“Google.” Need I say more? Convenient, quick, informative, addictive, essential or evil? For many people today, if it’s not on Google, it doesn’t exist at all. This technological mammoth has become an integral component of our society’s genetic makeup.
When I started thinking about Google I said to myself, aren’t connectivity, people power, interactivity, sharing, and collaboration good things? My conclusion, they may seem that way but come at a price…privacy!
Founded in 1998 as the brain child of Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Google was developed at Stanford University and has grown into a multi-billion dollar corporation with approximately $24 billion in revenues and 23,000 employees.
Google’s initial search engine and subsequent services were created in line with the company’s mission, “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. The company is continually striving to meet this goal by expanding its product portfolio to include email, video sharing, search engines, mobile communications, satellite mapping and online advertising you name it!
In 2001, the world witnessed the rise of Web 2.0 from the ashes of the dot-com bust. With society’s growing need for access to instant information at their fingertips, Google was a perfect match and now fits seamlessly into our lives, with services like E-blogger, Picasa and YouTube, where users can now upload and share media and content with the world.
Issue at hand: @ what cost are these socially defined needs being met?
While the Google search engine is an easy and efficient way to navigate the web, it would be irresponsible to turn a blind eye to the fact that Google is a public company with a responsibility to maximize shareholder value. The current lack in transparency as to how exactly the company’s proprietary “PageRank” search algorithm functions, leaves doubt as to when a search engine may be promoting specifics sites for profit at the expense of quality or relevance for the searcher. Users of Google’s search engine would be naïve to believe that the top three entries returned from every search are free from marketer’s invisible hand of influence.
Given that the site generates answers to more than 200 million queries daily, I am lead to believe that when users weigh the costs verses benefits, privacy is a small price to pay for access to the services available.
Time to Reflect
They say in life nothing comes free, and this age-old saying could not ring more true, than in this case. Access to Google’s search engine and YouTube for example are free, or so we are lead to believe. In reality, though users are not subject to monetary fees for the use of these services, the cost is that of their privacy, the quality of search results and the consistent bombardment with customized advertising.
Google collects information on user behavior in order to exploit this data at a profit, but ironically, the joke’s on us as their company slogan “don’t be evil” would seem to suggest more noble intentions.
The adoption, standardization and normalization of their technology has altered our social landscape with little indication that the consequences long-term can be reversed. Today, our preparation for social interactions has been fundamentally changed. In the pursuit of employment, both employers and potential employees, make use of Google’s search engine to screen one another. Furthermore, when looking for a potential partner, “googling” candidates is the de rigeur.
I’m not saying Google is all bad. Society has certainly reaped numerous benefits from its innovation a topic that can be discussed at another time. For the moment though, in wake of the issue at hand one must ask the question:
Is society paying too steep a price for the convenience of information and access to social networking services?