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<nettime> One Google To Rule Them All
Abe Burmeister on Tue, 18 Feb 2003 23:15:33 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> One Google To Rule Them All

One Google To Rule Them All

Everybody loves Google, yes? [ http://www.google.com ] It makes the 
internet work, answers our questions, plus its friendly and pop-up free. 
Brand Channel just named it the brand of the year, number one the world 
over. [ http://www.brandchannel.com/start1.asp?id=143 ]  Apple built Google 
right into the interface to its new browser. [ http://www.apple.com/safari/ 
]  Google is rapidly becoming essential, perhaps even omnipotent. And that 
is the problem. Google is rapidly become the biggest threat to the free 
internet around.

Saw Howard Reingold [ http://www.smartmobs.com/index.html ] speak the other 
night, at a KQED's Media Salon. [ 
http://www.kqed.org/topics/news/media/media-salon.jsp ]  Towards the end of 
the discussion, the moderator (whose name escapes me, sorry) posed a very 
interesting question. He mention that despite being in the television 
business, he often wishes that TV was never invented. The negative impact 
it has on culture far out weighs its benefits, at least in his opinion. The 
question he asked was:

"What can we do now in order to prevent us from looking back in 10 years 
and wishing the internet never existed?"

My head rolled around that a bit, as the conversation continued. All the 
usual fears of media monopolies, baby bells, and governments big brothering 
the internet to further their powers. All legitimate outside threats, but I 
wasn't getting too worried. The architecture of the internet still 
encourages free expression, and I've yet to see a model by which any of 
these forces could really seize control. Not that its impossible, but I'm 
not losing any sleep, yet.

My mind kept racing. Where was there a legitimate threat of the internet 
being controlled? It hit me. Google. The most powerful address online, the 
most powerful organization online. And we happily give it this power. For 
good reason too, its the best search engine around. But as its powers 
increase so do the threats it presents.

We rely upon Google to return legitimate answers to our search queries. And 
its won our trust by returning good results. So far its all good. But 
Google has the power to alter it search results. It can subtly send people 
to websites in favor of one political viewpoint. If Google blocks a 
website, how easily could we find it? Its easy to put something up online, 
but its worthless if no one can find it.

Search engines are highly centralized. There are only a handful of 
companies offering the service. As the volume of information grows it is 
likely that it will cost even more to start up a new search engine. The 
result? An industry that is relatively easy to control. Control Google and 
you've got the internet in a choke hold. Control both Google and the few 
companies competing with it and you've got the internet on lockdown.

Google has already shown a few warning signs. They've caved into pressure 
from the Scientologists [ http://www.theregister.co.uk/content/6/24533.html 
] and China and restricted search results. They leave all moral decisions 
to one of their founders. [ 
] So far he seems to be doing a decent job, but how long can that last? 
What happens when it becomes a publicly traded corporation? And its profits 
start declining? What happens if the FBI knocks on its door and asks it to 
restrict access to "subversive" websites.

The more we love Google the more power we give it to. Its a classic 
catch-22, use Google and it gains the power to use us. And more importantly 
it increases the ability of other powers to use Google to use us. And as 
the internet becomes increasingly corporate and governments see it more and 
more of a threat, the risks increase. Less then a century ago, radio and tv 
were both seen as liberating, democratic technologies. And when used right 
they can be. But they are rarely used right nowadays. Lets make sure the 
internet doesn't fall into the same trap.

What can we do? Strengthening Google's competitors might help a bit, except 
it means living with inferior search results. But if one wants to hotbot [ 
http://www.hotbot.com ] will allow you to search using 4 different engines, 
one is Google, but Inktomi [ http://www.inktomi.com ], FAST [ 
http://www.fastsearch.com/ ] and Teoma [ http://www.Teoma.com ] are also 

One idea for the lazyweb [ http://www.lazyweb.org/ ] is a decentralized 
distributed computing search engine. The processing and storing of search 
results can be done on millions of computers on their downtime ala 
SETI {AT} home. (On a side note, its pretty pitiful that the most popular 
distributed computing project around is devoted to something as impractical 
and absurd as the search for extraterrestrial life). The mechanics of such 
a system are beyond me, so I can only hope it's a possibility.

Until then all we really have is faith that Google and company will return 
reliable results. "Information wants to be free", yeah I hope so. Its 
pretty obvious that a lot of people want to control information. And if we 
want it to be free then we need to keep building the tools that will keep 
it that way.


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