Monday, February 4, 2008

Big Brother Google


In an article published by Google Watch, several of the Internet’s most popular search engine companies. Currently, there are four big companies that control the market for Internet Search Engines: Yahoo,, Microsoft, and the largest, Google.
Google is currently holds the responsibility for about 75% of referrals to websites. Other search engines struggle to gain a niche, many drowning in competition with Google.
Yahoo is currently Google’s main competition, holding several smaller companies such as Alltheweb and AltaVista to get the power to become a powerful search engine. There is only a 20% overlap of results between Yahoo and Google.
Microsoft has also been experimenting with an engine of their own, which was launched in 2005. This could potentially give Google a run for their money if Microsoft can stifle its own greed long enough to create an interface that is both appealing and user-friendly.
The last contender in the list is, previously AskJeeves. Their technology is good and they seem to be making a serious effort to expand their depth of results. However, the main question remains if they can handle the thousands of available pages on the Net.
Google’s search methods, though popular are biased toward more popular pages, ranked by the number of hits that the site gets. This makes already-popular sites even more popular. The average independent webmaster has to struggle to be noticed against the competition.
These search methods also create a bias against noncommercial sites using the org, edu, and gov domains. In the past, there has been little interest in establishing public-sector search services, leaving the public uninformed and unaware of things going on in the government.
Google also represents a threat to public security, collecting massive amounts of data, but never revealing the purpose of all this data. This is done by using cookies to monitor your computer and aid search results, which are picked up through simply using the site and also by using applications such as the Google Toolbar.
In 2003, over 500 people nominated Google for a Big Brother award for the following 9 reasons:
1. “Google’s Immortal Cookie:” Google was the first search engine to use a cookie that doesn’t expire until 2038, despite the fact that this was at a time when federal websites were prohibited from using persistent cookies.
2. “Google records everything they can:” Google records information about your computer including the web browser, computer IP, and your search terms to create a more personalized search result system referred to as “IP delivery based on geolocation.”
3. “Google retains all data indefinitely:” “Google has no data retention policies.” There is also evidence that they can access all user information at any time.
4. “Google won’t say why they need this data:” When questioned about their security policies and the use of this data, Google does not make any comment.
5. “Google hires spooks:” One of the key Google engineers, Matt Cutts, used to work for the National Security Agency, and Google wants to hire more people with security clearance to sell their assets to the spies in Washington.
6. “Google’s toolbar is spyware:” When the “advanced features” are turned on, Google’s free toolbar for Explorer records information on every site you surf as well as reading your cookie. It also updates itself automatically when the new updates are available, which presents a huge security risk.
7. “Google’s cache copy is illegal:” “Judging from Ninth Circuit precedent on the application of US copyright laws to the Internet, Google’s cache copy appears to be illegal.” For a site to not be copied into Google’s database, the webmaster has to put a “noarchive” tag in the coding of the page.
8. “Google is not your friend:” Google enjoys a nearly 75% monopoly on external referrals to most web sites. This weighs heavily on Web masters, who have to gain Google’s approval to increase traffic on their sites.
9. “Google is a privacy time bomb:” “With over 200 million searches per day… Google amounts to a privacy disaster waiting to happen.”


This article appears to exam two different points of concern, first being the fact that Google has become too incredible a powerhouse and the fact that it is a privacy risk.
Google’s “power” does not concern me too greatly, because Google’s success is based on the popularity that it has gained through the years because it is a highly effective search tool. And although I agree with the fact that Google makes it hard for independent Webmasters to become noticed, I feel that being an freelance Webmaster is a hard lifestyle which has nothing to do with Google.
I truly feel that the privacy issue posed by Google could develop into a serious problem, but I also don’t feel that many of the points posed by this article strengthen the main argument. There are no sources cited for the data that is presented. Also, the way that the dates are presented, it sounds like the Big Brother nomination for 2003 is being supported with facts from 2004 and onward. Also, some of the reasons given to suspect Google can be easily explained.
However, I will agree with the idea that Google does pose a security risk. It is highly suspicious that they have a lot of data that does not have a definite publicly known purpose. I would be much more comfortable if I knew that Google had a plan to sift through and make sure that they had up-to-date information.

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