Nine+ Reasons We Should All Say “Thank You, Google”
Is Google a Business—or More of a Charity?
As you probably know, 47 US states plus the Federal Justice Department are launching an antitrust case against Google, based on the premise that Google is a monopoly and should be broken up.
The definition of “monopoly” is 100% of the market. The US Post Office being a good example of that. It’s true that Google, with 86.86% of the market, dominates the search space. Still, that’s not 100%. But the true meaning of words has never fazed governments or politicians anywhere.
Should Google be broken up?
There are always at least two sides to every issue, but if we consider what Google has done, even though its profit last year was over $34 billion, it might be better described as a charity.
Because Google has spent unknown billions of dollars creating services that we can all use for free.
1. Google is free. Even if you click on the ads it’s still free—to you.
2. Google Maps. Also free.
Google hired people to drive around pretty much every street and alley in 40 countries.
How much did it cost them? One gauge is Apple’s investment in creating Apple Maps: “billions of dollars,” Apple reported in a letter to the US Congress.
Over a billion people around the world use Google Maps every day. Including me. And we should all thank Google for offering this service to us for free. Not even any ads!
Google Maps replaces the book of maps we all carried around in our cars (you’ll remember them if you’re old enough). That’s just the first of many other benefits.
The other day I went on a road trip, around 1½ hours each way. Aside from getting directions to my destination, I was advised of “congestion ahead” caused, I was later told, by a “stalled car,” and more than once was warned of a “mobile speed camera ahead.”
Google Maps is not only free, it’s possibly saved me a few hundred dollars in speeding tickets. Especially since the fuzz normally park at the bottom of a hill.
And it’s amazingly up to date. A few weeks back a shop down the road moved around the corner and in a day or two its position on Google Maps had been updated—even in street view!.
Admittedly, using Google Maps isn’t totally free. You need a smartphone + data.
Well, I’ve got a smartphone, so the only extra expense is data. Well worth it considering a book of city maps won’t tell you about mobile speed cameras—or anything that’s changed since the book was printed.
The only disadvantages I find with Google Maps is that I tend to rely on it rather than my memory of which way to go. Back when everyone had a book of maps of their city in their car, looking at the map first to go effectively forced you to memorize the route.
And there are a few gaps: North Korea is one; Niger and Chad are two others, partially covered from satellite imagery. Hardly a disadvantage—and in any case if you go to North Korea it’s unlikely you will find much (if any) data coverage.
3. Google Books has scanned over 25 million books according to the New York Times; You can read or download 10 million of those books—the ones out of copyright, Do I need to remind you what it costs to read those books?
4. Google Translate — translate pretty much any language or dialect to any other language.
5. Google Earth: see the whole world from home
6. Google Docs: word processor, spreadsheet, photo editor, HTML editor, and seven other programs you can use, all stored in the cloud
7. Google Drive: 15 gigabytes of storage space.
If you add in Apple’s iCloud, Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive, and a dozen or more others, you can have a terabyte or two of free storage in the cloud.
8. Plus Gmail and Chromebook
9. Oh, and Android, which makes cheap smartphones possible.
And a whole lot more. You can see the complete list here.
In total, so many apps that no single person is likely to use them all.
Somebody Pays for Google—but it’s not Me. How About You?
As we know, Google makes most of its money from ads–all of it’s freebies are designed to collect eyeballs. Last year’s “click” revenue: $160.74 billion to be precise, or 70.9% of its total income.
That’s from people clicking on Google ads.
Those ads you see are based on what Google knows about where you’ve been on the internet. There is an algorithm that selects ads based on what it “thinks” will appeal to you. And we can see the results.
Frankly, I’m underwhelmed.
The ads that Google (and Facebook, for that matter) show me, despite all the information they gather, mostly fall almost entirely into three broad categories:
1. Sites I’ve looked at once. Looked at and discarded as being of no interest to me.
For example, a while back, for an article I was writing, I searched Google for information on and the prices of road construction machinery. For weeks afterwards Google kept showing me ads for graders, excavators, bulldozers, pavers, and far more esoteric equipment.
Machines I had absolutely no more interest in, and certainly no intention of ever buying.
Try it yourself: Click on something you simply don’t care about at all, and I’ll bet you start seeing ads for it for a while.
2. Stuff I’ve actually bought or signed up for. Having got it, I’m no longer interested in getting it again.
One example: I keep seeing ads for a bank where I have an account. I get that Google knows I’ve been to this bank’s website which is why I see those ads. But Google’s wasting its time showing them to me.
I bet you have similar experiences.
3. Things I’ve got absolutely zero interest in (more on Facebook that Google).
Three reasons In sum, Google and Facebook keep showing me ads for stuff that just don’t interest me anymore. Which is why I’m not terribly impressed with their algorithms.
Should You Fear What Google, Facebook, Amazon, et. al. Know About You?
I really don’t care what Google, Facebook, Amazon or even Alibaba knows about me from my browsing habits. In fact, I’m very unimpressed with what they do with that information.
True, some employee of Google, Facebook or some other internet company could look or hack into the data their employer has collected of where we’ve been on the internet, and do something that may not be very nice. Or their websites could be hacked.
Unlikely we hope—but not impossible.
That said, there is a reason we should worry about the data that Google and other FAANGs have gathered about us.
A reason which has nothing to do with any of those companies, per se.
As a recent Wall Street Journal article put it, splitting up “Big Tech” . . .
. . . would reduce its intelligence value. First, smaller companies would lose global market share to foreign rivals such as Alibaba or Baidu, which can ignore FISA. Small U.S. sites can’t leverage the “network effect,” a gravitational force that helps large sites stay dominant. Intelligence collected from small sites would also be less useful. They see only narrow slices of online activity, whereas tech giants track users across sprawling internet ecosystems. Dismantling these ecosystems would put a greater burden on intelligence agencies to “connect the dots” of potential threats. . .
No Big Tech breakup plan should be taken seriously if it ignores national security.
So yes, there is a reason to worry about how much information “Big Tech” collects about you:
Big Brother is watching you.
True, breaking up Google will make it a little bit harder for Big Brother to spy on you. But the main difference will be that Google may no longer be able to afford to offer us all those charitable freebies.
Who Benefits Most from “Big Tech”
Nobel Prize-winning economist William Nordhaus, in a 2004 paper, concludes that:
“Only a minuscule fraction of the social returns from technological advances over the 1948-2001 period was captured by producers, indicating that most of the benefits of technological change are passed on to consumers. [Emphasis added.]”
And he calculated that—
“Innovators were able to capture about 2.2% of the total social surplus from innovation.”
Meaning that we, as consumers and producers outside the innovative industry, receive 97.8% of the total social surplus.”
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