BERGER: Next time, don’t google it

The government must strengthen and enforce anti-trust laws to prevent Google from abusing its power

Google has been criticized time and time again for dominating the search engine industry and breaching customer privacy; yet laws have not been implemented to address such blatant monopolization.

After being sued by 38 states, Google admitted last March that it violated people’s privacy during its Street View mapping project and collected data from the surrounding areas, such as “passwords, e-mails and other personal information from unsuspecting computer users,” the New York Times reported. Additionally, in early 2012, it was discovered that Google’s software was bypassing security settings for Apple devices using the Safari browser, exposing millions of Safari users to tracking for months without their knowledge.

It is hard to deny the influence Google has had on our lives — both on and off the web. We rely on Google every day for a variety of reasons, and we are constantly looking things up on the search engine without a second thought. The extent to which Google as a company has permeated our culture is evident even from the common use of the world “google” as a verb. Yet, while many recognize Google’s influence and fear Google may be becoming too powerful, others are not worried by the power Google is gaining. Only 51 percent of responders in a poll conducted by Reuters/Ipsos believe the personal data gathering abilities of Google and other tech companies are dangerous.

It is surprising that only half of the people surveyed are concerned. When one company essentially becomes the most accessible way — if not the only way — you find your information, and when that company’s databases collect the information you give them, problems can arise.

One problem is search bias in search engines, in which a search engine favors its own content at the expense of rivals. This is a possible violation of antitrust laws, which Google has been accused of breaking. Last year, the Federal Trade Commission was investigating Google for violating antitrust laws, and since then many lawsuits have been filed against Google, most recently by the European Union. In 2012 the European Commission accused Google of unfairly promoting its own search results. Now, in 2014, the EU has made a deal with Google to exempt them from an antitrust lawsuit as long as the company changes its advertising operations and cooperates with further concessions.

Though there are those, like the European Commission, who believe Google is monopolizing the search engine industry, others need more evidence. Joshua Wright, a professor of law at George Mason University School of Law, spoke at Columbia Law School about Google and said, “We demand evidence of real harm to competition before we break out the antitrust hammer, and I don’t think there’s significant evidence of that here. It’s not hard to switch to get what you are looking for.”

Some believe that to “switch” is not that difficult, arguing Bing and Yahoo are just a click away, but switching search engines actually is not that easy. While in theory alternatives are readily accessible, Google has made itself a household name and even part of our vocabulary. No one “Bings” something when they want to look it up. Through its consistent results, brilliant marketing strategies and aesthetically pleasing appearance, Google has become such a trustworthy name that its competitors are barely relevant; Google accounts for nearly 70 percent of all Web searches in the United States. Furthermore, Google is the most popular tech company in the U.S., and 82 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of it according to an ABC News poll.

Google is undoubtedly the most powerful search engine there is, and despite failed lawsuits against Google, there must be legal action of some sort to limit its growing influence. It is hard to say what laws are appropriate, since technology is unpredictable, and constantly changing, and we are not adept to regulate it. But the government must begin enforcing antitrust laws and adding to the ones in place. As Google grows so does the potential for the manipulation of Google users as well as extensive information collection and breaches of privacy.

Google knows our personal information, our private interests, our curiosities and everything else we desire to look up. It has access to our e-mail, as many of us have Gmail accounts. It even knows our calendar and when and where we will be at certain times. And we continue to let it gather this information even after it has been accused of breaching our privacy and using our information for its own profit. With all of this information, Google is able to determine our interests and advertise to us accordingly.

This may not seem invasive or dangerous to some, but it is important to consider the problems with Google choosing what shows up in advertisements and responding to our searches in general and even storing our private emails, creating a biased database and potentially breaking antitrust laws.

Google’s informal company motto is “Don’t be evil.” I am curious as to what exactly being “evil” really means to Google. Does it mean employing manipulative marketing and invasive surveillance? Because if it does, then perhaps Google is more “evil” than it thinks.

Meredith Berger is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at m.berger@cavalierdaily.com.


Published April 8, 2014 in Opinion





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