Google's Data Power Pays Off

Anyone who looks for something on the Internet searches with Google. Has the firm become one of the most dangerous monopolies in the information technology world? Up to now there has been no sign of abuse — it is even in the best interest of the user to throw more information on the haystack.

It sounds a bit scary: Google knows what illness a user has because the search engine is often the first doctor’s visit. Google knows which actors you find attractive if you use image search. Google even knows when you go to bed if you watch U.S. series until late at night with Google’s browser. That is the price for a lot of good service and millions pay it voluntarily.

Really? Or do they just have no choice because Google has become too powerful?

Whoever thinks “search” thinks of Google. The firm made it into the German Duden dictionary in 2004: “Googeln” means searching on the Internet in German. In Germany alone, millions type in search words day after day. The search results organize our thinking: What’s at the top is important and is clicked on. Google dominates the German market; other search engines have ratings that can only be seen with a magnifying glass.

No wonder that Google is again and again subject to the charge of being a monopoly, a too powerful octopus. Additional offers like the email service Gmail or the Internet browser Chrome, which was launched five years ago this Monday and has since displaced other providers in many countries, further strengthen the market power of the firm.

Google Monopoly Charges

Yet there can be no talk of a monopoly. If anything, Google is, for the most part, user-friendly — provided that you agree to your data disappearing into a large haystack. Then it can even be fun to use Google. Gmail is probably the most comfortable free email service that is to be had. Chrome is the best browser; it runs more quickly and is more stable than others.

Then, of course, there is the search engine. Alternatives like DuckDuckGo expressly advertise their respect for user privacy. Nothing is saved, nothing spied on. That sounds great. But anyone who switches to DuckDuckGo for a few days notices that the search results are meager and often only usable by readjusting, scrolling and further searching.

The search results get better when users hand over more data — hard to swallow, but true. In addition, Google has multiples of users. The large range means that Google also delivers good results for niche inquiries. Where is the nearest café that offers lactose-free milk and WiFi? Google helps with a map. That is great for users — and a problem for possible competition. If potential users visit a page too seldom and enter too few keywords, the competition’s algorithm cannot learn what people want. It needs very many hits to build databases as smart as Google’s. It could be that niche providers like DuckDuckGo will never cross the relevant threshold.

So it is a monopoly? In the U.S., Yahoo and Bing, Microsoft’s search engine, are used considerably more often than in Germany; both make Google so nervous that the firm remains innovative. The search algorithms are constantly improved; in the past year alone, Google conducted more than 75,000 little tests to see if its service is improving. The Google corporation — revenue in the billions, tens of thousands of employees — is nonetheless as ready to reform as a start-up.

The firm is also extremely friendly to its true customers. The bills for the servers and programmers are not paid for by the search engine users, but instead by advertising customers. Sponsored hits on the search engine, however, cannot be purchased so simply; they must be purchased by auction. Supply and demand transparently determine the price — that warms the heart of free market liberals.

Anyone who no longer wants to use Google can go. That is an important sentence; it reveals the boundaries of Google’s power. No one forces users to ask Google. The firm itself offers a service to help leave Google. The offer bears the martial name Data Liberation Front. A few clicks and the download begins.

Yes, Google knows our illnesses and sleep patterns. However, up to now, there are no signs that Google is misusing data to spy on people. For anyone who finds the knowledge powerhouse too scary, there are other choices. You just have to Google them.

About this publication

About Sandra Alexander 451 Articles
I have retired after 33 years teaching German at a high school in suburban Philadelphia and am now teaching undergraduate German courses at a small, private college in Philadelphia. I have an M.A. in German and keep my German language skills current by translating. I hope to someday translate novels from German into English or maybe even write my own novel.

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