Google: The world’s encyclopedia, doctor, confessional and friend. Its creators, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, met at Stanford University, where Brin worked with Page on his doctoral thesis regarding the World Wide Web. Their project later went on to become the heart and soul of the digital revolution – Google. With 77,500 searches per second, or 2.4 trillion searches a year, Google Search Engine alone is one of the main doors to the internet. Celebrating its 21st year, the tech giant is clearly powerful, but is Google too powerful? And, how is this power affecting mankind? Does Google uphold its previous motto of “don’t be evil”?
Here are three reasons Google is a force for good, and three reasons it has too much power.
A Force for Good
Puts the world on equal footing
Is Google too powerful? No, but it does bring new meaning to globalization. Thanks to the last decade of the company’s innovation and low-cost mobile broadband, developing countries like India, among many others, have free access to information, to which much of the rest of the world is already privy. With Google Search operating in over 130 different languages and Google Translate providing accurate translations to international, every web page is territory to be charted equally by anyone around the globe. Also, because the company is privately owned, the speed at which it can impact developing nations is much faster than that of governments with complicated interests to protect. Plus, Google’s annual Economic Impact reports assert that its search and advertising tools helped drive $335 billion in US economic activity in 2018. It’s ads and searches lead to clicks that not only help for-profit but also non-profit organizations.
Transformative – at no cost
Besides its search engine, the company’s other platforms have also positively reshaped the ways in which we function – for no direct fee. YouTube has transformed the music, television and advertising industries, putting a new, democratic spin on the idea of celebrity. It is now introducing a console-free cloud-gaming platform. Google’s APIs for Android has allowed people to develop their own apps and utilize them to grow revenue. Gmail, Chrome, Google Maps and Google Photos have over 2 billion users combined, with Google Drive surpassing 800 million. Just building and maintaining data centers to support such platforms costs upwards of $10 billion, but the company enables free use of every product. It has created scores and scores of free, useful tools that have altered the way humans exist day to day.
Google has immense access to research on every subject in any field, allowing them to advance science in a way no other company can. Since 2010, the company has acquired an average of more than one company per week (Fitbit, anyone?). Its mere vastness and computational power can be directed towards studying things like machine learning and interactions between computers and humans – which is how they’re on the way to creating self-driving cars. Alphabet Inc. – Google’s parent company – is tackling everything from home automation to drone delivery. Additionally, the company uses its wealth of information for humanitarian work, such as fighting child exploitation and tracking flu trends across populations. It’s undeniable that the company’s power and prestige have greatly benefited the future of mankind.
Too Much Power
Together with Facebook, Google controls nearly 70% of the market in digital advertising; with its DFP (DoubleClick for Publishers), the company commands the infrastructure on which the majority of advertisements are managed. Additionally, Google alone holds three quarters of the world’s search results. (The second largest search engine is Google-owned YouTube). Because of this, it’s the company’s way or the highway. For example, a critic was fired from a Google-funded think tank after publicly supporting the European Commission’s decision to fine Google for abusing its market power.
The company is under several antitrust probes stemming from multiple countries, on the basis of the company’s being a monopoly. They are also facing Congressional scrutiny for building what is perceived as censored search engine for the Chinese market. Sure, there are alternative search engines like DuckDuckGo or Yahoo, but none have nearly the same reach – or overall offerings – as Google provides. Despite losing lawsuits for monopolizing the market, Google seems to do as they please – and answers to no one. So, is Google too powerful? The answer seems clear.
While people have the choice of whether to use Google’s services, the fact is that it’s expected, and difficult to survive the corporate or social worlds without it. Corporations thrive on using Google Hangouts to communicate and Google Calendar to share schedules between employees. Gmail has 1.5 billion users, which means the company has access to that many emails. Google Maps – which automatically comes with any Android phone – gives Google your exact location, at all times. None of this addresses the access the company has to your search history, from which they compile a profile of you in order to target you with relevant advertisements. Is Google too powerful? Consider this: While Facebook gets a lot of flak for data manipulation, you have to choose to be on one of their three platforms to have your data compromised; Google, on the other hand, is practically the whole web, so no place is safe – not even your health records! A recent hospital data-sharing deal highlights these privacy issues.
Undue influence in government and academia
Google has been accused of using its wealth to influence all levels of policymakers. This accusation seems to carry weight; the company has funded 330 papers on public policy alone since 2005. Additionally, in trying to defend themselves against claims that Google tampered with an FTC investigation, the company admitted to having influence in Washington across a number of political domains. It’s not only the government that’s swayed by Google’s authority; academic research teams haven’t necessarily been aware of who the patrons are that sponsor their grants. A report revealed that Google-funded studies suddenly increased when regulators threatened the company’s business model – evidence of the level of Google’s academic influence and power.
The Bottom Line: Google continuously offers the world tools through which anyone can thrive, in addition to many positive scientific and health advancements. However, the level of control the company has across multiple domains and sectors is a cause for unease and may constitute an abuse of power and privacy. So, is Google too powerful? Do you think it has the world’s best interests in mind?