Google has successfully taken over the internet. What was once a search engine is now a verb, a web browser, an operating system and soon to be wireless internet and a driver-less car. But how could the simple, white interface with the colorful letters be something as menacing as we all make it out to be?
The company has been criticized over and over again for stifling competition and monopolizing Web-based services. But should we punish them for being innovators? Just because others couldn’t do what Google has managed to do in the past couple decades doesn’t meant that we should knock them down to allow others to compete, right? I would argue that in some ways Google encourages competition. In class we pondered “what if Google didn’t exist?” and I think that if Google didn’t exist, other search engines and web databases wouldn’t have a bar to reach.
In many cases, companies have tried to compete with Google. Many didn’t come close to comparison, but others were able to better themselves as a company and explore new territory. Wolfram Alpha, a search engine designed to provide answers to factual questions using data sets, was not intended to compete with Google, according to Siva Vaidhyanathan in “The Googlization of Everything”. My optimist point is that having something like Google existing encourages other companies to find different ways to innovate too.
Microsoft tried to directly compete with Google by developing Bing. Designed to be what Vaidhyanathan says is a “decision engine” to find answers about travel, shopping, health and local knowledge, Bing is trying to take away a portion of Google’s market. Google “sells” us, its search engine users, to advertisers and if we all go to Bing instead, Google has no capital. But what would Bing have to do to pry us away from Google? That is a question that market researchers can’t quite fathom either, since it is already hard to get a sense of Google’s market power. Even so, by being successful Google encouraged Microsoft to modernize as well and hopefully improve some of their services.
It does not concern me that Google continues to research, create and revolutionize Web-based technologies, but it does concern me that Google might manipulate the trust we give it. There are different ways in which Google has used its own site to promote itself above competition, violating key antitrust laws in a recent case according to the European Union. This is not the first time the EU has had problems with Google. Vaidhyanathan mentions that the European Union already accused the search engine of American cultural bias, meaning that top hits on Google searches feature American products and companies, and reflect American culture. Now, the antitrust-sensitive EU is accusing Google of “search bias”.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Google’s practices of search bias, or highlighting its own products and shopping services in response to searches, ahead of competitors’ links. Search bias is especially sensitive in Europe because over 90 percent of the population in Europe uses Google as a search engine. Therefore Google has the power to control what most of Europe’s population sees on the Web through a search. The EU cited that Google sometimes forwent relevant results to search queries to promote its own services. The Wall Street Journal highlighted a company Hot-Map.com, known for its maps of European cities. The company pointed out that visits to its site had fallen ever since Google Maps surfaced, and since then there is a slim chance of Hot-Maps.com being found online.
This is just a glimpse of the economic effects of Google’s dominance, but could there be political implications as well? The accusation that Google had American cultural bias is concerning, as well as the accusation of search bias. When Google has “Web authority” over 90% of the European population, it could very well have the ability to manipulate their activity. Could it also have the authority to manipulate their political inclinations by the search results that surface as a result of its algorithm? Does it have the power to? Maybe. Will it? Probably not intentionally.
Additionally, Vaidhyanathan claims in the text that Google has a way to filter out negativity in a way that has the same end as censorship. If Google is manipulating search results already, what is stopping it from favoring one political view over another? We might not be able to notice it, but during a political campaign, would a Google search summon campaign videos or articles that favor one candidate or idea over another? Would it portray or exaggerate certain aspects of a candidate’s campaign by bringing up content on that issue? Realistically I don’t think that Google would reach that point, but it is hard to grasp what that might look like.
Concerning innovation, maybe Google shouldn’t be considered a dangerous monopoly just because they have good ideas that others haven’t been able to compete with. But by manipulating data and its search algorithm in its favor violates the trust the public has placed in them to offer the most honest results. But we’re not leaving Google any time soon.