The Ominous, Growing Power of Google

Most people who understand markets understand the downside of monopolies, and in America today, a few solitary Internet companies are such dominant players that their power is not only nearly unchecked within their industry, but within the global electronic infrastructure itself. One of the largest culprits in this respect — if not THE largest — is Alphabet, Inc., the parent firm of search giant Google.

Google, which was founded in 1996 by Stanford researchers Sergey Brin and Larry Page, was originally based on the novel premise of using “page ranking” technology to order results based on relevance versus mere repetition, allowing the search of the world’s Internet data to take place in revolutionary new ways. Using linked, dedicated multiprocessor computer clusters, such searches could be conducted with lightning speed and versatility.

Very rapidly, the company overtook all of its competitors in the search engine field — AltaVista, Excite, Yahoo, Infoseek and others — and today, most of these other players are corporate corpses, having been bankrupted or bought out in the wake of the Internet boom of the late 1990s.

While some people in the business world might think that having one company that’s a monopoly in the search engine field makes it much easier in terms of producing results that can direct customers, the control that monopoly power has given Google is enormous.

Google can and does dictate to business any policies it wants to in regards to hoops that the company says firms must jump through in order to have their pages rank highly in search results. In the past, whenever Google made changes to its algorithms that its web-crawling “spiders” used to scour pages on the Internet, businesses were forced to spend money (sometimes quite liberally) on “search engine optimization” (SEO) consultants who would tailor their content to keep up. Those companies that couldn’t afford to spend those funds saw their rankings decrease and often with them, their sales numbers.

As with many Internet companies, Google’s management argued that the company should leverage its dominance in one industry (search) to enable investments toward dominating others, which now include mobile smart phones and tablets (via Android OS), video (via the acquisition of Youtube), web browsing (via the Chrome browser on many computers), email (Gmail), mapping (Google Maps and Google Earth), Internet advertising (AdWords and AdSense), website performance (Google Analytics), productivity applications (Google Docs), online storage (Google Drive), social media (Google+), payments (Google Wallet), language translation (Google Translate), vintage books (Google Books), shopping (Google Shopping), travel (Google Flights), music (Google Play), online discussions (Google Groups), instant messaging (Allo and Hangouts), voice-over-IP telephony (Google Voice), and video chatting (Duo).

In addition, Google has made many major acquisitions and/or developments which have allowed it to take market-leader positions in industries like online advertising (via the purchase of firms DoubleClick and AdMob), restaurant reviews (via its purchase of Zagat), blogging (via Blogger), virtual reality headsets (via Google Glass), coupons (via DailyDeal), robotics (via Boston Dynamics) and home automation (via Nest Labs).

With all of this involvement, Google has control and oversight of an enormous amount of individuals’ data on the Internet. Google itself is the number one most-visited site on the web. But through transactions, password-protected areas and the monitoring of cookies, clicks, emails and chat messages, Google collects and stores a tremendous amount of personal data. Often, this data is mined and sold to advertisers, most of the time without the knowledge of the people whose information is collected.

In terms of the amount of data per individual, between all Google sites and properties, the company might have up to 50 pages of data per person — information from how much money is in a person’s bank account to the names of their children and spouse, addresses of where they live, phone numbers, social security numbers, recent purchases, recent Google searches, messages to friends and co-workers, documents they’ve worked on, which videos they’ve watched and/or digital copies of their Google Voice calls and voicemails.

In the past, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt has said regarding the company’s thoughts on privacy, “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place; if you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines — including Google — do retain this information for some time, and it’s important, for example, that we are all subject in the United States to the Patriot Act, and it’s possible that all that information could be made available to the authorities.”

In 2007, privacy watchdog group Privacy International rated Google “Hostile to Privacy” — its lowest ranking — making it the only major company to receive this rating. In 2010, Chairman Schmidt blithely stated, “In a world of asynchronous threats, it’s too dangerous for there not to be some way to identify you; we need a [verified] name service for people. Governments will demand it… If I look at enough of your messaging and your location and use artificial intelligence, we can predict where you’re going to go. Show us 14 photos of yourself, and we can identify who you are. You think you don’t have 14 photos of yourself on the internet? You’ve got Facebook photos!”

In 2017, Google’s YouTube division began ‘demonetizing’ certain videos (declining to pay their creators based on the number of views) it felt contained politically ‘sensitive’ content the company disagreed with. YouTube stated the demonetization would affect videos with content that included “controversial or sensitive subjects and events, including subjects related to war, political conflicts, natural disasters and tragedies, even if graphic imagery isn’t shown.”

To date, many conservative news outlets and channels such as Infowars, Ron Paul, Mark Dice and others have seen their videos demonetized. Although the videos are still available to be viewed, the fact that their creators are not receiving monetary recompense in the same way that creators of videos that slant to the Left are is a subtle form of censorship. And since YouTube is a private company, it could choose to make these same videos unavailable in the future, if it wished to.

Recently, a think tank called the New America Foundation, which is also coincidentally chaired by Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, kicked out an internal initiative called Open Markets after the latter criticized business monopolies.

The Open Markets initiative was started by author Barry Lynn, whose book End of the Line: The Rise and Coming Fall of the Global Corporation documents the increasingly powerful role global companies play in today’s markets. About Amazon, the dominant online book and product seller, Lynn says the company is now so powerful, it could “exercise control over the marketplace of ideas in ways that threaten not merely open markets, but free speech [itself].”

In August, The New York Times published an article which noted,

In the hours after European antitrust regulators levied a record $2.7 billion fine against Google in late June, an influential Washington think tank learned what can happen when a tech giant that shapes public policy debates with its enormous wealth is criticized.

The New America Foundation has received more than $21 million from Google; its parent company’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt; and his family’s foundation since the think tank’s founding in 1999. That money helped to establish New America as an elite voice in policy debates on the American Left.

But not long after one of New America’s scholars posted a statement on the think tank’s website praising the European Union’s penalty against Google, Mr. Schmidt — who had been chairman of New America until 2016 — communicated his displeasure with the statement to the group’s president, Anne-Marie Slaughter, according to the scholar.

This president of New America, Anne-Marie Slaughter, summarily dismissed Barry Lynn and his 10-person staff. Shortly afterward, Lynn commented, “Google is very aggressive in throwing its money around Washington and Brussels and then pulling the strings. People are so afraid of Google now.” Lynn is referring to the fact that Google is among the top companies in Washington, D.C. in terms of the lobbying dollars it spends.

As the Times makes clear, “[Google] helped organize conferences at which key regulators overseeing investigations into the company were presented with pro-Google arguments, sometimes without the disclosure of Google’s role.” The Times also reports that “Among the most effective — if little examined — tools in Google’s public policy toolbox has been its funding of nonprofit groups from across the political spectrum. This year, it’s donated to 170 such groups, according to Google’s voluntary disclosures on Google’s website.

Electronic privacy nonprofit the Electronic Frontier Foundation concurs with the Times’ assessment. The group’s president, Jonathan Rotenberg, has ominously written, “There are simply fewer groups that are available to speak up about Google’s activities that threaten online privacy. The groups that should be speaking up are not.”

The founder of anti-virus company McAfee Associates, John McAfee, says that Google is driving people to a “lowest common denominator” status. The surveillance that Google’s technology affords ultimately bodes ill for humanity, he claims. “If everybody knew everything about everybody else, what would human behavior become?” McAfee asked. “We would be limited to the least common denominator of human behavior: those behaviors which no one would find offensive… We cannot have intrusions into our lives and still have freedom.”