Is Google evil?
Published on 2017-12-13. Modified on 2021-02-11.
In this article we're going to take a hard look at the question about Google's "evilness" and the general condition of the Internet.
Update 2021-02-11: Please also see: This is how you keep your dignity and not sell your soul
Update 2020-01-25: Since I wrote this article many more grim activities has surfaced, and the discussion about Google's evilness is no longer just a matter of search results and advertisement revenue.
Google is still doing a lot of good, like donating money and resources toward improving the environment, help provide education for children, support disadvantaged communities, and Google Summer of Code. However, with so many controversial activities, it is clear that Google has become evil in many ways.
At first Google was a really great search engine. Then Google combined search results with advertisement, but it was still good. The advertisement results were kept out to the right, and they were relevant to the search. Then things started to change, Google invented the Analytics platform and began integrating tracking capabilities into it. Then they started providing all the tracking information they gathered to third party partners, and suddenly prices started to change depending on tracking, so if two people look at identical products at the same webshop, they get different prices - this is unfair and cheating customers.
The quality of the search results has also declined rapidly over the last couple of years. I moved all my search to Duckduckgo shortly after I wrote this article, and whenever I have since compared search results, I haven't found a single reason to use Google. Another privacy respecting search engine that also provides good results is the European search engine Qwant.
We know where you are. We know where you've been. We can more or less know what you're thinking about. Our company's policy is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it.
-- Eric Schmidt, Google's executive chairman 2010.
If we take a look at some of the information that Google collects it's pretty grim:
- Details of how you used our service, such as your search queries.
- Telephony log information like your phone number, calling-party number, forwarding numbers, time and date of calls, duration of calls, SMS routing information and types of calls.
- Internet protocol address.
- Device event information such as crashes, system activity, hardware settings, browser type, browser language, the date and time of your request and referral URL.
- Cookies that may uniquely identify your browser or your Google Account.
- We may collect and process information about your actual location. We use various technologies to determine location, including IP address, GPS, and other sensors that may, for example, provide Google with information on nearby devices, Wi-Fi access points and cell towers.
- Unique application number. This number and information about your installation (for example, the operating system type and application version number) may be sent to Google when you install or uninstall that service or when that service periodically contacts our servers.
- We may collect and store information (including personal information) locally on your device using mechanisms such as browser web storage (including HTML 5) and application data caches.
- We and our partners use various technologies to collect and store information when you visit a Google service, and this may include using cookies or similar technologies to identify your browser or device. We also use these technologies to collect and store information when you interact with services we offer to our partners, such as advertising services or Google features that may appear on other sites.
- Our Google Analytics product helps businesses and site owners analyze the traffic to their websites and apps. When used in conjunction with our advertising services, such as those using the DoubleClick cookie, Google Analytics information is linked, by the Google Analytics customer or by Google, using Google technology, with information about visits to multiple sites.
And Google makes no excuses, they collect all this data in order to make money and share this information with so called "trusted third parties".
- We will share personal information with companies, organizations or individuals outside of Google if we have a good-faith belief that access, use, preservation or disclosure of the information is reasonably necessary.
But the question is, does all this make Google "evil"?
In my opinion it does not.
First of all, why do we accept that the main access to information on the Internet is controlled by big corporate search engines like Google and Bing? Why have governments and independent organizations around the world not created independent search engines for the public to use? Is it because governments are just as interested in spying on people as big corporations are?
Imagine that our public libraries around the world suddenly became controlled by big corporations who would control what books you can read and when you can read them. Well, this is how most of the Internet is run today, and it's getting much worse.
When you search on Google, the results are not independent or free, rather the results are controlled and limited. Limited by location, time, IP address, browser fingerprint and other stuff and this is not good. No corporation should have the power to control what information we - the people - have access to on the Internet.
No, it's not that simple because nobody has provided people with independent privacy respecting search engines or other ways to access the content on the Internet. Sure, a few alternative search engines exist like Duckduckgo, but even though these search engines are really good,
they still cannot quite measure up to the quality of Googles search results, at least not yet, and they are not really independent - meaning they still rely on collection search results from the big corporate search engines.
In reality, when you visit a website, the website owners should tell you what's going to happen on their website, before it happens, and you - the Internet user - should get a respected choice.
For example, "Warning: We're using Google Analytics on our website and we will track every movement you make on our website. Do you accept that?"
Why is this important? It's important because most people don't know anything about tracking software and they are unaware of the effects and results.
Website developers, wake up! Get rid of Google Analytics!
If you have been tracked long enough, and the tracking software has figured out that you are a person who likes to buy books for example, the prices on books might change when you visit websites that sell books, i.e. the prices become higher. That's right! On sophisticated websites prices change dependent upon who's watching the product. And this is based upon tracking data such as IP tracking and browser fingerprinting.
If you ever visit Facebook a cookie gets installed on your computer and from this point on, each time you visit a third party website that has a Facebook "Like" button, or other Facebook trackers, the tracker will work in conjunction with the cookie to send information to Facebook about the date, time, web address of the page you visited, information about your computer such as operating system, browser, IP address, screen resolution, and other data. And other social networking services do the same.
If you visit the New York Times website, in the milliseconds between arriving on the frontpage and before the latest news appear on your screen, data from this visit is send to several different companies, including Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and several smaller ad firms. Almost instantaneously, these companies log your visit, place ads that are specifically tailored for you, and add information about your visit to the ever growing online profile about you.
You can install the uBlock Origin browser extension, it will show you when you get tracked and by who and with what, and it will give you the ability to block both ads and tracking. You have to go into "Settings" and enable all "Ads" settings and "Privacy" settings.
Furthermore, in combination with uBlock Origin, you can also enhance your privacy by using a trusted VPN service and by running browser extensions like Random UA in order to change your browser fingerprint on each request.
These solutions are not ideal, they require technical knowledge and skill. Besides, the tracking techniques becomes more and more sophisticated and difficult to protect against all the time.
Freedom and privacy respecting governments around the world needs to step up and provide really independent alternatives to the public corporate search engines and they better understand that they themselves need this too.
The control and power of companies like Google and Microsoft is devastating to governments around the world because they have the power and the right to control whatever data they provide via their search engines. If Google choose to remove important news from their search results, they do so. If Google wants to affect the outcome of a specific situation they have the power to do so by manipulating search results and we have already seen Facebook do more than that.
So what went wrong with the Internet? It all started out as an independent way to share information, and later products, but it has almost turned into a massive blob of service clusters controlled by only a few major corporations. Money, money, money!