant customers. I always trip over that line.

Me: So that fight I had with my boyfriend the other day …?

CSA: … could be why you were solicited to be on the Dr. Phil show, yes.

Dr. Phil
Dr. Phil


: What about the …?

CSA: You probably shouldn’t be doing that, either. By the way, someone just stole your car.

Masked man breaking into car
Masked man breaking into car


: How can you possibly know that before me? I’m sitting right near the win— oh my god, my car is gone! How did you do that?

CSA: Skybox. We’re not going to be live-streaming to the public until 2018, mind you, but inside the company we’ve been having some fun with it.

[I hang up.]

CSA: Hello? Hello, are you there? Oh, now, pouting won’t do you any good. Why don’t you go outside and get some fresh air? You know how much you love gardening … and your azaleas are looking a little brown.

Is there something weirdly popular on the Internet that you’d like explained? Write to Deb Amlen at buzzologyYT@yahoo.com and let her know. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter (@debamlen).