Weekly Blog # 5: Should We Fear Google?

Is Google doing evil unlike its corporate motto “Don’t be Evil!” ?And should we be afraid of it? It depends on the perspective. Google has become almost a vital part of our lives. Hundreds of billions of searches are performed per day. According to statistics from comScore, released in June 2009, Google has hit and exceeded the massive number of 300 billion searches per day.  It is criticized by many, be it conservatives for the unlimited uncensored information, small businesses for  loosing prime positions in its rankings due to its updated algorithms, but most of all by individuals concerned, and with a reason, about their privacy. Fraud clicks, copyright issues with the launch of its library project, privacy concerns, you name it.. How much does Google give and how much does it take? Let’s take a closer look.

How much power is there behind one of the simplest-looking websites: white background, little search box, and a few colorful letters? It’s certainly more than I imagined before reading “The Search” by Jon Battelle. And this power comes from a phenomenon called “Database of Intentions”. As defined by Battle it is “The aggregate results of every search taken, every result list ever, and every path taken as a result”. What this means is that our search behavior is observed and recorded at all times. Our interests, desires, needs are revealed and exploited and used for prediction. The bright side is that by aggregating and summarizing this information we are provided with the most relevant results and our lives become easier when we search.  But let’s admit it, after all Google exists to make money and all those who believe that it is there “to change the world” should think twice. That same information that helps find things more easily, “helps us find” things that we are not really looking for. Our search behavior that by large defines us as individuals and is reported to companies for advertising purposes. Our private space is invaded on a daily basis by information that we never requested or wished to see.

But like with many social-networking sites, there is always a bargain. We agree to their rules before we join them. Likewise, by using Google, we give up personal information in order to receive information. Google gives, Google takes.  But, imagine a day without being able to “google” something. I just realize how this “term” has unnoticeably made its way in our vocabulary, and basically means I will “look it up”. We don’t say, I will “bing” or “yahoo” this. That should tell us that when it comes to search, Google is it… It helps hundreds of billions of people to find what they are looking for by providing them with the most relevant information. Our lives have become heavily dependent on Google. I use it to find data, friends, deals, and usually I am satisfied with what I find. Sure, I’ll take the deal…

Yes, my personal information might be out there but it does not raise fear in me. As John Battelle suggests in his book, we don’t ever “google” our neighbors to find out who they are. If I was a small business though relying on organic search results for visibility, I would be concerned. As we have read in “The Search” Google’s changed algorithms can turn someone’s business and life upside down.

Undoubtedly, this is a company with immense power and unlimited possibilities. As Google’s co-founder Larry Page has said back in 2002 during a talk at Stanford University, Google is trying to make the technology behind its search into a true intelligence that will be able to answer any question. I will not be surprised if that happens as Google continues to amaze us with more and more technology innovations. We’ll see how far it goes…

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