Google have launched a browser. It’s called Chrome. It’s an interesting move from a company that started out as a search engine. It has started me thinking, what is Google now? Is it a search engine? A mail service? A browser? A mobile phone company? It would seem it is all of those things.
What is Google’s core offering then? What does Google do better than anyone else? Again, it would seem many of those things. Google seems to do well in every market it enters. Gmail is generally regarded as the best free webmail service. Google search is surely the dominant search engine. Google Docs is hard to beat. If other companies create competing products, they’re typically bought by Google. YouTube, FeedBurner, and so on.
So what is Google? Where is it going?
It seems like Google is becoming the major supplier of information to a large portion of the people using the internet. That is, for many people, Google is their primary conduit of information. Google delivers access to all other websites via search and advertising. Google delivers personal messages via Gmail. Google provides news. With the launch of a browser, Google takes the next natural step in extending that reach.
Google is surely synonymous with the internet. For many people, Google is the internet. Google provides them with information, information they trust and believe.
It has been shown that all news networks have a bias. This is most obvious with political campaigns like the current presidential election in the US. Each network has their preferred candidate, or party. That has a significant impact on the voters who watch / read / consume the news from that network.
I wonder, what are Google’s biases. How does Google influence the web.
The internet is a largely unregulated territory. It is global, borderless, and largely lawless. This is seen most obviously in activities like child pornography. The internet spans almost every legal jurisdiction in the world. It is therefore almost impossible to prevent something from being available on the internet. That is both a great weakness and a great strength. It is very hard to quash freedom of speech online, likewise it is very hard to quash child pornography online.
Conversely, Google has massive censorship powers on the internet. While they can’t stop you from accessing something you already know exists, they can stop most people from finding something. As the global gateway to the internet, that is an immense responsbility for one company, and ultimately, one board of directors, to carry.
Typically, roles of such significance to the populution are carried out by governments. In the west, these governments are largely elected, and at least in principle, answerable to their people. Google has no such restriction. As a corporation it answers to it’s shareholders. A corporation’s stated and legally required purpose is the creation of wealth for it’s shareholders. Period.
So where does this leave us, the public? Google is arguably more able, better resourced, and far more global than any of our elected governments. Who then, can judge Google’s activities? Who can hold Google accountable? It would seem, at least currently, that Google is largely unaccountable. The corporation operates in famous secrecy, keeping all it’s technology hidden from prying eyes.
Ultimately, I believe, in time, all things answer to the people. Every empire, no matter how benign of tyrannical, falls eventually. Every great organisation dies. Death is what defines life.
It will be interesting to watch as Google grows. Microsoft, one of the technology gians of old, is now 33 years old, and has arguably had it’s day. Five days before it’s 10th birthday, Google reigns as the new king of technology. With the ever increasing pace of technology, how long will this king sit before it is replaced? With the ever growing size of the global market, how big will Google’s kingdom be at it’s peak?
These are both intriguing and worrying times. I choose to avoid Google where I can, but I will be interested to see how Google continues to shape the internet over the years to come.