The Google PoliceIs Google an Altruistic Company?

Categories: Google
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Published on: June 1, 2012

Our savior Google ()

The Google Police

As I’ve mentioned in other places, I think the question of whether Google (the corporation, not its products) is an altruistic company or not is a good question. I’m not the first to ask it, and I won’t claim to be the one to address it best. In fact there’s an excellent post by Jeffrey Van Camp on Digital Trends that goes over the history and details of Google’s activities and what questions those activities bring up. I don’t want to go into that detail here, but I do have some questions:

Is it possible that Google is a protector of the Internet; the economy; the world’s humanity itself? Is the answer to that question different when you compare it to other American corporations, or other world-wide corporations? And does this even matter?

People Talk

As I mentioned above, people are asking about Google’s altrusitic nature. Google employees seem to suggest that Google is more than just another business making money, but that it is actually doing something important for humanity. And people outside of Google claim their policies and algorythm updates (like the recent Venice update) are good for the Internet for a variety of reasons.

But there certainly have been critics of Google. The criticisms range from overall selfishness and shifts in the corporate philosophy that suggest Google isn’t practicing what it preaches; to specific policy decisions (especially recently) and the sometimes politically charged statements that individual Googlers or past Googlers make. With all the rhetoric and talk about Google’s motives, policies, and activities, I think that the question of whether this matters is obvious.

A world without Google

Simple Earth

I think one of the best ways to figure out how valuable something is, in whatever context you choose, is to compare that context to what would happen if that something were never there. So I ask you now, what would the Internet be like if Google had never been? Would it be more fair to companies trying to sell online, or less? Would selling or conducting business online even work?

It’s possible that another company (possibly Microsoft’s MSN, Live, or Bing search engines; or even Yahoo (before MS); or one of the many metasearch engines that arose) might have taken the spot Google owns now: the top search engine. But I think the policies of each contender would have been very different than Google’s. Certainly the investment in software development would be different. You would not find a company funding software engineers to experiment on new ideas.

But here’s another question: what would the United States or the world be like without Google? I believe the Internet is a good thing for humanity, but it is also capable of great harm. It allows terrorists to recruit and communicate unimpeded. It harbors and protects the annonymity of racists, bigots, and haters. And it is easily exploited for fraud, spam, and other nefarious activities.

Believe it or not, I think spam is the biggest threat. Email marketing already suffers terribly because spam is pushing users away from it, or forcing them to filter out all marketing messages, even those that are not, technically, spam. What I worry is that unrestricted spam online, especially in searches, would drive the people who want to use the Internet for good (entrepreneurs, legitimate businesses small and large, open-source coders, etc) to abandon it to those who use it for “evil”.

Why the Criticism?

So if Google is (arguably) partially responsible for the Internet and all the good things it does, why does it get so much criticism now? Because we’re worried things will change and it isn’t too hard to imagine it. To some extent, Google is a smaller example of a greater question: Is it better for a “good” entity to run everything to ensure everything is good (by its definition), or is it better for no one to run everything so there is the possibility of evolution and progress rather than adherance to a dogmatic perspective? In the case of Google, does the company have too much power on the Internet? Are the recent anti-competitive actions signals that Google is succumbing to selfish morals, or is Google trying to stamp out the “bad” parts of the Internet by filling them with itself?

Cable Control

There are many who, justifiably, are not comfortable with one organization having so much control. There are others who point to the frequent misdeeds of other corporations and say it would be better if Google could influence them more. I don’t know. But before you answer this question, consider the larger question of the entire world. There are clearly bad people in it, the worst of which are dictators and facists who kill their own people to keep power. But what should be done about that? Just like with Google, is it better to fill the world with one type of government, one type of culture, one type of justice, even if doing so requires violence? Is it fair that, because you can’t choose which country/government/culture you are born into, you must suffer the consequences of a world that allows bad entities to exist? I don’t know, but you can comment if you do.

A Googly Future

The difference between the world view and the Internet, of course, is that by-and-large (with the exception of some governments’ censureship and control of the Internet) you can choose which search engine you want to use. But I don’t want to talk about the world here. I want to limit my post to my original question: is Google somehow a defender of the Internet? I think there are two perspectives. In the short term, yes, I think Google and its philosophy has done a lot to protect, enhance, and improve the Internet and all the good it does and can do. But in the long term, I think Google has to accept that it will have competition, and if it keeps on with its anticompetitive ways, it will eventually tarnish and lose its golden reputation, its most valuable asset by far. Google cannot be anything more than a company. It can’t be a government. It can’t be a police force. And, no matter what you believe, it can’t be the Internet’s and humanity’s protector for all time.

What do you think? What is Google’s role, in whatever context you want, for the past, present, and future?

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