The lack of substantive knowledge about Google’s actions, combined with general concerns regarding how its logs could be abused, makes it difficult to sort out the real threats. For example, one of Google’s most well-known bloggers did student cooperative work at the US National Security Agency. But while this fact is a running joke in certain discussions of Google’s possible links to spying agencies, it’s ultimately meaningless. Any intelligence agency moles at Google (and it’s likely there are a few) will not have a public record identifying them as potential secret agents. However, without much concrete on which to focus, the substantive issue ends up only discussed in terms of symbolic factoids.
The task is then to prise out any abuses from behind the wall of corporate secrecy. Otherwise, we could end up with an unholy alliance between corporations and governments, where corporations act as privatised spies for governments, while government data retention mandates are used to give corporations an excuse to keep the sort of detailed records they’d want to in any case for market research and sale.
The amount of data Google collects on web users, combined with its expertise in indexing and data-mining, presents a danger worth addressing. There are similar dangers from other companies.