... And that N is Nanaimo. Google's been busy; its latest venture has been the analysis, assimilation and compilation of just about all public data for a town in British Columbia, Nanaimo. No doubt this was part of their Master Plan all along (what happened to Don't Be Evil?), but it seems that nothing is beyond their reach these days.

For example, want to know where the fire engines are, and how many calls there have been today, this week or this month? Just click through to their web site for realtime statistics. Want street-level imagery of the entire town? Fire up Google Earth and there you go. And if that made you go 'wow', that's not the only stuff they can show you;

"With Nanaimo, they have mapped nearly every conceivable thing using Google Earth and Google Maps," Michael Jones, Google Earth's chief technology officer, said last August at a conference in Vancouver. "Their citizens have more information about their city than the people of San Francisco."

All hail the all-seeing-Google! Google knows all! For a while now, Street View vans have been making their way through our towns and cities (my housemate recently showed me his street level journey into Las Vegas, from hotel to convention centre, after returning from this year's CES. It wasn't just aerial view, it was street by street and junction by junction, at ground level, in 3D - a very odd experience). At the same time, businesses are moving their email and work-related info over wholesale to Google-based platforms, plus we have the millions of individuals using Google by default as their launchpad into the Web - no doubt the big G's getting some very nice statistics to refine their advertising algorithms with. Does anybody else find it a little disconcerting that there's a select few companies who are getting the lion's share of our personal and public data, aggregating it and then doing some deep analysis on it to glean all they can from it? Where does it stop? Will Google or start buying statistical information from retailers (e.g. Tesco's Clubcard scheme) to further profile you and put you into a socio-economic profile - then offer you services accordingly?

The retention, analysis and resale of personal data is a hot topic at the moment, so it seems oddly appropriate that I be discussing an entire town's data being collected and analysed by the world's largest search engine (and one of the world's largest holders of 'anonymous' web usage statistics?) It's particularly prescient given the recent debate and discussion surrounding the introduction of Phorm to several UK ISPs (and one ISP, TalkTalk, announcing that they'd changed their gameplan and are were going to only introduce Phorm on an opt-in basis, as opposed to a blanket opt-in with a partial opt-out).

Presently, I don't think the majority of consumers understand or care about the extent to which they're profiled on the web, largely because they either consider it to be unrealistic (but the future is today!) or they haven't been educated to the benefits and dangers correctly of what these kinds of ventures could entail.

Either way, for me, it's partly the ethics and partly the fact that it's a 'foot in the door' for just about anybody, public sector or Government, to ramp up the amount by which citizens are monitored, profiled, maybe even targeted for surveillance... Are we, as citizens, unwittingly handing over some of our crucial rights as individuals to the great cloud in the sky, only to realise too late we've handed over some of the very things that grant us privacy and peace of mind in our own lives?


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