Any day now, I expect Google to release their latest product: Google Toilet Paper.
It will be delivered to your doorstep for free, the production costs covered by targeted ads printed on the paper in biodegradable ink. It will be softer and nicer than any competing product (except Apple’s, but that’s quite expensive and only works in Apple Bathrooms), and it will have several unique features which I’m not smart enough to anticipate but which will surely revolutionise the toilet paper industry overnight.
Inside every roll, there will be an RFID chip which can be read by the RFID reader in the next generation of Android phones. There will also be a simple rotation counter connected to the chip, so that the roll knows how often you use paper when you visit the toilet, and how much paper you use each time. All this information will be automatically uploaded to Google, the next time you sync your gmail account with your phone. By matching the pattern of your toilet visits to the e-mails and search queries of people with similar patterns, Google will then have a pretty good idea of any bowel-related afflictions you may have, often long before you do.
The uploading of your toilet paper usage data to Google, will be enabled by default in your phone. You will be given a fair warning about this, however, and there will be an easy way to disable that option with a single click. Although, when you do so, several seemingly unrelated features of various Google apps on your phone will become slightly less convenient to use, so most people will just sigh and re-enable the feature.
And you know what? So will I. I just don’t care anymore. I used to be quite the privacy geek — not because I have anything in particular to hide, just because of a soft-libertarian aversion against any government or large organisation having an excessive amount of knowledge about me, as well as a natural interest in the cool technologies that can be used to keep one’s information to oneself. But a few days after I bought my new Android phone, I realised that I may as well give in.
My phone is linked to my gmail account, of course — I wasn’t planning to, since I don’t use that account for my normal e-mail anyway, but I had to supply a Google account in order to use the app store, and as soon as I did so several other apps on the phone also learned about it. Of course, when you buy an app you also have to enter your credit card number, after which the payment is handled by the Google Checkout service, just in case they did not have your number already (including the CVC2 code, which I thought on-line merchants were not supposed to store persistently, yet I only had to enter it once?).
For the first few days, I resisted using the Location service, which can locate my phone at home to within 75 meters even when the GPS is turned off, thanks to Google’s comprehensive database of mobile phone base stations and wireless networks. But it’s just too damn convenient, and it costs a lot less battery power than the GPS. So I turned it on, and resigned myself to the fact that Google can now follow me through my day.
Oh well, if you’re going to have a huge corporation collect obsessively detailed dossiers on just about every inhabitant of the developed world — dossiers so detailed that any secret service of just 10 years ago would be astonished by them, at least it’s good that their company motto is “don’t be evil”, right? (Somehow the phrase “doth protest too much” springs to mind.)
So I enabled all those cool, useful, extremely clever features of my new phone, each of which just happens to require sending a bit more information about me to that big database in Mountain View, California, and I tried not to think too much about how much trust I am placing into Google’s employees to behave responsibly with that data. Because it sure is a nice phone.