Saturday, January 5, 2013

Good News, Google Doesn’t Harm Us – Not Much Anyway

We can all breathe a sigh of relief. Google does not harm us in any way as consumers. Doesn’t violate anti-trust and competition laws by highlighting search results for its own services and products. Doesn’t reduce our search options, no; doesn’t use and abuse us definitely not. Good, that’s settled then. 

It does change its search algorithms 500 times a year. It does have endless resources to fight legal anti-trust battles. It does have the will to ignore how it destroys livelihoods of loyal customers. It does manage to serve its own interests and aggrandize itself constantly. But none of that hurts us.  

For over a year and half Google-God has been fighting an antitrust battle with the Federal Trade Commission, who read through 9 million documents trying to get to the truth. While we were all presuming that truth to be one thing, now it looks as if for them it was something different. Pause a moment and think about how much it costs to read through 9 million documents, by the way.   

But that wasn’t hurtful to US taxpayers, no. By the bye. It wasn’t the only thing regulators did in their search for the Truth. They let their ears be bent by angry competitors and patiently listened to sworn testimony from Google-God executives bleating innocence. What about testimony from the small people?  I don't have an answer for that.

At the end of it all, regulators closed the investigation without bringing a complaint. Not a single one. In fact they concluded that consumers had been largely unharmed. Interesting use of language there. How harmed does the public have to be before it’s considered damaged?  

Google has to make some changes, but apparently they’re not important enough to have warranted an official complaint. They have to stop making it difficult for competitors to license some patents and manage their advertising campaigns on Google. Websites will also be able to refuse to let Google use their content to bolster their own services. How much and how Google will penalize them is unclear – but that they will is a sure bet.  

That Google needed to be reprimanded (because that’s all it was, the FTC has no way of enforcing the changes because the complaint regarding them isn’t official) doesn’t of itself pont to a violation? I wonder what the FTC’s guidelines were. 

Here’s the thing about Google. It dominates the world. And nobody gets to world domination without abuse, which leaves footprints if anybody wants to see them. How did I get to know about Google? I didn’t go searching. They made themselves more visible than anybody else. Forget about Uncle Sam Wants You, Google Wants You now. 

I’m sure there’s nobody in the world who doesn’t admire how clever the people behind Google are. Clever, mind-bogglingly creative, and with immense drive. That’s admirable. Some of what they're doing with it is fantastic. Some of it isn't. There was a time when their ethos was about adding value to the world, so their parameters made sense, they were for our own good. They sucked us all in with it, much like Facebook did.

Now the ethos has the same exterior message but the underlying reality and drive behind their policies is sinister. It’s about adding profit to Google, no matter who they take down, how much they invade your privacy and strip you of choice then make it hard for you to reclaim it. If you don’t do what they want – and it’s never about the general good any more, it’s about theirs – they penalize you or effectively shut you down. 

That the FTC took so much trouble to inspect all the presented evidence speaks well for them. That they found plenty but trivialized it and said they found nothing is troubling. And what about me? I use Google a lot. This blog is a Google product and it works well. I'm grateful for that. But I'm going to be more selective about how much power I give Google over me. A drop in the ocean? Of course. It won't matter to them but it matters to me. I don't like bullies.
Creativity given full reign is beautiful thing. When it becomes a tool for exploitation it’s deadly.