SCROOGLED

Google controls your e-mail, your videos, your calendar, your searches… What if it controlled your life?

Greg landed at San Francisco International Airport at 8 p.m., but by the time he’d made it to the front of the customs line, it was after midnight. He’d emerged from first class, brown as a nut, unshaven, and loose-limbed after a month on the beach in Cabo (scuba diving three days a week, seducing French college girls the rest of the time). When he’d left the city a month before, he’d been a stoop-shouldered, potbellied wreck. Now he was a bronze god, drawing admiring glances from the stews at the front of the cabin.

Four hours later in the customs line, he’d slid from god back to man. His slight buzz had worn off, sweat ran down the crack of his ass, and his shoulders and neck were so tense his upper back felt like a tennis racket. The batteries on his iPod had long since died, leaving him with nothing to do except eavesdrop on the middle-age couple ahead of him.

“The marvels of modern technology,” said the woman, shrugging at a nearby sign: Immigration—Powered by Google.

“I thought that didn’t start until next month?” The man was alternately wearing and holding a large sombrero.

 

Googling at the border. Christ. Greg had vested out of Google six months before, cashing in his options and “taking some me time”—which turned out to be less rewarding than he’d expected. What he mostly did over the five months that followed was fix his friends’ PCs, watch daytime TV, and gain 10 pounds, which he blamed on being at home instead of in the Googleplex, with its well-appointed 24-hour gym.

He should have seen it coming, of course. The U.S. government had lavished $15 billion on a program to fingerprint and photograph visitors at the border, and hadn’t caught a single terrorist. Clearly, the public sector was not equipped to Do Search Right.

The DHS officer had bags under his eyes and squinted at his screen, prodding at his keyboard with sausage fingers. No wonder it was taking four hours to get out of the god damned airport.

“Evening,” Greg said, handing the man his sweaty passport. The officer grunted and swiped it, then stared at his screen, tapping. A lot. He had a little bit of dried food at the corner of his mouth and his tongue crept out and licked at it.

“Want to tell me about June 1998?”

Greg looked up from his Departures. “I’m sorry?”

“You posted a message to alt.burningman on June 17, 1998, about your plan to attend a festival. You asked, ‘Are shrooms really such a bad idea?'”

The interrogator in the secondary screening room was an older man, so skinny he looked like he’d been carved out of wood. His questions went a lot deeper than shrooms.

“Tell me about your hobbies. Are you into model rocketry?”

“What?”

“Model rocketry.”

“No,” Greg said, “No, I’m not.” He sensed where this was going.

The man made a note, did some clicking. “You see, I ask because I see a heavy spike in ads for rocketry supplies showing up alongside your search results and Google mail.”

Greg felt a spasm in his guts. “You’re looking at my searches and e-mail?” He hadn’t touched a keyboard in a month, but he knew what he put into that search bar was likely more revealing than what he told his shrink.

“Sir, calm down, please. No, I’m not looking at your searches,” the man said in a mocking whine. “That would be unconstitutional. We see only the ads that show up when you read your mail and do your searching. I have a brochure explaining it. I’ll give it to you when we’re through here.”

“But the ads don’t mean anything,” Greg sputtered. “I get ads for Ann Coulter ring tones whenever I get e-mail from my friend in Coulter, Iowa!”

The man nodded. “I understand, sir. And that’s just why I’m here talking to you. Why do you suppose model rocket ads show up so frequently?”

Greg racked his brain. “Okay, just do this. Search for ‘coffee fanatics.'” He’d been very active in the group, helping them build out the site for their coffee-of-the-month subscription service. The blend they were going to launch with was called Jet Fuel. “Jet Fuel” and “Launch”—that would probably make Google barf up some model rocket ads.

They were in the home stretch when the carved man found the Halloween photos. They were buried three screens deep in the search results for “Greg Lupinski.”

“It was a Gulf War–themed party,” he said. “In the Castro.”

“And you’re dressed as…?”

“A suicide bomber,” he replied sheepishly. Just saying the words made him wince.

“Come with me, Mr. Lupinski,” the man said.

By the time he was released, it was past 3 a.m. His suitcases stood forlornly by the baggage carousel. He picked them up and saw they had been opened and carelessly closed. Clothes stuck out from around the edges.

When he returned home, he discovered that all of his fake pre-Columbian statues had been broken, and his brand-new white cotton Mexican shirt had an ominous boot print in the middle of it. His clothes no longer smelled of Mexico. They smelled like airport.

He wasn’t going to sleep. No way. He needed to talk about this. There was only one person who would get it. Luckily, she was usually awake around this hour.