Google scares me. Here’s why.
A Perfect Storm
There are five factors that have come together in a perfect storm to make Google one of the most powerful companies on the planet. Their power is largely unchecked, growing, and shows no signs of slowing down.
Here are the five circumstances that are allowing it to happen.
1. Larry and Sergey Have Absolute Authority
Larry and Sergey, Google’s cofounders, have absolute authority of the company. Despite only owning 15% of outstanding stock, the pair controls 56% of the company’s voting stock. The cofounders introduced a new “B” class of stock, each share worth 10 votes, to ensure they remain in control. The new stock structure even brought forth a lawsuit questioning the move — it failed.
Simply put, Larry and Sergey are Google. They make the calls. Despite being a public company,Google is controlled by only two people.
2. Google Owns 67% of Search’s Market Share
Google controls the modern day flow of information.They own 67% of search traffic and their consumer reputation for search is impeccable. As the breadth of their products continues to expand, their mind and market share is only increasing.
From Android (79% mobile OS market share) to Gmail (450+ million users) to Chrome (18% of browsers )— Google is making significant progress in becoming the owner of not just search, but you’re time on the web (which of course leads to more search).
3. Google is Becoming an Internet Service Provider
Google is building infrastructure to control and provide access to the internet. The wifi balloons of project Loon and the high speed internet delivered by Fiber are making their way, slowly but surely, around the world. Google is turning itself into a gatekeeper of the internet.
Users of Google’s internet infrastructure will be encouraged, if not forced, to use Google’s search. It’s only fair given that the internet will be free, subsidized, or even the only option available. By building internet infrastructure they control, not only will the absolute number of internet users rise, but Google will increase their percent share of the market.
4. Google Has Reversed it’s Stance on Net Neutrality
Net neutrality is the principle that all internet service providers and governments should treat all data the same. Most importantly, the principle states that ISPs shouldn’t discriminate on particular types of data or charge users differently.
Google publicly supported net neutrality as they ascended to their role as internet powerhouse, but as soon as they became an ISP themselves, their tone changed. In their Fiber terms of service they broadly prohibit servers being attached to the ultra-fast connection.
An excerpt from this Wired article defines the issue:
The problem is that a server, by definition, doesn’t have to be a dedicated expensive computer. Any PC or Mac can be a server, as can all sorts of computing devices.
The ban also applies to peer to peer software. Under Google’s policy, you couldn’t host your own WordPress blog or use a Nest thermostat.
And here Wired sums it up:
When it was just a set of online services, Google happened to fall on the side of citizens and used to advocate against broadband companies controlling the pipes. Now that it’s an ISP itself, Google is becoming a net neutrality hypocrite.
5. Governments Act Slowly. Google Knows This.
Google has never been a poster child of regulatory compliance. They can afford to pay any infractions. The company paid off a $500 million fine when accused of shady advertising practices. Half a billion dollars takes 140 hours for Google to make back, or just shy of a week.In other words, they don’t care.
Eric Schmidt, Google’s current Executive Chairman, has publicly statedthat government shouldn’t regulate technology. Technology moves too quickly and will be able to fix itself.
Like a celebrity speeding in the car pool lane, they’re probably aware they’re going too fast and are ok with the price of the ticket.
Why It’s Scary
If Larry and Sergey want certain information to be less “findable,” then let it be so. Their personal or corporate agenda could require a slight shift of search traffic or slight depression of certain search results. Reasons include politics, policy, ad spend, etc. Most actions could be justifiable through a short term guise of fiduciary duty.
One argument against this possibility is that it’s in Google’s best interest to keep providing honest search results. If they don’t, then users would switch to another search engine that doesn’t have such a bias.
In an open market this is true. But, as described, Google is in the process of making internet infrastructure itself. (For Loon, internet access is dependent on Google-issued antennae). Google Fiber and Google Loon are going to supply the internet to more and more people every year.
Once they control the internet access itself, where are consumers supposed to go for truly unbiased information on the internet?
Furthermore, if the NSA leak is any indication, the public is generally apathetic towards breaches of privacy or lack of control of their own data.
As long as Google’s service remains free (it obviously will), there will be little incentive for users to switch. If Google can provide infrastructure for the internet and control search, that’s an extremely powerful position to be in. The concern is that it’s perhaps too powerful.
Google won’t necessarily reach the size or level of control necessary to be a true threat to unbiased access to information. Even if they did reach that size, they won’t necessarily act unethically. It is, however, important to acknowledge and consider their current position.
Much like currency, we’re at a point where our use of Google and support of the company is based entirely on trust (whether we realize it or not). We impart trust on their technology, their business practices, their search results, and now the infrastructure they’re creating.
Google is on its way to controlling the modern-day water supply — information. And I’m worried we’re all too thirsty to realize when the water starts to taste a little funny.