Utter dominance of search
Considering the importance of Internet search in our lives, this is a worrysome development. Google starts to wield exceptional power about what is shown and known to the public. If you (or your company, your organization, your political party, your opinion) cannot be found on Google, you just as well may not exist. Web sites depending on good placement in Google's search results know the story: Once you drop even out of the first page, your business can literally collapse to nothing. Google giveth, and Google taketh away...
In some geographical markets, Google's share is not quite as big, but in others it has reached quasi monopoly proportions. More than 85% in the UK, for example. Overall, Yahoo sits at just 1/3rd of Google's search reach, Microsoft at just 1/9th, with their shares (percentage wise) actually declining compared to Google's.
This is a lot of power for Google, and with a lot of power there comes a lot of responsibility. Will Google always be neutral in what they allow into their index? Will they never remove what they don't like? Will they cooperate with totalitarian regimes? They have already...
Gathering all the data it can get ... about you
In addition, Google is also a data gathering behemoth. Which data does it gather? Yours! All it can, every last bit of it. It is present on so much web real-estate that any possible browsing session is very likely to leave a trace in Google's databases. A cookie set by an AdSense banner in one site will be picked up by Google's servers again when an AdSense banner is show on another site. Thus, Google already has tracked you as you moved between sites. With the planned acquisition of DoubleClick, the reach will be greatly expanded yet again. Your chances to hide from Google what you do, where you are and what you are looking at will be further diminished. Sure, you could set up blocks to prevent access to Google's servers (various Firefox extensions come to mind), but most people will not know about this.
Google also presses into the market of software as a service (SaaS), where entire office suites, e-mail (of course) and other things are offered online. That is an interesting and powerful development. But again, Google doesn't offer this out of the goodness of their hearts: The key goal for them is to gather even more information about you, to learn more about you, and therefore be able to target ads even more specifically to you. In addition, these platforms are also used to expand the real-estate on which ads can be shown.
Furthermore, once Google has your data and learns how you use the web and what your interest are, they will continue to use this for new services, which currently we don't even know about. More stuff that will make live temptingly convenient for you, and which will continue to deliver more money and more information about you to Google.
A while back, I wrote already that I am using Yahoo as my preferred search provider these days. Frankly, I don't believe for a second that Yahoo would be much better if it would be in the same position of power as Google. I'm convinced that they wouldn't hesitate to milk it for every drop and dollar they can get, just like Google does today. However, currently, Yahoo is much smaller than Google as far as search dominance and reach is concerned. Therefore, Yahoo is the lesser problem. Using it reduces the amount of data that Google can gather about me. That is a good thing.
The Yahoo search results are pretty much equivalent in quality to Google's. Their search home page loads quickly, and they are also accessible via a search-bar plugin for Firefox. For day to day Internet search, there is no technical reason not to use Yahoo (or similar alternatives).
Monopolies are never good for the consumer. And if that monopoly also holds massive amounts of personal information about us then it becomes even more uncomfortable for you and me.
So, why don't you give some of Google's alternatives a try for a change? Yahoo, Ask, etc. They are all there, easy to use, and provide good search results as well. In addition, they allow you to slip through the ever tightening surveillance net that Google is busily wrapping all over the Internet.
Other related posts:
More Apple madness (follow up)
The GPU, your personal desktop super computer
A truly light-weight OS: Written in ASM, with GUI, networking and apps
Comment by barf, on 3-Jan-2008 15:07
2008 is orwell's year
a telescreen in every home.
Comment by Keith, on 3-Jan-2008 23:39
However, it's interesting to note that you have Google ads at the top of your blog, here.
Frankly, you sound a little paranoid. Nothing is ever 100% assured. But right now I trust Google more than any other company. But if you don't like what they do, you are free to ignore them. You don't have to divulge any information to them, and they don't ask you for it.
Believe it or not, I actually am interested in products that are targeted at exactly what I like or need. I'm happy to have less spam to wade through. Speaking of spam, I stopped using yahoo mail years ago due to the excessive spam. Also, the yahoo home page is horribly garish and annoying. I really like Google's low-key approach to advertising. It doesn't intrude on my thoughts unless I want it to.
Comment by callyway, on 4-Jan-2008 03:18
funny that you have a google ad-box at the top of your post. i do agree with you though: spread the data if you can - kill your cookies often - and expect to be on the big screen anyway (re: barf's orwellian comment).
Comment by Lincoln, on 4-Jan-2008 06:47
"But (for example) they are notorious [...] for NOT contributing back to the open source projects that they are using. They take a lot from the open source community without giving back."
Please take a look at http://code.google.com/opensource/ if you have any questions about Google's relationship to the open source community.
Disclaimer: I do work for Google but I am not responding in any official capacity.
Comment by doug luce, on 4-Jan-2008 11:21
hey, their corporate slogan is "don't be evil." why should we worry?
Comment by George, on 6-Jan-2008 07:21
Yeah, you've got a point. I use Google masses, I mean for just about everything they offer, I didn't realise the extent to which they take data. I wonder if it\'s time that the rest of the world banded together and took a bit of action?
Comment by Ashok Banerjee, on 6-Jan-2008 11:02
You don't want search results that are irrelevant to you. If repeatedly your top 10 results are bogus, and you scroll down to number 9 then you want the search engine to learn your preference and put it at the top for you.
Neither advertisers nor you want Ads to be irrelevant to you.
For some of the good that Google may be doing (at least trying to do):
Andriod - Open Source for Phone
GData - Open Source for Data
Hadoop - Open Source utility for parallel computing
GMail - Free
Open Social - For Social Networking
Several JSRs - including JSR on closures in Java
Google Apps - The Best Docs, Spreadsheets, Presentations for Collaboration
Google Checkout - Free and no charge, just helps you manage the security of the wallet
Then for the environment - Solar powering the Google Complex, Funding Alternative energy startups, worked with NASA to show moon.google.com, mars.google.com incentives for employees to buy cars which go >45 mpg (typically Hybrid) with inentives up to $5000.
For people who work there: Free gourmet food (breakfast, lunch and dinner) on top of the usual Gym on campus etc.
[Remember even if Google didnt give free food people would still work there, because no other competitor I know gives free food].
Now you tell me - do you know of a Company that has been more ethical at every level? I dont....so I am happy to trust my data with Google and work at Google.
Disclaimer: I do work for Google but I am not responding in any official capacity.
Comment by Charles Knight, on 8-Jan-2008 04:06
Comment by Macuser, on 9-Jan-2008 10:51
An interesting Video by Bill Gates -
Google is in its "Honeymoon period" like 87-95 for Microsoft.
Comment by kdl, on 9-Jan-2008 18:22
People use services and products because they work.
Google is popular because it does what people want. I don't use products because of some psychological perceived notion, but I use them if they accomplish what I need done. There are times when I philosophically am opposed to the ethics of some companies, but do you have any substantial proof of the things you are worried about.
To date, Google is one of the most ethically sound companies I've known about.