You'd be hard-pressed to find a company more beloved than Google. And why not? They make the Internet easier to use, pamper their employees and foot the bill for YouTube even though it loses money like it's got a gambling problem that's made of cocaine. Unfortunately, much of what is awesome about Google also makes them increasingly terrifying with each passing day.
Before Google, if you were curious about some weird sexual position or the dangers of sticking glass rods down your pee hole, you had to go to an older sibling or classmate. This would result in either hilarious but ultimately fulfilling sexual misadventure or, if you didn't go to high school in a teen comedy, a mortifying nickname that followed you all the way to college.
Google wasn't the first search engine to take the human interaction out of that process, it was just the best at finding the information you were looking for. And as long as you were sure to delete your search history afterwards, you could read up on any kind of fucked up, degenerate behavior you wanted without another human soul ever knowing.
It turns out, Google records everything you enter into its search engine. The lonely night a few months back when you Googled "how many fists can fit in the butt?" That's stored on Google's servers, correlated with your IP address and a pretty shocking amount of other personal information.
We never knew how far this would go.
But they're not just passively stalking you via your weird ass searches. If you use Google to help you navigate the Web, there's a good chance they've installed a cookie onto your browser that logs every page you visit, every form you fill out and every conversation you have. Google sees it all and stores it for at least nine months.
Consumer advocate group Privacy International says nine months is the best case scenario. Even if you only use a few of Google's free services, "the company retains a large quantity of information about that user, often for an unstated or indefinite length of time, without clear limitation on subsequent use."
Of course, Google is in the business of getting you what you're looking for, and knowing everything about you makes it better at its job. When you type rimjob into your search window, Yahoo! might return a LeBron James highlight reel, but Google knows better. Google's many products work better the more it knows about you.
Plus, it's not like any actual people will ever read all of the dirt they have stored on you. Well, not until they have a reason to ask for it anyways.
In 2009, Google's CEO Eric Schmidt warned users,
"If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place. "
So maybe it's time to stop treating Google like a smarter, more trustworthy older sibling who has all the answers and more like a friend you trusted until you found the notebook where they track all of your bowel movements. No matter how much good advice they offer you, and how many times they claim the drawer full of hair they collected from your shower drain is "just in case," you'll never feel totally comfortable around them again.
Everyone knows that corporations can't be taken at their word. If Coca-Cola changed the slogan from "Enjoy" to "Don't Commit Rape," everyone would assume they were dissolving date rape pills in Diet Cokes. But when Google made "Don't Be Evil" its unofficial motto, the media and the public in general pretty much took it at face value. It certainly seemed to check out with all the free shit they kept giving us.
Yes, most of the goodwill purchased by Google over the past dozen or so years can probably be traced to the fact that they create some of the best applications on the Web, and don't ask you to pay for a single damn one of them.
So why shouldn't we treat Google differently? They don't even seem all that interested in making money. They're just here to make our lives easier. They'd probably be a charity if charities weren't so gay.
Google is not a magical fairy cloud of technology that exists purely to help you find information (that's Wikipedia).
Google is a corporation. Their goal is to acquire as much of the world's money as possible. They are not driven by the desire to "not be evil" anymore than Sprite is driven by a desire to be "sublymonal." If they ever even so much as hinted that they were in the business of "not being evil" in a situation where that involved "not making money" whomever dropped that hint would immediately be relieved of their job.
In the words of Scott Cleland, who has made a career of watching Google and ringing the "seriously, I think these people might be vampires" alarm, "Google does not work for users; Google works for advertisers and website publishers, which provide virtually all of Google's revenues." Google Ads are responsible for 97 percent of their billions of dollars of revenues.
Google Maps, Google Earth, Google Talk, Google Reader, Gmail. Everything Google has ever given you for free is funded by those little blue lines of text that appear at the top of your Gmail account, or in the sidebar of your search results. Then, when you use those services, Google collects information about you. It uses what it knows about you to target ads specifically to your personal tastes. That's how Google is able to maintain a near monopoly in online advertising despite never having used a single boob.
It's actually a pretty brilliant business model. The more ads they sell, the more free apps they're able to give you. The more free apps they give you, the more goodwill they generate, the more you use their products and believe that they're not evil and are willing to tell them about yourself. The more they learn about you, the more lucrative their ads become and the more money they make.
It's a brilliant business model, or as the woman who Obama put in charge of Department of Justice's antitrust division calls it, a "repeat of Microsoft." Just like Microsoft in the early 90s, Google is accused of using all those free apps and all that goodwill to stomp out all competition. The European Union has launched an official antitrust inquiry.
Google for its part has responded to the claims by doing a creepily accurate impression of Microsoft in the 90s. They've made a deal with Sony to set Chrome as the default browser on all VAIO computers, and the upcoming Chrome OS will only work with one browser (guess which!). They're using their enormous market share to outspend the competition. Remind you of anyone?
Google as a company has managed to do one pretty incredible thing: accrue a scary amount of power without being corrupted by it. If we had the money and influence Google enjoys, you can bet we'd flaunt the shit out of it.
You don't hear about Google sweatshop employees or suicides in their Chinese factories or attempts to flood their customers with spyware. If we're going to have a monopoly, it might as well be Google.
Everything we've covered so far, the spying, the advertising networks, have been the result of Google's algorithm working on autopilot. You'll probably be comforted to know that there's not some guy sitting on Google's campus, analyzing what ad to serve based on your uniquely weird taste in music and pornography. All the dirt they've got on you are all just ones and zeroes in a complex equation that works incredibly well.
But things get a lot clumsier when something in the algorithm isn't working, and the humans behind the scenes have to make a decision. Unfortunately, when you control how most of the world interacts with the Internet, there's no such thing as a fair decision.
Which will all change when the Internet overlords come to power.
In February, 2010, DMCA claimed Google deleted a bunch of blogs from their Blogger service even though many of the bloggers didn't do anything. Some of them had deals with record labels and bands. Many of the stricken bloggers received no warning whatsoever, which is in direct violation of Google's own policy.
And it isn't the first (or the only) time Google's done something like this. Remember that preposterous brouhaha between Anonymous and the religion with all the space Nazis and nuclear volcanoes? Google took a side.
They deleted the Anonymous AdSense account and burned the YouTube account of a journalist about to release an expose on the Church. The expose contained no copyrighted material, but Google killed it anyway. They also locked an anti-Scientology website called Xenu.net away from the rest of the Internet.
To be fair; when the Church of Scientology published the names of several members of Anonymous, Google took the right action and banned their YouTube account. Then they re-opened it, right around the same time AdSense was gorged with thousands upon thousands of ads for the Church.
We're not saying Google has become the brainwashed pawn of an evil new-age religion. The CoS has money to spend on advertising and Google is too enormous to make reasonable decision in every corner of its sprawling empire. Of course, we don't have to ask you to imagine if Google actually decided to screw their users. Remember earlier this year when ...