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The Worst Side of Aggregation: Thoughts on Google

23 Mar

As part of our module on Aggregation, I find myself pondering Google’s dominance as a search engine and Web 2.0 service provider. While the company claims to “do no evil,” it seems that Google has outgrown its the slogan. While they aren’t on par with Hitler or Stalin, that doesn’t mean that they only do good–far from it.

Google amasses massive amounts of data via its search engine, browser, email service, Picasa, Google Docs, Google Maps, Google+ and Google Scholar for sale to advertisers.Television, newspapers, radio also make their money from advertisement. Yet only a few Nielsen families who’ve agreed to supply data on their behavior are needed to keep these older media in business. Even if you don’t set up a Google account, Google profits from your search behavior. Is there any harm in this? Well, that depends on how much you value privacy and whether you feel entitled to good customer service in this business relationship.

Let me state upfront that I’m no fan of Google after a hacking I experienced a few years ago. I try as best I can to use none of their services.

If you have a customer service issue with the corporation, I’ve found it impossible to get help or information. Given Google’s size, the media’s coverage of its fun workplace, its slogan to “do no evil”  and its desire to provide more services as time goes on, one would expect a customer service staff that’s responsive to consumers’ needs. When my account was hacked into, they closed off my accounts, try as I might I could not reopen them.  Both Facebook and Yahoo responded within hours to my emails and Yahoo had a representative call me in response to a letter. Google did not respond to letters or emails. Unless you have an employee’s direct line, a call won’t be accepted.

Some have argued that more regulation is needed. Governments regulate utilities because they’re necessary to our lives and they have little competition. Perhaps Google and Facebook need to be considered utilities. People do need information in the information age, almost as much as we need water and power. I’m all for more regulation because Google has not cooperated by changing its policies when governments and individuals have stood up for their privacy rights.

The results of a drawn out legal battle came out this week and Google’s been required to pay 38 states $7 million dollars in a legal settlement. Furthermore, they must develop a campaign training employees in privacy protection and they must destroy the data they collected. Seven million seems like a pittance and hardly a deterrent. Google has yet to delete data it promised German courts it would delete two years ago. Yet it is a win, however small, for those who value privacy.

What concerns me with this issue is not just Google’s overreach and the relatively small settlement, but how journalists fail to tell the whole story. It seems too many reporters are still enthralled with Google’s Wonderboys, Sergy Brin and Larry Page. According to the Columbia Journalism Review, most news outlets reported the story in terms that favorably depict Google. CNET.com and others report that the fault lay with a “rogue engineer.” However testimony shows that the engineer, Marius Milner, informed colleagues at Google that he was writing code that would collect this data and Google was uncooperative in providing evidence to the Federal Communications Commission. Google’s behavior in this case and in the legal disputes in Europe show me that they do have too much power and should be reined in.

Resources

Chittam, R. Poor coverage of Google’s Street View scandal settlement. Columbia Journalism Review. March 15, 2013. Retrieved March 23, 2013.

Newton, C. Google reaches $7 million settlement with states over Street View case. CNET. March 12, 2013. Retrieved March 23, 2013.

Further reading

  • James Farrows of The Atlantic explains why he won’t adopt Google’s new Keep feature. Google has a record for dropping services that lack mass appeal.  Google, heed the Lucas Critique. You’re training people to avoid your new products.

 

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8 Comments

Posted by on March 23, 2013 in Practical, Theory

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

8 responses to “The Worst Side of Aggregation: Thoughts on Google

  1. tarynjones

    March 24, 2013 at 4:18 am

    I’m guessing you’ve seen the book, but in case you haven’t – I’ve heard some good things about “The Googlization of Everything”.

    (Full disclosure: it’s been on my list of things to read since before starting at SLAIS last January, and I still haven’t got around to it, so this is less of a recommendation and more just bringing it to your attention).

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  2. dlogalbo

    March 25, 2013 at 5:53 am

    I agree, that often it seems Google and its employees walk on water. Which is interesting, considering the (deserving, IMHO) criticism sites like Facebook have gotten over the past couple of years. With Google, despite the legal battles lost and fees owed, people still don’t seem to see the issues with privacy, and the information gathering Google does.

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    • smkelly

      March 25, 2013 at 10:15 pm

      It makes no sense that Google has a halo around it, when as you mention Facebook doesn’t. They’ve got excellent PR.

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  3. smkelly

    March 25, 2013 at 9:50 pm

    I’m adding this book to my reading list. I don’t like the idea of people handing over so much influence to one organization. I’ve always tried to use a variety of search engines, read a variety of magazines and newspapers.

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  4. gzaitzeff

    March 26, 2013 at 1:48 am

    Nowadays journalism seems less about investigative reporting and more about public relations. “Who wants to anger a corporate giant? They might pull their ads.”

    What I find interesting is how most people do not really understand how Google
    works-that it actually filters and tailors its results based on the data it has collected. This is a really interesting and insight article from Bitch magazine about search engine analytics and women: http://safiyaunoble.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/54_search_engines.pdf

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    • smkelly

      March 28, 2013 at 8:36 pm

      I’ll read the article. People need to be educated about how the web works as a business. In school I learned about advertising’s subliminal messages, the bandwagon approach, etc.

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  5. Gurinder

    March 26, 2013 at 7:30 am

    With respect to the web in general and privacy issues, I always try to remember that I’m being “watched.” And as for Google, I refuse to use their email service for anything personal because I have this rather irrational (?) feeling that they are nosier than other services. But even with my personal emails, I’m very careful about what I say and share.
    You are right that somehow Google seems to lead a rather charmed existence. Perhaps it’s because of their iconic simple search page? For how could anyone associate such simplicity with privacy violations or aggressive/inappropriate data collection methods?

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    • smkelly

      March 28, 2013 at 8:34 pm

      Very interesting observation about the simplicity of the homepage. I think you’re on to something.

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