The Google Singularity
It confuses me how at-odds my opinion is with most tech-savvy people today, but I trust Google even less than the proverbial mustached guy selling candy out of his ‘78 Ford Econoline.
Seriously. This company that built the greatest web search engine in the world now has its hand in so many pies, and is backed by so many dollars, that it has become a juggernaut that can upset almost any industry on a whim. Any small business owner in the technology sector must cringe at the ever-present spectre of Google, fearing the day when Google might whimsically decide to make his entire business irrelevant by offering its own facsimile at a price that he can’t possibly afford to compete with.
In short, I view Google increasingly as the Wal-Mart of the Internet.
And oh, how I hate Wal-Mart.
“But how can anyone hate low prices?” you ask. Who said anything about hating low prices? I hate the fact that Wal-Mart’s incredible size and bullying power has increasingly made them the only retail source for goods, and reduced the overall quality of goods in their single-minded race to the bottom on price. Which means that if you don’t like the selection Wal-Mart offers, if you prefer a product of better quality rather than lowest possible price, or if you just don’t like the shopping experience Wal-Mart offers, you may soon be SOL — if you aren’t already.
Google is largely doing the same thing. It’s behaving similarly to Microsoft of the past decade, the one that ran afoul of anti-trust laws by bundling its own services with its own operating systems, which EU courts saw as anti-competitive. Except that for some reason, when Google does it, everyone laps it up and falls all over themselves to gush about the wonderful, generous Google overlords and how they’re all doing us such great favors.
Sure they are. Because the more people who use Google services, the more data Google can collect about who those people are, what they search for, what services they like to use, what they buy, and so on — data that is worth a fortune to every marketer on the planet. And as it happens, it’s marketing itself — yours, in fact — that has made Google so much money, via their PPC advertising programs.
I’ve seen how it works; my company has used Google AdWords for years. It’s incredibly easy to screw up and pay Google an absolute shit-ton of money if you don’t know how to use it properly. Occasionally, Google account representatives would contact us and offer advice on how to “improve” our advertising account, which would almost always involve broadening our sponsored keywords to the point where they would be making significantly more money from us, even though that didn’t make sense for our target market. When they come calling now, we ignore them.
With all of this money that it has amassed, it seems to me that Google has become empowered to operate increasingly close to fine lines of legality and ethics. Case in point: my first link above, which details the case of how Google deliberately ignored privacy settings in the Safari web browser so that it could surreptitiously plant a cookie on end-users’ machines that would deliver targeted Google advertising to those users, even when they had requested not to receive it. Careful, Google — your hubris is starting to show.
Now, we’re told to welcome with open arms all of the wonderful free* services that Google offers us, anything from file storage (Google Drive) to cell phones (Android) to cars that drive themselves. It boggles my mind that no one else seems to believe that it’s dangerous to place so much of your information in the hands of a single company. Much as Microsoft’s excellent new Windows Phones can’t gain any traction today because of the years of ill will they cultivated with their craptacular Windows Mobile OS, I’d wager that Google’s fans are largely ignoring their increasingly worrisome behavior as a result of all the goodwill the company created in its earlier years. Hell, there was a time that I was a huge Google cheerleader, too.
Any more, though, I regard every new and supposedly amazing service that Google offers with a healthy dose of suspicion. Before I give them any data, I consider what might happen if that data were to be scanned, translated, OCR’ed, analyzed or otherwise shared with other portions of Google’s services (or worse, the Internet at large). And I wonder from time to time if I’ll wake up one day and not have a job anymore because Google has decided to replicate what we do and offer it for free, subsidized by the millions of dollars it makes from its advertising networks (which, ironically, we’re using — we might be contributing to our own demise).
I just seems weird that people harp on companies like Microsoft and Apple for doing this same kind of stuff, calling them “bullies” and accusing them of “using strong-arm tactics” to squash their competition, when I see absolutely no difference between them and Google. Well, okay, maybe one difference: Google cloaks their predatory actions in a blanket of altruism, pretending they’re doing you a tremendous favor by reducing your choices in the marketplace and monetizing every aspect of you and everything you’ve ever shared with them.
And a Google self-driving car? Unless it talks in a smartass voice and looks like a third-generation Trans Am, I’ll have nothing to do with it.