Google’s recent tenth birthday has left me (and pretty much everyone with an opinion on search) pondering the extent of its power. In its short commercial life the engine has changed from quirky student project to a multi-billion pound business. It has spawned language developments, helped create the sector in which I work and inserted fingers into a startling number of pies – admittedly never quite replicating the success of its search facility.
So just how much power has it drawn to itself? Some people now access the web through their Google browser and check their GoogleMail before catching up with friends on GoogleTalk and maybe browsing YouTube (a Google property). The majority of web users in Britain frequently use the search engine to navigate the web, according to several studies.
If the internet is an extension of the world, Google is one of the top demigods. It can even punish sinners, throwing websites out of the top results if firms transgress its definition of acceptable search engine optimisation.
Many of us rely hugely on Google, to the exclusion of other, similar services. If I want to read a newspaper I don’t buy one, I visit Google News. If it were to suddenly prioritise right-wing news over the left, many people would fail to notice, at least for a while. Certainly a large number of my friends who give no thought the how exactly it picks the results it presents would probably not notice a political slant to the information they were presented with.
Now Google is putting 200 years-worth of newspapers online – a fantastic development which will fascinate people and facilitate research. This can only help further knowledge and yet it is one more tool we are likely to start relying on and which Google will control.
These thoughts are not unique and I am certainly not the first commentator to address them. I am also not proposing we do anything about it – the only thing more worrying to me than a commercial entity with all this power is a specific government in charge.
Google has not really abused its power so far. However, it is now a long way from the young firm sticking it to Microsoft. Don’t be evil, Google, you are much too big.