Remember, for these young techno-utopians, technology trumps all, even privacy. We saw a glimpse of that earlier this year when Facebook, that seemingly benign social network for young people, quietly implemented Beacon, which tracked users' purchases and then notified their friends in hopes of influencing their future purchases. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg professed surprise at the massive backlash against Beacon and shut it down -- but left the door opened for future surveillance programs.
But nowhere is the power to apply technology for its own sake more available than at Google. And despite the company's motto, and childlike logo and home page, this is the real driving force behind the company. And the long-term goal of this applied technology? Google has already said it: to manage all of the world's information.
Five years ago, this seemed harmless enough, even welcome. The Web is a huge, messy place -- so what's wrong with having some help navigating through it? But as Google has grown larger, and after it has taken over the big, general stuff (the Web) and begun focusing on the smaller, more specialized stuff (libraries, personal records, search patterns) that we begin to understand what "all" means ... and what Google is willing to do to get it.
For example, a couple weeks ago, in a barely noticed blog entry, reporter Clint Boulton of Computerworld recounted a conversation he'd had with a Google insider who admitted that whatever the company was saying publicly -- and to Congress -- about user privacy, it was indeed tracking not just user search trails, but also their identities -- so-called "Deep Packet Inspection." The entry drew few readers, and no comments, but it did attract attention from one source: A senior Google executive called the magazine to get it to back off the story.
Even if true, had Google lied to Congress about user privacy? Probably not -- at least not in the way that Google had carefully phrased its words.
Then there is Google's odd acquiescence to the demands by authoritarian regimes around the world, especially China, to censor its search operations in those countries. These actions, inexplicable at the time, only become clear when one assumes that Google's real business now is not providing a service to its users, but in owning the world's data.
And that brings us back to Chrome. Why so low key an introduction? And why suddenly turn on a solid partnership with browser provider Mozilla? The answer, I think, has two parts.
First, Google believes that Chrome could be its Microsoft killer. Not only does it have the potential to beat MS Explorer but, fulfilling Ellison's old dream, it could be a way to let users easily download applications from the Web -- and thus circumvent Microsoft's lock on Office, even Windows, the very core of its business.
But a second reason is more sinister. Only a few people have noticed that, until recently, in the Terms of Service for signing up for Chrome, Google demands "perpetual, irrevocable, world-wide, royalty free and non-exclusive" license to any materials users create with the browser. (Google on Thursday announced that it was rescinding the clause.)