A few years ago, I was preparing to launch a political comparison website, and before it was visible to the public, we had installed Google “Adsense” ads, as they were then called. To try to understand how online advertising works – and because I’m an idiot – I clicked on one of my own ads. This is a breach of Google’s terms and I have since been banned for life.
Appeal is futile. Once you fall foul of the global empire, you are unable to ever make online money again through what is, without question, the most powerful information controller on the planet. Of course I’m hardly the only one to be summarily executed by Google’s automated systems. I join legions of others, some who have been evicted for legitimate reasons, some without explanation.
And perhaps Rupert Murdoch, the all-powerful head of News International, has learned some lessons about Google, based on his new-found tweeting abilities.
Murdoch first tweeted over the weekend siding against President Barack Obama for being in the control of “Silicon Valley paymasters”. Then he tweeted: “Piracy leader is Google who streams movies free, sells advts around them. No wonder pouring millions into lobbying.” Followed by: “Google great company doing many exciting things. Only one complaint, and it’s important.” But the icing of the cake was on Sunday, when he said, “Sure misunderstand many things, but not plain stealing. Incidentally, Google blocks many other undesirable things.”
It is difficult to remember a time without Google, though it wasn’t that long ago. Today, it is the overwhelming default way of looking up information, of web advertising and increasingly email.
Last week it persuaded the Spanish bank BBVA to move much of its information to its “cloud” computing. The bank’s 110,000 staff will use Google software such as email, calendars, chat, video conferencing and others for internal communication, according to the BBC.
Google’s aspirations to have ever more information in its grasp has raised some eyebrows of concern.
The firm bought 27 companies in the third quarter of 2011, as well as $12.5 billion for Motorola Mobility. It is reported to have $42.6bn in “cash, cash equivalents, and marketable securities“. Both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and European Commission have their anti-trust binoculars pointed squarely at Google. A number of patent and copyright skirmishes have broken out, such as UK telecoms giant BT launching legal action in the US claiming “infringement of patents in technologies behind location-based services, navigation and guidance information, as well as access to mobile services and content”.
Capitalism isn’t perfect. A company can grow successfully, but then become too large and stifle competition. The question is whether Google has reached that point yet. We could also ask that question of Facebook, and previous anti-trust investigations have targeted Microsoft with the same allegations.
Imagine if a government dictated what information you could see through algorithms, or offered email services, cloud computing, social networking, banking, books, news, and made money off extracting information on your personal web use to market direct advertising to your eyeballs? You might begin to question how much control that government has over every aspect of your life and your personal information. Or then again you might just get distracted by the latest YouTube sensation.
Amusingly, Google’s own algorithms mean that if you type in “google headquarters London” into the search engine’s images cache, you get a photo of the MI6 spy HQ. Who spies on our online lives more at this point, MI6 or Google? The difference is Google just calls it optimization.
Google dropped its “don’t be evil” informal motto in 2009, but the larger it gets, the more it will have to justify how much “good” it is doing.