by Jon T. Norwood
Europe and Google have had a bit of a suspicious relationship for several years now with anti-Trust investigations and privacy allegations and this could be a harbinger of what is to come here in the US. There are now calls for the commencement of anti-trust hearings regarding Google, not for a specific acquisition or allegation, but based on Google’s growing dominance of the Internet itself. Consider this, what would a post-Google Internet even look like?
Can Google Be Trusted?
This is a very serious question. Google maintains a vast amount of information on its users, and most of which Google has no idea of identity, because using Google to search the Internet is not going to give them your personal identity. What it does give Google is vast amounts of information regarding behavior, what search terms are popular, what news stories are hitting or not, and other aspects of the Internet. Google has a lot of personalized information if, for example, you use Gmail, Google’s web mail service, or other Google applications and cloud services. The real problem is not that Google will sell your personal information, but that the company is increasingly in control of the shape and nature of the Internet itself.
Most of the money made on the Internet is advertizing revenue. Google makes $23 billion a year on advertizing revenue and now, with the seemingly infinite march of the ‘Droids, the company is poised to take that over too. There recent “Farmer Algorithm” updates affected 12 percent of all US search results, and put hundreds of websites nearly out of business, and many of them were not the targeted content farms, but legitimate websites sucha s the British Medical Journal. The question that must be asked is whether it is safe for any private company to control that much of something as vital to our future as the Internet. Google’s motto “Don’t be Evil” doesn’t promise that they WILL be good, just legal.
The Hearings to Come
Senate Antitrust committee Chairman Herbert Kohl, D-WI recently sent out a press release indicating that he is looking into allegations of antitrust activity on Google’s part, and how to address them in possible hearings. This is heavily underlined in our highly partisan world by the support of Senator Michael S. Lee, R-UT the senior ranking member of the committee. For a conservative to support any action against corporate profit or power is unusual enough.
The US Justice Department is looking into Google’s recent acquisition of ITA Software, a travel data firm, and Texas Attorney General, Greg Abbott is conducting an investigation into Google and has demanded the release their formula for setting advertising rates. Many of the press releases associated with these actions have cited Google’s “…increasing dominance over Internet search.” Can Google be trusted? Google make a great case for being a fun, neutral, tech-loving company with free food and big beach balls in the lobby, but with one of the largest market capitalization in stock market history it would make more sense to ask, can Google’s shareholders be trusted?
The Real Google Issue
If Google should decide that a particular company has violated its terms of agreement, they simply de-listed them from the search results, and that is the end of that company. Google’s search database is their own work product, but having over 70 percent of the Internet search market and growing means that if they de-list your website you might just as well fallen off the face of the earth.
This was a real problem for the websites hit by the “Farmer Algorithm.” Many small sites generate revenue from Google ads on their pages and try to attract viewers with articles and other content. If someone likes the site, fine, if not, fine. However, Google has the power to decide whether they even get the chance to try to market their content. It would be like Ma Bell, the monopoly telephone company of the past, refusing to allow you a telephone for your company, you’re toast. Google may be a couple of thousand, fun-loving nerds trying not to be evil but the multi-billion dollar shareholders behind them are as evil as it gets. The hearings are coming for sure, after that is anybody’s guess.
Jon T. Norwood is a managing partner at High Speed Internet, a site dedicated to providing information on Internet providers and technology. Jon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.