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<nettime> Review of Gerald Reischl "Die Google-Falle"
Dennis Deicke on Thu, 2 Jul 2009 15:54:19 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Review of Gerald Reischl "Die Google-Falle"


Google Unleashed - The new global power?

Review of Gerald Reischl Die Google Falle - Die unkontrollierte Weltmacht
im Internet. Ueberreuter, Wien: 2008.

By Dennis Deicke


In The Google Trap - The Uncontrolled Global Power In The Internet Gerald
Reischl describes the growing influence of Google due its monopoly in the
digital environment. He calls for the reader to question the objectives of
Google?s founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page. Reischl comes up with some
interesting facts and aspects that reveal the enormous power Google has
developed by providing many additional services that go far beyond the
original search engine functionality.

Initially, Gerald Reischl, technology editor of the Austrian newspaper
Kurier, starts by describing his experiences of when he visited the
Google?s head office, the Googleplex in Mountain View, California. Google
is conceived as an attractive and good employer. The company collects its
staff with buses having wireless LAN, even if they live 1 hour away.
Furthermore, the food for employees is free. They can have their clothes
washed and ironed at their workplace or go to the gym. People working at
Google can use 20% of the time they spend at work on their own projects.

Reischl points out that the perception of Google by both people and media
is very positive. But contradictory to Google?s credo ?Don?t Be Evil,? he
detects some aspects of Google and its position that should be taken into
consideration critically. First of all, he criticizes Google?s information
policy, which he calls ?weird.? Uncomfortable questions are either left
unanswered by Google, or the company overrides people with critical
positions. Reischl claims that the Google PR-department checks and
sugarcoats all presentations given by employees. Besides he maintains that
Google never reveals real figures of aspects like generated data out of
queries, locations of server farms and the earnings through advertising.
But he cannot prove this assertion and has to refer to rumors indicating
this.

Gerald Reischl explains how he thinks the strategy of Google has
developed. The company, absolute market leader for search engines,
provides people with free software applications and receives information
and data about these people in exchange. This is one of the main points of
Reischl?s critique on Google: it collects incredible amounts of data
without asking the users they take them from. Google has filed many
patents, which show they possess plenty of technologies to identify users.
But Google tries to avoid showing what their patents are really about,
thus, instead of giving them adequate names like ?user tracking? or
?monitoring? they use terms like ?usage statistics.? Officially, they need
data to enable the best search results for each user individually. But
Reischl assumes that they need the data to create personalized advertising
and user profiles.

Reischl explains that we leave a lot of traces when surfing the internet,
especially when we use Google. The data created by every query is stored
by Google for nine months and divulges information about the IP-address,
time, day, browser, operating system and ID number of the created cookie.
Google cannot refer the produced data to a person concretely, but they can
conclude the information they have generated over time and create profiles
belonging to certain users. A really troubling fact pointed out by Reischl
concerns the user accounts people have at Google. If you use Gmail or
Google Groups you have to register and create an account. Through this
account, Google can link the data they gather directly to the user name
connected to the account.

Reischl exposes a dispute between Google and data protection experts.
Google is of the opinion that IP-Addresses do not reveal any clues
concerning a concrete location or address of a user because the
IP-Addresses are awarded by the providers dynamically. This means that
they change and do not stay static and therefore it is not possible to
track users concretely. But interestingly and in spite of that, Google
sollicites its advertising application AdWords by stating that it is
possible to use regionalized ads. Referring to patents applied for by
Google in 2002, Reischl concludes that the company is categorizing,
weighing and storing data of users according to their relevance for
Google. Another point of Reischl?s critique is that the stored data cannot
be seen or deleted by the users. He cites Viktor Mayer Schöneberger from
Harvard University who has argued that user information should have an
expiry date to avoid abuse.

Another danger emerges because of Google?s ability to conduct data mining
on a grand scale. Because of their large amount of data, Google is able to
detect patterns and can use these findings for their own advantage.
Reischl wonders what would happen if Google used this possible knowledge
about trends on the real estate market for example. Google is already
providing a service called Google Trends, which allows the user to compare
search frequencies of certain terms. Gerald Reischl raises the question
whether we should allow one enterprise to accumulate that much power. He
assumes that Google probably uses software like Google Trends, which is
more perfected and sophisticated than the free Google Trends they provide
for the normal user. The supply of information has become such an
important issue that we should perhaps think about how to control
information gatekeepers like Google, through public institutions. But the
influence of governments on Google could result in even worse events.
Reischl mentions that Google possesses so much relevant information about
people, that governments and militaries could develop some interest in it,
which is a severe threat to privacy and freedom.

Reischl believes that Google is not independent enough to resist efforts
of governments to gain access to Google?s data. China, for example,
imposed pressure on Google successfully; Google accepted requests of
China?s government to censor their results in regards of critical issues
like Tibet or democracy. Another example mentioned by Reischl is that
Google gave a user?s IP-address to Israeli public authorities. Initially,
Google tried to resist but eventually handed the data to the state of
Israel because of a court?s judgment. To Reischl, this shows that Google
cannot be as independent as an organization with so much power and
knowledge should be. Additionally, Reischl explains the case in which a
woman from New Jersey who was accused of killing her husband was convicted
because the police discovered that she searched with Google for terms like
?how to commit murder? or ?instant poison? by analyzing her computer. To
Reischl the issue is that the police could have received the information
from Google, too. But that is far-fetched, using an example showing that
the police found evidence without Google and then alarming people because
the police could have gotten the information from Google seems over the
top.

Reischl reveals another aspect of Google that users are often not aware
of: even on sites that superficially have nothing to do with Google, users
unknowingly send data to Google. The IT-giant provides webmasters with
free software called Google Analytics, an instrument allowing website
operators to collect basic information about users on their website. But
the critical point is that the data generated when users are surfing a
webpage that runs Google analytics, are sent to Google, too. It is the
task of the webmasters using Google Analytics to inform the visitors about
the circumstance that their data are passed down to a third party, in this
case to Google.

Reischl?s critique also concerns Google?s dominant position in the
advertising market. Initially he criticizes Google for placing ads in
every service they provide, the search engine, maps, Google Earth and so
on. However, in my opinion the placement of ads is not objectionable in
itself, one cannot expect all these services to be free of costs and
commercials. And even the aspect that Google?s AdWords matches the ads to
searched terms is just a logical step. Reischl warns that Google is at the
point of substituting classical media agencies and becoming a marketer for
any kind of ads in every medium. In the United States Google has already
started the marketing of radio spots and printed ads. Additionally, they
have a contract with NBC allowing Google to market parts of NBC?s airtime.
Hence it is Google?s idea to be a marketer of advertising space and time
in any medium. Surely, that is a threat for media agencies, but if Google
is able to provide such a broad and simple service one cannot not blame
them for it.

Another point that proves Google?s intention to become a world power,
according to Reischl, is their effort to enter the still growing,
lucrative telecommunication market. With Android, Google published an
operating system for mobile phones and entered this market, too. Reischl
criticizes that Google intends to further grow into a new market and
quotes Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google: ?Mobile advertising is twice as much
lucrative as not-mobile, because it is personal?. But it is not adequate
to object Google for their intention to grow and enter new markets, that
is not characteristic for Google, but lies in the nature of an enterprise.
Another far-fetched claim of Reischl is that services like Google Maps or
Google Earth could be used by terrorists to plan attacks, but if someone
really plans a terrorist assault he can also go to a kiosk and by a map,
Google does not lower the threshold for committing terroristic attacks.

Reischl mentions another point of critique concerning Google and
plagiarism. Like Stefan Weber, in his ?The Google-Copy-Paste Syndrome,?
(here: Review of Weber's Google-Copy-Paste-Syndrome) Reischl believes that
the increasing use of Google enhances plagiarism because it facilitates
the process of copying and pasting a text. Searching has become a new
cultural skill. He admits that Google cannot be blamed to be the main
reason for plagiarism but complains about Google?s not doing anything to
avoid it. This is supported by Google?s book scanning project, which has
another interesting aspect. Reischl refers to Jean Noël Jeanneney, former
director of the French national library, who holds the view that Google
Books can cause an Americanization of book culture, because people using
this service would mostly see and prefer books that are translated into
English (French trauma: search for Flaubert and all you?ll find is English
secondary material and translations).

Gerald Reischl?s book is wake up call to reconsider Google?s power in a
critical way. He mentions interesting and well-researched facts that
really stimulate reflecting on Google?s position. For example, the fact
that Google Statistics is often used on websites that have nothing to do
with Google but send data to them. Or the fact that Google is able to link
surfer behavior to a (user)name if that person has a Google account and is
logged in. But the conclusions Reischl draws on the base of the collected
facts are only assumptions about Google, which he presents like facts.
Exemplarily, Reischl asserts that Google is spying on all of us because
they have applied for patents of technology enabling it. This conclusion
may be traceable but does not have the quality of real evidence proving
that Google is collecting data and tracking users on large scale.
Sometimes it appears that Reischl tries to prove the conspiratorial plan
of Google to become a global power too intensely. He tries to create an
atmosphere of anxiety by using hypothetical scenarios which are supposed
to support his view on Google. For example, the murder case of the New
Jersey woman. Google had nothing to do with the investigation but Reischl
sees danger because it could have.  This way of arguing weakens the
well-researched facts which are prevalent in the book because it puts them
in an exaggerated context.

A New York Times article about critical aspects of Google Books:
http://tinyurl.com/al4vbl

German book review of The Google Trap in DIE ZEIT:
http://tinyurl.com/6mx5ql

A (bad) video Gerald Reischl has made at Googleplex in Mountain View,
California:
http://tinyurl.com/n94mz2

Gerald Reischl?s website about The Google Trap:
http://www.googlefalle.com

A link to Gerald Reischl?s homepage:
http://www.reischl.com/

Link to Heise?s website about Stefan Weber?s The Google-Copy-Paste Syndrome:
http://www.heise.de/tp/r4/buch/buch_25.html

-- 
Institute of Network Cultures
HvA Interactive Media, room 05A20
Rhijnspoorplein 1
NL-1091 GC Amsterdam

POSTAL ADDRESS
Institute of Network Cultures
HvA Interactive Media, room 05A20
PO BOX 1025
NL-1000 BA Amsterdam

dennis {AT} networkcultures.org
http://www.networkcultures.org
t: +31 20 5951865 / 1866
f: +31 20 5951840


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