Should we be afraid of Google?
For sure the competitors have been afraid for years. Microsoft’s bid on Yahoo a few weeks ago is one example. Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer did not mention Google in the letter covering the hostile bid on Yahoo on February 1st but of course it’s about beating Google. “Today, the market is increasingly dominated by one player who is consolidating its dominance through acquisition,” Ballmer wrote. And think about the (early) search engines like Excite, Ask Jeeves, and AltaVista. I don’t even remember them! The Chinese search company Baidu.com Inc. might be the only company which is not really scared of Google – but that is of course another story of the non-democratic China and Google. One thing is that Google is driving everyone else out of competition. Luckily the American and European authorities are looking into this very carefully for every step Google takes. Another thing is the inherent drive in Google to aggregate data about our digital lives and habits. Google’s business model is based on the trust of the users; the more information the user entrust Google with the better service Google is to deliver. Google aggregates data that includes for example the users’ search patterns, responses to ads, e-mails, calendars, contacts, and documents. Much of this used to be private and ephemeral, but today this digital identity of every user is lasting forever. John Battele describes this phenomenon in detail in his book “The Search. How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture”. He calls it The Database of Intentions. I checked his website and found this quote about this Big Idea: “The aggregate results of every search ever entered, every result list ever tendered, and every path taken as a result. It lives in many places, but three or four places in particular hold a massive amount of this data (ie MSN, Google, and Yahoo). This information represents, in aggregate form, a place holder for the intentions of humankind – a massive database of desires, needs, wants, and likes that can be discovered, supoenaed, archived, tracked, and exploited to all sorts of ends. Such a beast has never before existed in the history of culture, but is almost guaranteed to grow exponentially from this day forward. This artifact can tell us extraordinary things about who we are and what we want as a culture. And it has the potential to be abused in equally extraordinary fashion.” Should we then be afraid if Google is monopolizing the aggregate of our digital footprints? So far we have traded privacy for convenience, service, and power” (Battele, 2005:12). But giving too much information to one source creates a threat to the individual privacy – it is tempting for corporate and public organizations to request this useful information. This combined with the Patriot Act from the fall of 2001, private information can be handed to government authorities via a request to Internet service provider or community libraries without individuals knowing it. Rumours say that Google works with law enforcement agencies from time to time, Google claims it doesn’t (Battele, 2005:203). Of course Google uses this information to test products. So far we can only see a few signs of what this means in the future. What happens when Google is a phone company? Plus a cable provider? Plus university? Plus eBay, Amazon, Netflix and Expedia in one big company? (Battele, 2005:250). I am a bit scared if this information ends up in the wrong hands. But Google makes my everyday easier and actually I do not have anything to hide. So I will continue googling!!!! But I might not swift from hotmail to Gmail as I had planed to do just to make it a bit more complicated to get my aggregate data!