By: Zach Freshwater
A day without Google? The thought makes me antsy.
How would I check my email, my calendar, watch Youtube?
I depend on Google. It’s my browser, my go to search engine- It’s my internet home. And that dependency and integrative dominance scares people. Just watch this video:
That video is a little dramatic in my opinion, but it raises some serious questions. Should Google be trusted? Should it remain a monopolistic and an essential component of our internet lives? My answer is yes and no.
Siva Vaidhyanathan’s book, The Googlization of Everything (And Why We Should Worry), takes an in depth look at these questions. In Vaidhyanathan’s first chapter, she examines Google and its role as an industry dominator. She explains that there is no company that can legitimately compete with Google at this point. Microsoft stands the closest chance as it has the most comparable resources and it’s relatively new search engine, Bing. But it pales in comparison to Google’s power.
As Vaidhyanthan explains, Google’s primary advantage now is it’s data collection and integration into other vital online resources. Because Google operates gmail, google, blogger, and so many other popular services, it has access to inordinate amounts of data, which help fine tune search results. Access to data allows for more targeted advertising and more successful development for current and future Google endeavors.
These two areas are typically the rallying cry for people who see Google as a predatory behemoth. Data collection and monopolism.
My response to the monopoly concerns is this: Yes, having one company control an entire industry may be frightening. They have the ability to manipulate procedures and bend industry practices to their will. But as Vaidhyanathan explains, this dominance hasn’t really come at the cost to the consumer. If anything, by following Vaidhyanathan’s logic, consumers benefit from increased usage of Google. The more people use Google and input data into it, the more precise search results will be.
I realize that this sounds a bit like the best case scenario, and that these practices have no obligation to continue in consumers’ favor. But if Google does abdicate its motto, “Don’t be evil,” there will likely be repercussions. As arguably the most expansive company online, there are thousands of eyes on Google at all times. Google is subject to scrutiny and will not easily implement privacy violations without resistance.
While I don’t find Google as threatening as the video above does, I do sympathize with Vaidhyanathan’s explanation that there is no viable alternative to Google. It is scary that if something changes with Google and it becomes undesirable or unusable as we want it, there is no site that can fully fill its shoes. I realize this is a problem, but as Matt Ingram of Bloomsberg Weekly explains, this isn’t really a solvable problem at the moment. Or necessarily a problem that needs to be solved. The monopoly of Google isn’t hurting anyone as of now. And if it starts to, the market will have to respond accordingly.
What I do find concerning in Vaidhyanathan’s piece is the amount of data that Google holds on its users. This is a major security concern. I realize that as one of the leading online companies, it has access to high level data protection. But regardless, the idea of someone stealing or having access to anyone’s Gmail or Google Drive, is terrifying.
Google is a little scary, but I still trust it.