Why Google Needs Oversight

google on smartphone

A smartphone and computer running Google search. Photo from Depositphotos.

In Superconnected, Mary Chayko discusses the inception of Google. It was developed by Stanford PhD students Larry Page and Sergey Brin and revolutionized the internet when the search engine became publicly available in the late 90s and created algorithms in the early 2000s. Today, Google is the world’s leading search engine.

“At the same time that it produces results for the user, Google also stores, caches, and archives large portions of web content as the web is being searched…Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, and other major tech companies also allow the data that flows in and through their platforms to be mined and in some cases participate in the mining. As a result, nearly everything that is done on the internet is tracked, analyzed, stored, and then used for a variety of purposes,” Chayko writes.

Google Accumulates Power
In May of this year, Steve Kroft of the TV news magazine 60 Minutes reported on the power of Google and critics who say the company, worth three quarters of a trillion dollars, is stifling competition. Google, which is owned by the holding company Alphabet, went public in 2004. It has also bought more than 200 companies including YouTube, the largest video platform, and Android, which runs 80% of smartphones.

In the 60 Minutes story, Gary Reback, a well-known antitrust lawyer, says Google is a monopoly. He says it’s a monopoly not only in search, but also other industries such as online advertising. Plus, Google accumulates information about users and sells that information to advertisers. He points out that people tell search engines more than they tell their spouses, giving Google a “mind-boggling degree of control over our entire society.”

The Business Insider reports Google is also a major player in the news industry, surpassing Facebook last year as “the leading source of traffic to news publishers’ websites according to Chartbeat…the majority of traffic to publishers’ websites from mobile devices.”

Google Dominates its Competition
Also, in May, the Wall Street Journal’s Christopher Mims wrote about the growing demand to break up the monopolies of Google, Facebook, and Amazon. He writes, “…as they consolidate control of their markets, negative consequences for innovation and competition are becoming evident.”

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 6.28.24 PM

Google search results for “Mexican restaurants near me” showing Google information at the top of the first page

Jonathan Taplin, a digital media expert, says in the 60 Minutes story that Google has no real competition because it has 90% of the search market and Bing, Microsoft’s search engine, has 2%. The co-founder of Yelp, Jeremy Stoppelman, points out that Google has changed its search results over the years so that instead of returning the best information from around the internet, results at the top of the first page are often from Google properties. Google lists results from its own data first such as maps, restaurant reviews, shopping, and travel information. This is especially important when many users are viewing results on the small screen of a mobile phone.

Google Faces Regulation
Google has been fined by the European Union for anticompetitive actions. Over the summer, the EU slapped Google with a $5 billion fine. According to the Business Insider, the EU ordered Google to stop using its Android operating system to block competitors. Google is appealing that fine. Last year, the EU fined Google $2.7 billion for illegally promoting its shopping search results over its competitors.

The U.S. government should follow the example of the EU and provide more oversight of Google and other tech giants. It’s clear that Google is a powerful force in society, and with the company’s dominance comes the need for transparency and accountability. Recently, Google, Facebook, and Twitter have been called to testify and answer questions at U.S. Congressional hearings regarding Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections. An Axios article by David McCabe had more ideas on how the government could provide oversight:

  • Require Google to release more information regarding its algorithms
  • Make it easier to sue big tech companies like Google
  • Designate it as a “common carrier” which would allow the government to appoint a body to oversee Google

All of these options should be considered, and more should be done to make sure Google and other powerful tech companies do not wield too much influence over our lives without our knowledge and consent. It should be noted that I relied heavily on Google to research this blog post.

Posted on September 16, 2018, in Digital, Technology and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Awesome post! I will be honest – I love Google as a search engine – but, for some reason my computer doesn’t want me to love Google. About every 2-3 days, my laptop switches my search engine without warning. Isn’t that odd? Does that happen to anyone else? It is so strange.

    Something I have noticed over the last few years that absolutely scares the bejeebers out of me is that, when I speak about something in my home, suddenly it will appear on my google searches on the side bar, or on FB on the side bar. For instance, the other day my husband was saying that we were running low on our stock of toilet tissue. We buy it in bulk at a local Sam’s Club, so we didn’t go online and search for it. However, the next time I logged on to the internet, toilet paper ads were everywhere!

    In high school, I had to read the book 1984. Sometimes I feel very much like technology has brought with it Big Brother to oversee everything we do, but we allow it more and more because we enjoy the other parts of technology so much. Internet at our fingertips…cell phone mic listening and reporting our every word. It makes me wonder where we are heading if regulations are not put in place going forward.

    Rebecca

    • Hi Rebecca,

      I Googled it and found an article that says that if your search engine changes suddenly, you may have malware. Here is the post: https://support.google.com/chrome/answer/95426

      By the way, I was talking to my boyfriend about this recently, and many people, including me sometimes, confuse browsers and search engines. Chrome (a browser) allows the user to search (with a search engine such as Google) using the address bar, so they seem to be the same. I use Google to search with the browsers Safari, Firefox, and Chrome. I use different browsers depending on the website. My website login information is stored in these browsers and some browsers seem to work better on some sites. In fact, you have to use the Chrome browser to use some software such as the podcast recording application Zencaster.

      Angie

  2. Hi Angie,

    First, I enjoyed the topic you chose to write about in greater detail. Google is such an interesting topic to choose. There are so many moving parts within this search engine and it enables many of us to have access to a wide source of information. You make a note from our reading that said, “As a result, nearly everything that is done on the internet is tracked, analyzed, stored, and then used for a variety of purposes.” It seems crazy that everything we can do on the world wide web can be traced back to a simple “Google” search, but much of this leads me to begin pondering why advertisers and marketers always seem to know what the user is into.

    Personally, If I begin online shopping and add a few items into my cart without following through with the check out process, the next few minutes or times I log on to my computer or scan my email, I frequently have a relatable update. I use the term “relatable” loosely in this scenario because at times, I’ve had the same company email me telling me I forgot something in my cart, or shopping bag, and other times I’ve scrolled the website for an unrelated item, but miraculously an ad selling shoes, an item I previously looked at, is visible on a completely unrelated website…

    I recently came across an article (https://digitalmarketinginstitute.com/en-us/the-insider/30-08-17-6-digital-marketing-trends-to-watch-out-for-in-2018) which highlights a future trend for 2020 and predicts the amount of money spent on digital advertising to increase to $113.18 billion! Additionally, this article discusses the top trends in 2018 to watch out for. As we glance ahead to 2019, I reflected on some of the trends mentioned for our current year and began to notice that most of this on accurate. The content delivered to our smart phones is instantaneous. Right when we need it, want it or maybe don’t want it, but the content is available.

    I like your quote about people telling their search engines more than their partners. I’m beginning to see and hear about this in work and personal settings. Every few seconds when someone is not able to understand what’s needed, I hear another individual saying, “Google,” it….

    It seems fitting that searching the internet already is associated with “Google.” Google has created every marketers end goal which is to create top of mind awareness. Think about when you say you need a “facial tissue” to blow your nose… for the most part people will refer to this as a “Kleenex.” In this example, the brand name overrides the actual product name and when people make decisions to purchase they will associate a “facial tissue” with the brand Kleenex which leads to them purchasing more from the brand “Kleenex” versus “Puffs.”

    I think you raise many interesting points and reference newly developed articles and research with regulation and why it’s concerning to not only us, but also our future. This really makes you reflect on your browsing, shopping and searching habits and how it may impact you or make you vulnerable to other organizations and companies.

    Great post and insight! I’m definitely curious to see what comes of the court rulings with many of these mega companies in Silicon Valley which contain a vast amount of personal data…

    – Kim

  3. Hi Kim,

    Amazon just opened a cashier-less store in Chicago this week called Amazon Go. It’s amazing all of the information and technology related to retail these companies are using. Our online searches and shopping habits are translating into the real world with these types of stores. Check out this article: http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-biz-amazon-go-opens-chicago-store-0917-story.html

    Angie

  4. Angie,

    One thing that I really appreciate about your blog post is that you were able encapsulate – what I believe – a lot of people are thinking and are aware of, but show tremendous evidence for the amount of power these companies hold. In other words, the way you use your sources and supporting evidences is spot on. It has put me in a writing mode and I feel like writing a thorough report now.

    Lately, I’ve been troubled by the state of Amazon’s fulfillment centers because their employees don’t have the best conditions. It’s more shocking because Amazon is actively trying to cover this up by paying employees to say positive things about the company as well (https://nypost.com/2018/08/24/amazon-hired-a-twitter-army-to-defend-warehouse-work/). I often wonder how Amazon employees (outside of the fulfillment centers) feel about this situation (because it is clear Jeff Bezos doesn’t care). I am a marketeer for a tech company, and it often makes me think about the other marketers at Amazon who seem to be paying hush money to fulfillment center workers. What do they think of their actions? What would I think of myself if I was a marketer at Amazon?

    Google and Amazon have an alternative tool / business for almost everything out there. I can’t search for a tool without finding a Google alternative for that tool. Lately, Amazon just created an IoT platform, which comes into competition with my company’s business. Even though they just launched this IoT platform last year, their tool comes up in the best top 10 ten lists for IoT platforms. We immediately think these tools and platforms are better because they are made by Google and Amazon. This greatly impacts other players to come into the space, which is greatly concerning. I’m actually surprised more hasn’t been done to break up these companies. And it makes me wonder if it will ever happen.

    • Hi Jeffrey,

      As my boyfriend and I walked down the street in Chicago, we noticed so many small retail stores, service providers, and restaurants have gone out of business. We think a lot of it relates to Google and Amazon. Businesses in Chicago have to compete with other businesses all around the world that may not even charge taxes. They also have to make sure they understand how to advertise online and attract customers. The old ways don’t work anymore. They have to be tech savvy, and many are not.

      Thanks,

      Angie

  5. Hi Angie,

    As an absolute Google Geek, your blog post definitely speaks to me. Admittedly, I think I give Google a bit too much credit and power, in that it occupies WAY too much of my time, energy, and money (much of my online shopping begins with an innocent Google search).

    With Google sadly running my life, I would have a difficult time saying “no” to it and/or putting it in its place (a dysfunctional relationship, perhaps?). That being said, I agree with you that Google NEEDS oversight and accountability. Otherwise, we must expect the madness will ensue.

    Great post!
    Jeff

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