Category Archives: Theory

The Worst Side of Aggregation: Thoughts on Google

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. 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.


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.



Posted by on March 23, 2013 in Practical, Theory


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Ted Talk on Social Media in China

Yang, the Chinese Oprah, summarizes how Chinese use social media while outlining the hot topics in its society.

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Posted by on March 10, 2013 in Practical, Theory


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Digital McLuhan, Part One

While Marshall McLuhan is a well known scholar and most people have heard his phrases, “global village” and”the medium is the message” bandied about, I admit that was the extent of my knowledge. After reading our first course module, I decided to learn more. I started with Paul Levinson’s Digitial McLuhan as an updated look at McLuhan’s ideas relate to social media.

I must thank Levinson for introducing more of McLuhan’s concepts to me. Here are a few:

  • McLuhan’s tetrad, his four questions of media:
  1. What does it enhance or amplify in the culture?
  2. What does it obsolesce or push out of prominence?
  3. What does it retrieve from the past, from the realm of the previously obsolesced?
  4. What does the medium reverse or flip into when it reaches the limits of its potential? (p.16)
  • Hot and cool: McLuhan uses hot to describe “loud, bright, clear and fixed” media or subjects (e.g. political candidates) while cool media or subjects are “soft, shadowy, blurred and changeable.” For example, movies seen in a theater are hot, while television is cool; radio is hot, while telephones are cool. Cool media engage us more because there’s more to pour over and consider.In this system, social media with its messiness and interactive possibilities are cool.
  • Discarnate: an interaction that does not involve the body (much*). This notion denotes the disconnect between the body and the message. Our voices are “disconnected” from our voices when we talk on the phone. When a dancer’s performance is uploaded to YouTube we can see the dance has been severed from the dancer in a sense. The term virtual has become the most popular expression for this idea. However, McLuhan’s discarnate seems more powerful to me because it emphasizes the message severing from the person who expressed it.
  • Light-through media: hypnotic media in which animated light comes through the media to the viewer, e.g. stained glass windows, television, computer screens, the sky. Such media hypnotize in a way and have a certain religious intensity.
  • Light-on media: light bounces off the medium so we can perceive it, e.g. books, magazines, paintings. Even the most glossy, vivid, masterfully done images and words don’t produce that little buzz that TV or computers do. It’s always easier to put down even the best book than it is to turn off an iPad that’s got a banal game or message. The iPad’s a light-through, whereas your favorite book is light-on.

These trenchant concepts help me understand my own experience using media. They explain why I can watch TV hour after hour, but can’t read all the books I’d like to in a week. I will use McLuhan’s questions in every reading and media I examine throughout the course.

Related: Video interview of Digital McLuhan author, Paul Levinson.

Levinson, P. (1999). Digital McLuhan. London, UK: Routledge.



Posted by on January 19, 2013 in Theory


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