– I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Google for several years now. I love Google because its page indexing is the quickest among all of the search engines, and it consistently delivers the most relevant search results by a wide margin. Google is also fair. If you play by Google’s search engine optimization (SEO) rules, over time your web content will gain visibility within Google search results. I certainly cannot say the same of Yahoo and MSN. Over 90% of my web traffic comes through Google. For these reasons, and probably many others, I truly love Google.
On the hate side of the equation, I (and of course, others) feel Google is simply becoming too big. Various estimates place Google’s web search market share at 70-72%, with its closest rival, Yahoo, holding about 18% of the market. Admittedly, Google probably deserves its disproportionately large market share for the reasons stated above. It’s simply the best search engine out there. However, given Google’s market dominance and the clear lack of any true competition, I feel we all need to start thinking about the “m-word”: monopoly.
Size Alone – We in the U.S. have a strong aversion to monopolies. They have no place in our capitalist economy that emphasizes free markets and open competition among buyers and sellers of products and services. Whether Google is presently an actual or de facto monopoly is open to debate. But for me, if the debate is confined just to web search market share, I really don’t care whether Google is a monopoly or not. In purely the search engine realm, Google’s size is apparently working to its advantage, and I dare say to the advantage of everyone who uses Google and enjoys the pre-eminently relevant search results it delivers. But I find I have to get off the giant-search-engine-is-okay train when I start to think about Google’s various extracurricular activities, including most importantly, its data collection activities.
Extracurricular Activities – We all know Google collects all sorts of information about our internet habits: sites we visit and for how long, what we download, what we buy online, etc. But what Google does with this information, and what inferences Google and others with whom it shares this information draw from it (and for what purpose), we don’t know. And Google isn’t telling. This is what disturbs me about Google: its raw size and dominance coupled with its questionable data collection practices.
Google maintains and processes your Gmail account and its contents to provide the Gmail service to you and to improve our services.
The Gmail service includes relevant advertising and related links based on the IP address, content of messages and other information related to your use of Gmail.
Google’s computers process the information in your messages for various purposes, including formatting and displaying the information to you, delivering advertisements and related links, preventing unsolicited bulk email (spam), backing up your messages, and other purposes relating to offering you Gmail. (emphasis added)
Over The Top – Google Health – When I first learned about Google Health–a tool that let’s you create a personal health profile online and share that information with whom you decide (e.g., your physician), I cringed. I don’t know just why. It was an emotional reaction. I guess the notion of sharing my personal health information with Google was bad enough. But the thought of transferring and sharing that information over the Wild Wild Web was even worse–ridiculous. But wait, there’s more.
Last week Google announced an alliance with IBM to offer a new feature within Google Health. Thanks to IBM, Google Health will now be able to pull data directly from various medical devices (heart rate monitors, scales, blood-sugar measurement devices, and so on) and post them within your Google Health profile.
So, let’s get this straight. Google already knows a bunch of personal stuff about me just from my internet use (and it won’t tell me exactly what it does with that information). Now I’m going to sign on to Google Health and feed a bunch of very personal information to Google–voluntarily. And then, when I’m done with that, I’m going to wire up my blood-sugar monitor to my PC–voluntarily– so that Google can pull personal information directly from my body! I don’t think so.
The New Relevant Question – The question, “Has Google gotten too big for its britches?” is no longer relevant. Fact is, Google has gotten too big for its britches. And Google Health, together with its remote medical device monitoring capability, proves it. The relevant question now is, what do we do about it? What do we do about Google’s size and questionable data collection practices? How do we end this Orwellian nightmare?
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