Google is not God

By , 25 March, 2009, 3 Comments

I have been vocal on this blog about my Google-agnosticism. I don’t think Googleization is the solution to all business models though I do think the Internet represents more opportunity than cost to many industries. And though I do worry about digital privacy, I don’t think the firm’s digitization of our lives has to be fascist in its outcomes.

I’m usually sanguine about the new digital order, because I believe in the basic legal structures of a functioning market economy: the checks placed on any one company by the requirement to compete with others and the checks placed on all companies by government should, in theory, protect us from total Googleization and the violation of our privacy rights.
Here’s the problem: Google has become a monopoly and the entity entrusted to crack down on monopolies–the State–is dependent on various forms of digital data mining, at which Google excels. Now government has colluded with trusts and cartels before, but usually there is a body of journalists and consumers who pressure them to right the wrong. The real problem with the Google is how much civil society has cheerled monopolization:

Exhibit A: Jeff Jarvis, journalist and educator, thinks Google is the solution to all industrial problems. Now, he even thinks Google is a model for the Church–Google, he says, is our new God. This is lunacy of a dangerous variety.

Exhibit B: Michael Arrington, journalist and tech-guru, thinks digital privacy is overrated and that companies like Facebook are cop-outs when they respond to consumers’ concerns about it, because “making users happy is a suckers’ game.” What part of customer is always right does Arrington not comprehend?

Exhibit C: The Big Money thinks Google’s online services for small businesses are wonderful, and only belatedly wonders whether just maybe it’s a problem that Google is the only provider. At least TBM detects its journalistic instincts are under erosion. Though it seems to be far too comfortable on Google’s side of the privacy debate in this piece on Street View.

Exhibit D: Charlie Rose and Erick Schonfield take Eric Schmidt at utter face value when he claims that Google has no interest in expanding its empire to Twitter. If reporters don’t question CEO objectives, who will?

The key fallacy of all this commentary is the assumption that Google cares about customers, and therefore, as the Guardian claims, can be a good social steward (!) even if it has a lot of power. Google is the opposite of a customer-service company; it’s a data-cruncher, the triumph, as Helen Walter’s aptly points out, of engineering over design.

Is a world where data starts to replace people really the one we want to live in? Why is no one else worried about this?

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3 Responses {+}
  • Matt G. (mgcsinc)

    A couple points from an extremely biased (ask me by e-mail why I’m biased, you’ll be interested) source:

    1. The point about regulators also being customers is a good one on the face, but I’m not sure that the relationship they have could rightly be called collusion.

    2. The reason that everyone cheers on Google as they supposedly become some kind of giant monopoly monster thing is because, as far as the ‘end consumer’ is concerned, Google is everything a monopoly is NOT supposed to be. They’re efficient, they’re innovative, and they provide their services at low to no cost. Google goes into markets where dumbass oligopolies have been sitting with their thumbs in their asses for years without coming up with anything new, and it gives ‘end consumers’ everything the old companies have been giving them and more, often for free. This is about to happen with the telephone industry, which is scared shitless about it. Fully ninety-nine percent of the flak that Google gets for being a monopolist has, as its eventual source, established companies that would rather not have to provide users with the experience that is necessary to compete with Google.

    3. It is important throughout all of this to remember what constitutes Google’s market. ‘End consumers’ are not Google’s market. It doesn’t charge them for things. Advertisers, purchasers of aggregated data, etc., those people are Google’s customers. Talking about monopolization in terms of ‘market share’ of home computer users is not particularly useful, from my perspective, as far as antitrust goes. What I DO think is an important point about Google’s home user market share is that, as you point out, everyone (including regulators, media, etc) becomes a consumer of Google’s products. However, I’m not so sure that this is all that different from ‘monopolies’ of the past. Maybe it just so happens that Google doesn’t suck (unlike most monopolies), and therefore doesn’t find itself drawing as much ire.

    4. What if there does end up being, some day, a ‘benevolent’ for-profit company, that is, one which is genuinely self-policing and fair, maintaining innovation, etc. How would we deal with that under our current distrust-all-trusts scheme?

    5. Obama’s nominee for AAG in charge of Antitrust is not exactly amorous of Google: http://i.gizmodo.com/5158138/obamas-pick-for-anti+trust-chief-sees-google-as-a-monopolist-threat

    🙂

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