Monday Grok: What do Facebook and Google know about you?

Plus, keeping Cloud costs in check, and Google’s spacemen

There’s an interesting and typically uncomfortable story published this morning in the <i>Guardian</i> by journalist James Bell where he investigated what information Facebook and Google hold on him.

Privacy is a pretty straight forward concept. There are some things we don’t want to share with anyone else, or everyone else for that matter, and some stuff we do. Our judgment around the decision to share adjusts depending on context. And the notion that some things are best forgotten is easily understood by anyone old enough to walk into a bar and order one banana daiquiri too many.

The capacity of companies like Google and Facebook to hoover up and store vast amounts of data (and trouser a tidy profit on the way through) has lead to suggestions that we need to recalibrate our concept of privacy to adjust to these new circumstances. Those suggestions are usually made by people with a vested interest in the commercial outcome — advertisers, publishers and even academics.

But of course that’s nonsense. Putting a brick through the Window of a shop front is no less offensive just because someone has built a better brick.

Often missing from the discussion though is a simple explanation of what companies know about us, and this is where the Guardian story is useful.

As the author noted, he has been on “Facebook since it came to the UK in 2005; who’s had a YouTube account almost as long; and was on Gmail back when invitations to the service were something to beg, borrow and steal, rather than a nuisance.”

The result pretty much confirms what you suspected, except perhaps that Google makes it slightly easier to discover and adjust the data it has on you than Facebook does. Indeed, the author noted that privacy advocates estimate that Facebook only makes about 29 per cent of the information it holds on you available through the site’s tools.

Cloud Creep: Keeping your Cloud costs in check

<i>Techcrunch</i> carried a story this morning called “Sins of the Cloud” which outlines common cost-ratcheting errors companies make when they shop their infrastructure into the Cloud.

Based on the seven deadly sins, the article describes all the little things you can do wrong that add up into a big bad bill on the credit card at the end of the month.

As a greenfield dotcom developer, your humble grokker can’t get enough of Cloud computing, but that didn’t stop him reading this article three times and then printing it out and posting it up on the office wall.

Gluttony and Greed top the list. In the context of the story this means over engineering the hardware just because you can, and adding extra services because it’s just so easy.

The mathematics of Cloud computing are a game changer for many companies — particularly start-ups — but it pays to remember that somebody somewhere has to make a buck from all that seemingly limitless cheap technology. It’s the little extras that get you every time, as anyone with a Foxtel account or an iTunes addiction intrinsically understands.

Google’s Page and Schmidt want to be spacemen

Finally, Google shareholders will be thrilled to hear that founder Larry Page and executive chairman Eric Schmidt have found time in their busy schedules to indulge in a little bit star gazing...Well, asteroid mining to put it accurately.

The pair have teamed up with Avatar director James Cameron to invest in Planetary Resources, a company which plans to mine asteroids for natural resources. You can find the details through the looking glass over here on the Sydney Morning Herald website.

Andrew Birmingham is the CEO of Silicon Gully Investments. Follow him on Twitter @ag_birmingham.

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