Posted by: patenttranslator | October 18, 2010

Google Analytics – A Glimpse Into the Digital Fishbowl Called World

Because I launched my business website online more than 10 years ago, I known a few things about people who end up on it, such as the keywords that people who land on my site are using because I ask them about it when they call.

But Google Analytics opened my eyes to so many other interesting facts. For example, now I know that many people who use the links on my website to download patents in foreign languages are not really looking for translation at all. I don’t mind. I designed the website so that it would be useful to other people, translators and non-translators alike. It says in the Bible: “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.”

I also know now that my website has many more visitors from Virginia and California than from other states in the United States, what are the keywords that people typed into a search engine in English and other languages to find my site, and how many people landed on my pages by mistake – if they spend only a few seconds reading the text, they must have been looking for something else. I know for example that many people in India and China are very curious about PatentTranslators.com, and so are quite a few people in Taiwan. I really had no idea. I also found a website in China that basically copied the design of my website, including even the wording of the functions I offer for downloading of patents from the patent offices of different organizations in different countries, as well as the graphic design of the buttons and their arrangement on the left side of the screen (I rearranged it in the meantime).

Unlike a mere decade or so ago, we can now find answers to our questions instantaneously with a few mouse clicks. But the trade-off is that there is hardly any privacy left in the digital fishbowl of our world. If I know your address, I can type it into Google and see exactly where you live, even take a virtual walk through your neighborhood. I can then go to a site such as Realtor.com and see how much your house is worth in today’s collapsing real estate market. And you can do the same to me, of course. I think it’s a safe bet that people are doing this to other people all the time. There seems to be only one person who still has his privacy in the post-Google world. His first name is Osama. As for the rest of us, we are all swimming like goldfish in the same tiny and transparent digital fishbowl.

About 20 years ago, when I used to subscribe to Computer Currents and PC Magazine, a witty columnist for these magazines by the name of John Dvorak kept trying to figure out what would be the next killer application (“killer app”) for the software industry, after applications such as word processing and database processing software. Of course, he could not have figured out that it would be searching on Internet because there was no Internet yet. And it looks like Internet killed or is killing his PC Magazine too, at least in its paper form, because it recently disappeared from the display shelves at my local Barnes and Noble’s bookstore. (A quick Google search tells me that John Dvorak is now blogging at dvorak.org).

If I have at my disposal a wealth of information from Google Analytics about people who come to my website, I can only imagine what various alphabet soup government agencies have at their disposal about me and everybody else. They can easily find out what kind of bread and coffee we buy from the “preferred customer cards” scanned at the cash register. I am not sure what they will do with it, but I am pretty sure they are working on it. And there must be many private “information brokers” who collect and sell various types of information about me, you and everybody else, including for example when was the last oil change for your car. Since this and other information is available somewhere online, somebody somewhere must be trying to figure out how to make money with this information. It beats honest work.

I really like Google Analytics. But I was doing quite well without them in my line of business for 23 years. Actually, I was doing quite well as a patent translator before there was Internet. In fact, most people were, as long as they knew what they were doing, right? And some of them had to close the shop because of the Internet (while others were able to open their shop thanks to the Internet).

What John Dvorak did not figure out and could not have figured out a quarter century ago was that the next killer application was going to be Internet, the killer application that would answer all or almost all of our questions with a few clicks of the mouse.

And kill in the process stone dead a quaint concept called privacy.

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