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Why we shouldn’t care if Google actually wanted to take over the world.

November 2, 2010

I got the idea for this article from a rant one of my very liberal professors delivered in class. He brought up the topic of information farming, specifically in supermarkets. For those of you who are unaware, the various “value clubs” that each supermarket has have two purposes. The one that everyone knows about is of course the discounts you can get on certain products. The other that not so many people are aware of is that they are using the information of what you buy to create a profile of what kind of consumer you are. They then use this information to target specific advertisements at you that you might find relevant to your purchasing habits. Now I knew this before Professor Hippie went on this rant, but what he shed light on is how scared some people are of this. So that brings me to the topic at hand; Google. Google is undoubtedly the most renowned company in western culture for the compiling and organization of information. So much so that its name has become synonymous with the act of searching for information on the web. So is this bad? Should we be concerned that Google is trying to compile and organize all the information in the world? Are they trying to take over the world? In short, no they aren’t. But if they were planning too, or eventually do take over the world, it wouldn’t be a bad thing. Before I explain why, I’m going to give you a little background info on the company.

Larry Page and Sergey Brin started what we know as Google in 1996 at Stanford University. It was originally a research project called BackRub that used a unique algorithm called PageRank to organize search results. What makes PageRank so unique is that it doesn’t look just for keywords or links but actually looks for quality of the information on a site and the quality of the site itself. That way a link farm (a site with many links to established sites just so it can rank higher in some searches) won’t get a high ranking. PageRank is a secret algorithm and is constantly being updated so that there is no particular formula people can use to play the search engine. The project was housed on Stanford’s servers until the site started accumulating traffic and taking up a lot of Stanford’s bandwidth. They then moved the project to a friend’s garage with the intent of actually turning it into a company. They decided they needed a new name and settled on a word play on the term googol (one followed by one-hundred zeros). The company was founded officially as Google Inc. on September 4, 1998. By December of 1998, Google was already on PC Magazine’s Top 100 websites of ’98.

There are a few things that make Google so unique. One of which is the previously mentioned PageRank algorithm, which is solely applicable to the Google search engine. However there are two main things that make Google unique as a company; their mission statement and informal motto. The mission statement is to “organize the world‘s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” They also state that they want to make sure that all of their information is as objective and accurate as possible so that it is relevant to the user’s search. As straightforward as this is, many people have thought that this is a very ominous goal. That’s why Google has an informal motto of “Don’t be evil”. This is derived from number six of their “Ten Things We Know to be True” which is “You can make money without doing evil” (I encourage you to check that out). This basically means that they will follow all laws of where they are operating and will respect all requests that users may have. This includes allowing you to set up websites with folders that you do not want to let spiders (the term used for what Google uses to read information and categorize webpages) to be able to see.
On a side note, this all became very interesting when Google decided to enter China in 2006 because they technically can’t achieve their goal and live by their motto. Providing all the world’s information to China wouldn’t abide by Chinese law and therefore would go against their motto. Abiding by their motto would be counterintuitive to achieving their goal. They have pulled their service from China at least once but they are currently still providing service in the country. It is rumored that they are aiming to change the way that China censors the internet so that they can work towards achieving their goal as well as living by their motto.

As well known as Google is for it’s search engine, it has a variety of products and services. I encourage you to check out this list of Google products as I would bet that many people don’t even know half of these exist and/or are owned by Google. Many of the services are internet based and are enhanced when you to have a Google account (such as Gmail, Picasa, Documents and many more). This is where people tend to see what they think is an evil side of Google. With multiple services linked into one account, many feel that Google knows too much about them. Many are also scared by the ads they encounter both on the search engine and in these products and services. Almost all of Google’s products are free because they make almost all of their money through advertising (about $6 billion in the 3rd quarter of 2009 alone). By tracking your searches and other things you do while logged in, they build a profile of you and give you advertisements that match your profile. Many people feel this is wrong.

The opinion of the Argyle Life… who gives a crap. First, all of these services are optional. No one says that you have to have a Google account. Second, don’t put information you want to be private on the Internet. As the internet continues to advance, things are able to stay on the internet for longer periods of time and become more accessible to search engines. Be rational and use your brain before you post something. If you’re a rational human being who doesn’t participate in any deviant acts and/or doesn’t post evidence online about it, you have nothing to worry about it. Third, yes it is fascinating and a little spooky when an ad pops up that mirrors something about you and your activities online… but why do you feel its wrong? The ads aren’t intrusive to your online activities, they stay in the margins. All they are trying to do is offer you products that they think you might like. Personally I have seen things advertised that I do like and would have never known they existed had it not been for a Google ad. This is the same issue with supermarkets. They’re advertising things to you that you buy regularly or might find useful. Hell they might even send you a coupon for it! In my opinion it’s a blessing, not a curse. And all of this pays for all the cool, free products that Google offers, many of which are based on products people do or have paid for. For instance there is Google Voice’s visual voicemail. Verizon charges a fee for a similar service that’s only accessible on your phone. Google Voice is free and not only can you access it on your phone, but you can access it on a computer AND it translates the message into text (it isn’t always perfect but come on, that’s cool). Microsoft had something similar to Google Earth that you had to pay for and wasn’t nearly as user friendly. Google Earth is efficient and free.

So lets do a “worst case” scenario. Lets say that Google does take over the world. What would it be like? Well lets look at how Google treats the web. First of all everything would have a simple, clean yet colorful, efficient layout. You would be able to find pretty anything very easily. You could tell Google not to display certain information. You would be easily linked to your friends and family. Now lets look at how Google treats its employees. Twenty percent of their employee’s time is encouraged to be dedicated to “personal projects”. This pretty much means you can do whatever you want. The Googleplex, their headquarters in Mountain View, California, has game rooms and exercise rooms for this purpose. This time can also be used to further your creativity. Many personal projects have gone on to become actual Google products (A pretty cool feature is that you can view and use products in their testing and development phases on the Google Labs website).  So never fear artists and inventors, Google caters to you as well. And if your idea/creation is good, it will be available to the masses and you will get paid for it.  Finally lets look at their motto… “Don’t be evil”.  Yes, this is just a motto and is not necessarily a guarantee.  But lets face it, a company that is making $6 billion a quarter could very easily be evil if they wanted to. You don’t see other major companies with mottos like this.  Also with such a motto, you know that people are going to be looking for anyway they can prove them wrong and there hasn’t been any major happenings of this yet.  Yes it is possible that they can be covering it up.  However living in fear of the possibility of something and rushing to conclusions is what got us our extreme left and extreme right 24 hour news pundits that are slowly killing America. So relax, don’t be evil, and assume the world isn’t so bad either.

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