The Power of Google

Posted on Jul 13, 2016 in Uncategorized

The Power of Google

Google for most people has become synonymous with searching the Internet, and it has become hard for some to imagine what the Internet would be like without the ubiquitous Google search to provide a convenient list of links, neatly ranked for relevance and popularity.

Edging close to Apple’s number one spot as the world’s most valuable company, the value of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, now sits at $491 billion dollars, as of July 12, 2016, but its power goes far beyond simple mountains of cash.

Already involved in several anti-trust cases in Europe and blocked in China, the power to manipulate global public opinion on an unprecedented scale is expressed through its use of lists and algorithms which have come to shape the lives, habits and opinions of billions in subtle ways.

Modern, developed countries have laws against government censorship that mean nothing when a single corporation such as Google controls access to information on a global scale as Google does.

Autocomplete is a wonderfully convenient feature that suggests search terms as a user types in words or phrases, suggesting your own questions to you before you even finish thinking them. The results are drawn from what others have searched in the past.

If done without censorship, this feature would bring little criticism, but consider the subtle difference that suggestions in the search box could make. Obscene and offensive suggestions are censored, but what about more nuanced blocks or suggestions?

June 2016 saw accusations, starting with a SourceFed video, that Google manipulated the results to exclude negative suggestions about Hillary Clinton while failing to do so for Donald Trump.

Google pointed out that it censors negative suggestions in the search box for all people, not just the political candidates it favors, and typing in the names of famous serial killers or dictators bears out this point.

Perhaps more serious are the accusations of bias in the censorship of YouTube videos. As a platform, YouTube as a platform allows video publication on a global scale, an incredible democratization of views that was unimaginable several decades ago.

But what happens when conservative videos are blocked and the accounts of their uploaders are suspended at a higher rate than those of liberal video uploaders? Community reporting of videos can and has been abused, as in the well-known cases of YouTubers critical of Islam such as the science blogger Thunderf00t.

Most often, vague accusations of copyright infringement can be enough to pull a video and suspend an account, but it is Google that ultimately has the power to decide which voices are heard and which are not.

Of course a blocked Google account, at the company’s arbitrary decision, means that the person is blacklisted from Google Docs, Google Wallet, Google Play, Gmail, Google+ and every other Google Service and, with no customer service department, any decisions are especially difficult to appeal.

Far more powerful are Google’s abilities to blacklist companies through their search and advertising services. Google earns the majority of its $74.54 billion annual revenue from advertising, but reserves the right to cancel advertising programs with any company at any time or disallow certain sites to benefit from running Google ads.

This seems like a reasonable right for any company, after all they are choosing to put their name with that ad, but what happens when blocking ads is used for political purposes by the largest advertiser in the world?

Companies offering payday loans were the most recent victim when Google publicly declared it would no longer allow their ads. What is to stop Google from deciding the next product that is too immoral or dangerous to appear in advertisements?

Google News is now the first news source for many on the web, but which of the thousands of daily news stories makes the cut for Google’s aggregated news page and which are buried?

Which newspapers are excluded entirely and lose the majority of their traffic? By shifting traffic away from specific newspapers or newspapers with certain views, public opinion can be carefully molded.

Individual stories can also be censored, as was the case recently when Google removed links to several stories from the BBC and The Guardian based on the European Union’s “right to be forgotten”. One of the stories removed from the BBC dealt with banking corruption by ousted CEO, Stanley O’Neil, which raises the question whether he has the right for his crimes to be forgotten?

It is a well-known fact that few searchers look past the first page of results, usually ten on Google. Bury a search result in the list far enough, maybe the third or even the second page, and no one will see it.

It remains accessible since it comes up on a search, it’s just been rendered effectively invisible. When Google handles 90 percent or more of the searches in most countries, this ranking of sites according to a secret algorithm becomes all important.

Search result manipulation is a far more powerful tool than most realize since it can censor without taking down a website, merely by modifying the code in a search algorithm.

The strongest form of censorship is the quarantine list that actually blocks access to sites, sometimes removing them from the search and at other times flashing a red block screen. This list has grown increasingly powerful in the hands of Google since other companies have begun to adopt it.

If Google maintains a list of censored websites and your web browser, e.g.Safari, Firefox or Chrome, pulls from the same list, you will see a warning screen instead of the website. How many people are willing to click past a screen warning them of malicious code on an attack site?

The “malicious code” may be nothing more than a political view that is opposed by Google, but few, if any, are willing or technologically savvy enough to take that chance.

By virtue of maintaining the largest list, Google is able to determine which sites can be visited and which cannot. Who is to say which of these blocked site contains legitimate copyrighted infringement, malicious code or simply banned views?

Google’s corporate motto was officially written as “Don’t be evil’ when the company went public in 2004. But with the corporate reorganization of Google into what is now known as Alphabet, the parent company curiously dropped the phrase from the corporate code of conduct.

Few realize the power that Alphabet and its subsidiary Google wield over global knowledge, far more than the governments of the past. And with no oversight or control, it isn’t hard to imagine why they opted for a change. Perhaps Google should consider “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” for their next corporate motto.

This is a phrase from the Roman poet Juvenal, which is literally translated as Who will guard the guards themselves? or better known sometimes as Who watches the watchmen?”

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