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The Worst Side of Aggregation: Thoughts on Google

18 May

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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Posted by on May 18, 2013 in Library and Information Science

 

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