geert lovink on Wed, 26 Dec 2007 16:01:34 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> "Google distorts reality"

Google distorts reality, Austrian study says

Download the study (in English) here:

Google, the world's largest Internet search engine, is on several 
fronts a danger that has to be stopped, a study released by Austria's 
Graz University claims.

  A research team led by Prof. Hermann Maurer, chairman of Graz 
University's Institute for Information Systems and Computer Media, 
argues that Google is turning into a new version of George Orwell's 
"Big Brother" - creating unacceptable monopolies in many areas of the 
worldwide web.

According to his research, around 61 billion Internet searches are 
conducted each month. In the US, on average 57 percent of searches are 
conducted with Google, and up to 95 percent of Internet users use 
Google at least sometimes.

It is dangerous enough that single entity such as Google is dominant as 
a search engine, Maurer and his co-writers say, but the fact that 
Google is operating many other services and is probably colluding with 
still further players was "unacceptable".

"Google is massively invading privacy," the study said with the company 
knowing more than any other organization about individuals and 
companies, but not bound by national data protection laws. Google was 
amassing data by using data mining tools in its applications like 
Google Earth or Gmail in connection with being its search engine 

Thus, the search engine could potentially turn into the world's largest 
detective agency, the Austrian researchers warned, using the data it 
was collecting from its users via its applications. Even if Google did 
not use that potential now, it might have to do so in the future in the 
interest of its shareholders.

The study argues that Google is influencing economies in the way 
advertisements and documents are ranked. "The more a company pays, the 
more often will the ad be visible." The study believes influence may be 
increased by also ranking results from queries, and that Google could, 
for business reasons, in the future rank paying customers higher in 
search results.

Moreover, Maurer was worried that Google could use its "almost 
universal" knowledge of what was happening in the world to play global 
stock markets to its advantage.

The danger of a distorted "googling" reality loomed ever closer, the 
report said. "Google has become the main interface of our reality," the 
study authors said.

Most material written today was in some way based on Google and 
Wikipedia - and if those did not reflect reality, a distortion was 
possible, the researchers said, recalling biased contributions 
frequently placed on Wikipedia.

Furthermore, there is some indication of cooperation between Google and 
Wikipedia. Sample statistics showed that random selected Wiki entries 
consistently ranked higher on Google than on other search engines, the 
Graz team said.

Maurer also criticized journalists who increasingly started researching 
their stories by googling them, as well as students copying significant 
amounts of their work from the Internet.

"Google's open aim is to know everything there is to know on Earth," 
the researchers concluded. "It cannot be tolerated that a private 
company has that much power: it can extort, control, and dominate the 
world at will."

Stopping the insidious aspects of Google was however not possible by a 
head-on strategy, as the company was too powerful, the Austrian 
researchers warn. Rather, they say, the "Google effect" can be 
minimized by the introduction of special-purpose search engines that 
are better in their areas of application that the larger company is.


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