The search engine decides who and what is found on the Internet — and who or what is not. Add Google+ and this power becomes threatening.
Access to information is power. That is the age-old wisdom. Therefore, the ancient Egyptians forced every ship to hand over all scrolls and made a copy of each for the legendary library of Alexandria. For over 1,000 years, the Catholic church used the knowledge and truth monopoly that ensued from the countless transcriptions of the Bible and other books for their power politics in Europe.
Google’s slogan “organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful” dupes us. The world’s information is first of all only available to Google. Google decides if for the search term “Angela Merkel” we first see the critical Wikipedia article or the pleasant PR website of the chancellor. And the search engine also decides which price comparison site we see first when searching for a camera. That is relevant because we are lazy. 95 percent of us are satisfied with the first three search hits.
Hope grew with social networks that this knowledge monopoly could be penetrated. The idea: Users could form an alternative to uniform and non-transparent search algorithms through playful sharing of contents. All at once, what users wanted was important.
Google was aware of the danger and tried with Buzz and Google Weave to establish its own “social media.” That appears to be succeeding now with the third attempt, Plus. Should Plus become a success in the long term, hopes for a competitive search engine from the field of the other social media could only vanish. Worse yet: Google could further expand its monopoly-like dominance in the selection of knowledge.
The dangers that grow out of information monopolies are considerable. In order to prevent a too strong concentration of power, the German offline media environment is extensively regulated. In the online world, this is lacking, which Google is exploiting to greater establish its products and services. Alternate price comparisons have likewise disappeared from the first search results like other search machines, card providers or photo services. They were replaced by Google products. With one handshake the search giant recently removed all ratings by third parties from the local search results of “Google Places.” Overnight, this measure compromises the Hamburg company Qype — it appears to hardly exist any longer for users of Google.
Google takes what it gets. For Google News, the search machine automatically culls thousands of newspapers. But woe to a publisher that complains; then it not only gets the ax from Google News, but rather is banned from the Google index immediately, as the Belgian newspaper Le Soir discovered recently. And Google also let its contract with Twitter expire. One now has one’s own network. Self-righteously, Google distributes the market potential. And we are all dependent and at the mercy of Google’s decisions.
All these steps are systematic. Google introduces new services and places them in the first place of its search engine. So Google now also dovetails its social network on the task list of its homepage. And also the Google+ profile and its recommendations wander to the top of the search results; links to Facebook profile pages by contrast to the bottom. Google Mail, contacts, photos (Picasa) and YouTube were also dovetailed in the network. All other email, photo, video providers are left out to dry. And the corporation is not yet finished: Google games, music and TV are still coming.
Google says all of this a service. The user then needs to search less himself. Google searches for him. The search engine ultimately knows what the user wants — so the user no longer has to decide at all. Frank Schirrmacher justifiably asks in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung about the political and social power of Google. However, he has forgotten the economic power of the U.S. corporation.
For companies which do not stand in direct competition with Google, there is no way around the search engine. The only possibility to win customers for one’s own offerings is through expensive AdWords campaigns. Google’s power will increase inconceivably if Plus becomes as dominant as a social network as Google Search, which for years has had a market share of over 90 percent in Germany.
Google and its new social network therefore represent not only a danger for society and free knowledge, but also for fair and free competition on the Internet.
Christopher Waitz is the spokesman for the Initiative for a Competitive Online Market (ICOMP) in Germany. ICOMP has roughly 40 members, among them corporations and consumer protection agencies. The initiative is sponsored by Microsoft.