It’s a Conspiracy!

One of the issues I face periodically on Ask Leo! is that of what we colloquially call “conspiracy theories.”

Be it part of a question, or just a rant, I get comments from people from time to time that are absolutely convinced that there’s a massive government or corporate conspiracy to invade their privacy, steal their information, or worse. Usually it’s of the generic variety — “they’re after us all” — but I’ll occasionally see the more personal version as well — “they’re after me.”

This bothers me in part because these folks are choosing to live a life in fear that is generally unfounded.

What worries me more is that it often prevents them from doing things that would benefit them, or ironically, protect them.

In a video post a few days ago, Lauren Weinstein, the founder of PFIR – People For Internet Responsibility (among other things) discussed questions he gets asked about Google on a regular basis. He plans this as a recurring video series to address the most common questions he gets. (Great concept. 🙂 ).

One of the very first topics that made it into his inaugural episode was the importance of securing your Google Account by providing Google with a mobile phone number. He then also went on to comment on how he hears from people who refuse to do so because they’re convinced that Google’s going to turn around and use that number for some other nefarious purpose.

I.E. Google’s behind some conspiracy and wants your phone number to that end.


And, yes, I’ll be writing up an Ask Leo! article on this topic at some point soon. Many of the issues raised need to be publicly debunked, and the broader the audience the better. Accounts are hacked and lost daily that could have been recovered had the individual taken the step of providing that recovery phone number.

And that’s all it is. Google wants your phone number to secure your account, and help you get back into it should you have a password or related problem. That’s it. There is no conspiracy.

That’s what I mean by people actively avoiding something that would protect them because they don’t trust Google with the information.

And, yet, they’re apparently OK with having a Google account in the first place. That part I really don’t get.

I suspect there are lots of possible reasons people fall into conspiracy theory traps. Lord knows there are plenty of theories running around right now in technology, politics, and who knows what else. I’m sure that there are many papers by psychology experts that would go into all sorts of directions and detail.

When it comes to technology I have two theories that I think account for much of the willingness to believe in conspiracies: lack of information, and lack of control.

While Google still does a poor job of communicating to its customers, especially its customers in distress.

And if you are one of those customers in distress, it’s very easy to feel that you have exactly zero control over your digital life. You’re completely at Google’s mercy.


To be fair, Google’s actually one of the better large services. Microsoft, Yahoo!, and others all suffer from exactly these same and similar scenarios.

And, naturally,it all feeds the conspiracy in some people’s minds.

I truly wish that there was a way to allow and encourage these services to be significantly more transparent and responsive. At a minimum they could all be doing a much better job of communicating with the users that Lauren and I hear from every day.