I think Siva Vaidhyanathan does a great job analyzing Google and explaining how it functions in the first chapter of his book The Googlization of Everything (And Why We Should Worry). He describes it as a “sui generis,” meaning Google is in a class by itself. Google set out with a unique ambition to connect individual minds with universal information, which it accomplished.
Google’s primary purpose now is to sell advertising space. It succeeds in this endeavor by selling user information to advertisers. Vaidhyanathan doesn’t pursue this strain of discomfort that people may feel when using Google, but instead claims that the troubling effects of Googlization becomes apparent with Google’s dominance of advertising.
While he provides a good argument why Google can make more money by focusing on small firm advertisements for local businesses, and he also states that Google’s contextual advertising and instant auctions often serve the interests of small firms, Vaidhyanathan’s argues that Google has too much freedom in setting it’s rates and could crowd out small firms that have grown dependent on Google.
Vaidhyanathan’s logic behind this deduction fuels his argument that Google, while not a monopoly, has too much freedom on how it runs it business. He claims this is troubling since many people, from consumers to advertisers, rely on it, and it’s also hard for competitors to ever achieve the same status. But if it’s not a monopoly, the government shouldn’t step in and regulate a private corporation’s success, right? Vaidhyanathan doesn’t make that case.
“But the very fact that Google is nothing like anything we have seen before both demands vigilance and warrants concern,” declares Vaidhyanathan. This is the point where Vaidhyanathan demonstrates the kind of thinking that rules our current policymakers. A private entity can’t be trusted to operate in the realm of public interest without government regulation. But both he and policymakers miss how the market provides a path for rational self-interest to produce a good, and is monitored by operating under public watch and consumer consumption.
Instead, Vaidhyanathan makes a case to justify regulation based on the mere possibility of potential harm instead of demonstrating actual harm. He basically believes Google is too good at what it does, and determines that Google could eventually become too powerful and could end up acting like Caesar and do harm. His solution then is to get the government involved to enforce regulations to ensure Google doesn’t have too much power to foster corruption, which is just ironic.
Vaidhyanathan, Siva. The Googlization of Everything: (And Why We Should Worry)Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2011.