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Google is not your friend

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Mar. 11th, 2006 | 09:42 am



Let's all be very clear about something. Google, being by far the most popularly used search engine in existence, has a profound effect on how we experience the Internet and consequently how we receive information about the world around us. GMail keeps us in touch with our friends, family, and business partners. Google News informs us of the events around us. Google Maps help us find businesses and communities in our area.

Google wields immense power over you, and that power is effective primarily because you don't even know it's there. Think about how your Internet experience and your daily life would be different without Google, though, and that power begins to become apparent.

I'm not just talking about some individual being unable to find some esoteric fetish site. I'm talking about the owner of a brick-and-mortar specialty store who loses massive amounts of business because his local clientele was using Google to learn about his store's existence. I'm talking about some poverty-stricken mother who ends up having to go hungry because the charity that used to help her out with rent suddenly stops receiving web hits and consequently loses its flow of donations. I'm talking about the secondary and tertiary effects of having an easy-to-use search engine. It's a staple of the Information Age.

The entities that provide that kind of capability have exorbitant amounts of power, both economic and political. Their power outweighs the power of modern-day oil tychools. It outweighs the power of the mass media during the Vietnam War. It outweighs the power of the railroad barons during the Western Expansion. It may even outweigh the power of the Stonemasons during the late Middle Ages.

And if you doubt me, ask yourself how you would go about finding evidence for counterarguments to my statements. Are you going to go to your local library and give me a bibliography? No, you're going to give me a set of URLs. And how are you going to find those URLs? That's right: Google.

Unfortunately, Google lacks viable competitors in the marketplace. This of course isn't unfortunate for Google, but it's unfortunate for pretty much everybody else in the world. A lack of competition means a lack of accountability to the free market.

Which means the rest of us have to watch them like a hawk.

Today, Google removed all traces of a political satire website from its caches. The site The People's Cube is a humorous site devoted to ridiculing the overdramatic rhetoric of Bolshevic and Maoist-style Socialist and Communist organizations, such as the Workers World Party. The People's Cube has been on the web for over a year. They're playful, funny bastards, and they're one of my favorite sites on the Web.

According to Google, they don't exist.

Now, let's put accusations of conspiracy-mongering aside and accept the fact that Google is a very Left-leaning organization. We know that, employee by employee, 98% of the 2004 campaign donations from the people that comprise Google went to Democrats. We know that Google Ads preferentially lists Democrat advertisements. We know that Google is willing to roll over for China and help them censor dissident websites but will fight tooth and nail against America's Federal Government in providing information to help combat terrorism. We know that Google News uses extreme (i.e. violent) Left-wing sites such as Electronic Intifata as newsfeed sources.

So let's just cut the crap and stop pretending that human beings - such as the ones that comprise any corporation, Google included - don't have opinions, viewpoints, and values; and let's stop pretending that those opinions, viewpoints, and values don't shape their actions and behaviors. Google is not a neutral player. Nobody is.

The danger, then, comes from the public's regard for Google as a neutral player, the same way the public used to regard the Mainstream Media with an air of information-from-on-high. They are not "above it all". They are not non-participants. They do not have an objective point of view. And, as the #1 search engine on the Internet, they are not immune to succumbing to the temptation of letting their power corrupt them.

I'm not saying don't do business with Google. They're a private organization, and they're free to do as they please. I'm just saying to keep your eyes open. Next time you do a Google search, particularly on a politically sensitive topic, be aware that the information you access is ultumately coming through a single source.

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Comments {10}

Huh?

from: anonymous
date: Mar. 13th, 2006 08:18 am (UTC)
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What nonsense. Google, or any other internet search engine, is not an entitlement. Offering a free service is not "power over you" in any honest understanding of the word.

I, however, choose to refrain from using Google. I don't like their politics, or helping the Chinese government from censoring speech in their country. Free will.

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Re: Huh?

from: anonymous
date: Mar. 13th, 2006 05:03 pm (UTC)
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Google is a publicly traded company. Google's business is being a search engine and selling ads. The stock holders need to ask if censoring political thought is really in the interest of the stock price.

Free service or not, Google is suppose to be a search engine, not a decision engine.

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Re: Huh?

from: anonymous
date: Mar. 13th, 2006 05:05 pm (UTC)
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Meant to add something... I am so very sick of these progressive leftists who in their quest to "Don't be evil" cause some of the greatest evils. "Don't Be Evil" indeed, Google is becoming like the memory hole in 1984. I always thought the memroy hole would be government sponsored...

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Michael

Re: Huh?

from: omedalus
date: Mar. 14th, 2006 12:11 am (UTC)
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Human beings are rational (or at least semi-rational) players who use information in order to make decisions, decisions which ultimately result in actions. Being a source of information means that you affect those actions.

The definition of power (besides energy over time) is the ability to direct the actions of others. That ability in and of itself is not harmful or sinister in nature; Best Buy continuously get me to buy new gadgets and gizmos, but they elicit this action out of me by selling stuff they know I'll like, thereby getting me to do what they want (buy their stuff) by offerring me adequate, rationally justifiable incentive. Power can also manifest in the form of force and fraud; I can convince someone to do something by holding a gun to their head, or by deceiving them about the consequences of their actions through the conveying of fraudulent information or the intentional withholding of relevant information.

Google has power over you for the simple reason that your actions, insofar as they derive from your rational decision-making process, are driven by the information you're aware of, and Google has the ability to exert control over your awareness of information. The degree to which Google has this ability is proportional to your trust of Google and your awareness of competing The less people implicitly trust Google, the less control of this nature Google is able to exert.

All I'm saying is, knowledge is power. Trusting Google to provide you with knowledge about the world gives them power over you. Knowing that they are fallible and that their results warrant skepticism gives you power over them.

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Re: Huh?

from: anonymous
date: Mar. 23rd, 2006 11:15 pm (UTC)
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If you don't use google because they censor search results in china, then you cannot use yahoo or msn either, because those companies do the same thing.

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err. actually....

from: anonymous
date: Mar. 31st, 2006 12:33 am (UTC)
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Google was not doing any nefarious censorship here.
Read this for more info (http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/seo-advice-check-your-own-site/), or try using site:www.thepeoplescube.com (http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&lr=&q=site%3Awww.thepeoplescube.com) to do your search on Google.

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Michael

Bullcrap

from: omedalus
date: Apr. 4th, 2006 06:53 am (UTC)
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You know what? I actually posted a comment about how this does in fact seem to exhonerate Google from the accusation of political censorship, but I'm sorry. That's just bullcrap.

Do you know how many sites I see all the freakin' time with oceans of search-engine spam like the kind they're accusing "The People's Cube" of having? I'm talking actual commercial sites that do real estate, dating, Canadian medicine, whatever. Google doesn't censor based on content spam; it de-ranks the page, but doesn't remove it from its search results.

I call bullshit. This "We cut you 'cuz of your spam" thing is an after-the-fact justification based on an obscure rule that Google preferentially enforces.

Remember when Google carried a sidebar ad for a Democratic political candidate, but rejected an identically-worded ad for a Republican candidate because Google suddenly remembered it has a policy of not running political sidebar ads? These Google guys are trying to punk us hard that it'd be funny if it wasn't so sad.

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Re: Bullcrap

from: anonymous
date: Apr. 7th, 2006 02:50 am (UTC)
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Where oh where is this comment? I don't see it in this post's thread or your "P.S (Re: Google is yoru friend)" entry.

The fact remains, you could have found this specific site with a slightly tweaked query, and you have no evidence that Google deliberately filtered out this site. Perhaps their rule enforcement is not perfect and not 100% predictable, but one should attribute to malice what can be more easily attributed to software.

I also don't agree with you that Google is the only option we have for finding information online. They may be the most popular, but one still has many alternatives. (Yahoo, MSN/Live Search, AltaVista, Infoseek, etc.) If you think Google is not playing nicely with your infomation, then use another search engine!

Or is your point that Google is popular, and so they have a moral obligation to return all information on the web without any bias or filtering? That's bs IMHO - they are a business, and are entitled to offer whatever service they like. If you don't like it, you don't need to use it.

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Michael

Re: Bullcrap

from: omedalus
date: Apr. 14th, 2006 06:36 pm (UTC)
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Chill the fuck out, anonymous coward. I deleted my own pro-Google post after I posted it, reviewed it, evaluated my own argument, and changed my mind. It's my LJ space here, I can do that.

I do not claim Google has any moral obligation to not be asshats - at least, no more so than any other human being or organization. What I am saying is that I'm surrounded by people who do regard Google as some kind of information-from-On-High, who don't recognize that Google is capable of bias and judgment. Their ignorance has a negative impact on my quality of life insofar as they consequently act on incomplete or misleadingly presented information.

The natural consequence of being an asshat is that, when you're discovered as an asshat, people will want to deal with you less. When you're a purveyor of information, however, you have some control over the likelihood of discovery insofar as you can prevent discovery of your asshattery; the degree to which you can do this is proportional to the extent to which your victims and their peers rely on you for their information input to the exclusion of other sources. I would prefer to see much more people use Yahoo! or MSN/Live Search in addition to Google, so that the purveyors of information can hold each other accountable and increase the difficulty of deception. The truth will set you free, but only if you bother to look for it.

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Michael

Re: Bullcrap

from: omedalus
date: Apr. 14th, 2006 06:59 pm (UTC)
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And one other thing... It is the case that, when presenting information, you have a moral obligation to ensure that the information is complete and comprehensible to the intended audience. Failure to do so constitutes a form of fraud.

Let's start with the premise that you have a moral obligation to avoid causing direct initial harm (we can debate the merits of this premise later if you like). If you start to help a little old lady across a street, you therefore have a moral obligation to finish helping her cross; leaving her in the middle of the road directly causes her harm. If you start to drive a friend from Vegas to El Paso, you can't just drop that friend off halfway there somewhere in the middle of the desert and expect gratitude for your assistance.

Likewise, if you present an audience with information, you have a moral obligation to ensure that that information is presented in a way that is correct and not misleading. Human beings make decisions based on the information they have, and you can knowingly cause harm to another individual by giving them information that, while not exactly false, lacks the detail required to enable the victim to make a rational decision.

For example, if a friend tells you he has a headache and you tell him, "I have some stuff in my medicine cabinet that'll help clear your head," he's probably going to assume you're talking about Tylenol rather than extacy. You would therefore lead the friend to choose to take an action that he wouldn't have otherwise made - i.e. taking those pills. You didn't lie, but you did deceive.

It's called giving just barely enough information to be dangerous. If you recognize that fellow human minds are valuable, then deception and disingenuousness undermine the value of those minds just as surely as outright deception.

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