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 2.5 trillion searches a year, Google Search Engine alone is one of the main doors to the internet. Celebrating its 22nd year, the tech giant is clearly powerful, but is Google too powerful, as the US government’s lawsuit against it claims? For instance, Google alone owns 90% of the worldwide search market. 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
Google brings 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 135 different languages and Google Translate operating in 108 languages, the company’s ability to provide accurate translations to so many international viewers means that 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 $385 billion in US economic activity in 2019. It’s ads and searches directly led to clicks for 16 million American businesses alone that same year.
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 recently introduced 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 way over 2 billion users combined, with Google Drive closing in on 1 billion users itself. 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. In 2010-2011, the company 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, most recently helping with contract-tracing efforts to combat the spread of the coronavirus and providing $6.5 million in funding fact-checkers and non-profits working to fight the spread of misinformation about the virus. 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. There are more than 2.9 million companies that use one or more of Google’s marketing services. After Google Search, the second largest search engine is Google-owned YouTube. Because of this, it’s the company’s way or the highway. Hence, the US antitrust lawsuit against the tech giant. Additionally, 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.
This lawsuit aside, the company was under several antitrust probes stemming from multiple countries, on the basis of it being a monopoly. In 2018, they also faced Congressional scrutiny for building what was 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. 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: Its search engine market share is 90%. The US government seems to think that Google is an illegal monopoly and is consequently suing the tech giant to break it up and halt alleged antitrust abuses.
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, with minimal competitors, so no place is safe – not even your health records! A 2019 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 a 2012 FTC investigation, the company admitted in 2015 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 2017 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, especially in efforts to fight the coronavirus. 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?