Friday, 10 October 2014

Googlephobia and other German idiosyncracies

I had a visit from my insurance rep today. A personal visit. He knocked my door, came in and sat down in one of our armchairs. I offered him a cup of coffee and he chatted me through the various changes to my policies. Although I ended up signing on a dotted line that was on one of those nifty digital gadgets, it was otherwise to all extents and purposes like a visit from the man from the Pru, fifty years later and in German.

Yesterday I tried to get into my National Savings and Investments online account. Oh dear. When I set it up I had to remember a picture, a phrase, the answer to five or six silly security questions plus concoct a password containing at-least-one-but-not-all-of-upper-case-lower-case-symbols-blah-blah. It all ended in tears (or swearing) and a wait on a customer call line.

Personal, face-to-face relationships with private customers have not died out in Germany. I am sure that a lot of it comes from the natural German resistance to doing too much online, and a general risk-aversiveness.

Sometimes the bureaucracy, rules and regulations and wariness of just doing it drive me nuts. It must be a horror to try and set up a business in Germany, especially anything that's online-based. Just look at the pickle that Uberpop got themselves into here.

But a lot of it stems from a very real concern over privacy of the individual and openness on the part of companies, which can't be a bad thing. In my encounter with the insurance man, although I invited him into my home, I have the impression that my financial and household details are just between me and that firm, not floating around for all to hack into. And that the company won't have disappeared next year.

Although Germans still seem happy to use Google's services, the company has become something of a bogeyman here, described as octopoid by some. The cynical may say that it's the old-guard Germans, stuck in the 20th century with their reliance on manufacturing who don't want the cool geeks from Silicon valley snatching their business.

But I think we can all learn a bit of cautiousness from a people that spent 60 years under state surveillance of one sort or another.

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