Will Power Corrupt Google?
Google is currently the most powerful entity on the planet. So far, the company has worn a white hat. They have stood up for 'net neutrality, made many useful (and absolutely mind-boggling in the case of Google Maps) applications available to all for free, and done a bang-up job producing the best search results.
So what's in it for Google?
For one thing, they make gobs of money by being the most effective advertising channel in the world. Television advertising is a complete waste of money in this day and age. Sure, television burns your branding into millions of brains, but does it sell directly? Not unless you're running infomercials. The Internet provides sooo many more opportunities to drive business. People who are interested in your product can opt-in to a list that can be used to inform your audience (and sell more units), and you can focus your ads to reach any niche. Google owns that game lock, stock, and barrel. That's power.
Google also collects scary amounts of information. They know everything about you from your political leanings to your sexual fetishes. There has been much chatter about this issue of late so I'm not going to dwell on it.
One thing that few seem to have considered, however, is the control that Google could have over the Internet itself. In such a vast galaxy of information, Google is the main navigator. If Google likes your site, you will get lots of traffic; seriously, you get a lot of traffic. If you Google likes you for high-value keywords, you can get millions of visitors. Even low-hanging fruit like "Joe the Plumber is an Asshole" can bring tens of thousands of visitors. If you're in a brick-and-mortar business, Google can make you or break you. Where is the first place anyone looks for an exterminator in NYC? Google, of course. If your pest control business comes up high on that term, you're golden.
I don't care if Google knows that I enjoy Japanese erotica, frankly. (If I did, I wouldn't have written that last sentence.) I don't care if they know that I'm a proud Democrat. I don't care if they know that the last book I read was American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House. Anybody could find all that stuff out these days. We live in public, and I think that's basically a good thing. If you're frontin', you ain't representin' by default. We're rapidly approaching the point where nobody will have the option of frontin', and that's more than OK with me.
What bothers me is the fact that Google can control the Internet to a certain extent, and to me the Internet has represented the last great hope for liberty and equality since I first encountered it in 1989. Thus far, Google seems to share the vision of us original cyberpunks. Generally, you're going to find what you want to find with Google, even if you're looking for something that conventional wisdom regards as repulsive. That is the spirit of freedom. So long as nobody gets hurt, your ideas are free rise or sink on their own merit. Nice.
But what if Google decides that it doesn't like you? On this site, I have had periods of mad Google love when my traffic spiked to rock star proportions. It's pretty sweet when somebody finds you in a Google search almost every minute of every day, let me tell you. There have also been periods when most readers of this site know my secret identity. What causes this? The Google works in mysterious ways. That's all I can say about it.
But it worries me, the amount of control they have over what gets found. That is where Google's true power resides. I only hope that it remains, generally, a force for Good.