Chapter eight, of John Batelle’s, “The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture” focuses on how Google has impacted our world.1 The idea of a very public permanent record is becoming a reality. People are becoming alarmed by the fact that Google can display very personal information, and there is not much to do about it. Home addresses and telephone numbers are public information; but somehow when Google puts the two together people are frightened. The use of a reverse directory is Google merely putting the two pieces of information together, they are merely making the connection.
Privacy vs. The Right to Know
America was built on the right to know. However, nobody used to look so closely. Furthermore, information was not as accessible as it is today. Now it is easy to Google anybody and learn a little bit about this person’s background. People have attempted to sue Google for displaying these personal pieces of information. A CPA from Los Angeles sued Google for displaying disciplinary actions that had been taken against him. However, Google is essentially just the messenger; and you can’t shoot the messenger. There are many, very personal stories in which Google has impacted people’s lives. Some people have a lingering bad reputation others have been saved by a quick Google search. For example a woman Googled a man she was supposed to go on a date with and found out he was wanted by the FBI. Another story surfaced of a boy who Googled himself and discovered that his mom had kidnapped him at and young age and his father had been searching for him for 15 years. His mom went to jail and he never spoke to her again. Obviously, Google has touched many lives. However, where do we draw the line from the right to know to the right to privacy? When is information too public, and who will deal with this issue: Google, the government, or another party? Society must come to terms with the implications of Google’s massive storehouse of personal information and what this means for our future.
Gmail and other sources
Google created Gmail, a free mail service with 1 gigabyte of memory and a search interface, expecting it to be a hit. This exciting new aspect of Google was criticizes however because the ads that were shown to users were a bit too relevant to the texts of the email. People felt although Google was reading their emails. Of course, we know that they were merely parsing the terms; nonetheless, people were spooked out. People began to criticize the new approach and some spoke out, such as Daniel Brant from Googlewatch.org. He noted that Google could trace all of its user’s web usage because it had emails, search queries, and IP addresses. With various sources Google would be able to know a lot about its user. This worried people, including the California Senator, Liz Figueroa and her constituents. She introduced a piece of legislation which would ban Gmail. Gmail “hit a nerve”, people started realizing that the protection of their policies were slowly spinning out of their control. There were other services that people were concerned about such as Google Desktop Search, Internet Service Providers and Universities; people were nervous that these entities would be able to track and record their activities. The bigger concern was that these companies or organizations would share personal information with other parties (such as the government). People were scared that their personal information would fall into the wrong hands.
The US Patriot Act was a response to 9/11; it was done under a war mentality, without much debate. Batelle claims, it was a re-hash of the Anti-terrorism Act of 2001, which was very controversial and probably would not have passed under ordinary circumstances. The Act broadened the rights to search through personal information, in order to provide higher security and track terrorists during frightening and unstable times. It allowed the government to access and monitor private information, be it through phone services, electronic services, or other means of communication. Some say that it violates the fourth amendment, which protects citizens from unreasonable search. Furthermore, the part that disturbs people most is that the government does not need a warrant and they are not required to inform the suspect. So if you are a suspect, the government could tap your phone, your searches, your click-stream and other resources without your knowledge. The government is trying to maintain a balance between civil liberties and national security. However, there have been objections, even from New York the state that suffered the most from the 9/11 attacks. New York and other states have attempted to require the government to inform those who are being watched.
When mixing government and search people tend to be afraid of future implications, perhaps they are reminded of Big Brother. But a private company may be more powerful in collecting personal information. The ability to know, and the ability to access information is what scares people. For example ChoicePoint is a company that has detailed records of millions of people and it was found that they were selling information to identity thieves. So the implications of easily accessed information and trusting service providers is a bit scary in the long run.
The China Question
China has gone through an extravagant process of censoring its Internet. It is known as “The Great Firewall of China”, which automatically blocks out banned sites –such as political sites, or sites ran by political oppositions. China is complicated for Google for various reasons. First, China is a strange hybrid which has endured great economic reforms, but few political reforms. Google realized that they couldn’t ignore the business aspect of China. So in 2002 Google was filtered out by the Chinese government, but within two weeks it was back up because of a major backlash. Google says it was not forced to modify its services. After, Google came out with Google News in China and again was banned; Google put its News component back up but eliminated the controversial reports. People were upset; what happened to “Do No Evil’ and social responsibility? Google was forced to provide an answer. They said that the banned links would provide a bad experience for their users because they would only be forwarded to a government page if the link was banned. It also said that China may ban Google altogether if they put up banned links. They claimed that they were trying : to do the most good”. People were disappointed that Google had given in to Chinese Rule. Some reasons why Google may have given in were because other companies were already settled into China and they did not want to be left behind. Another reason was that they had recently invested in the second largest search company (Baidu) in China and did not want to upset the Chinese government.
Google Disappoints (Do No Evil?)
However, people were upset that Google did not stand up to the Chinese regime. The founders were also left in a sticky situation because of the moral code of Do No Evil. Google is a different kind of company because provides knowledge and information rather than just physical objects. Google let people down by going into China. The company that was lead by a moral code had gone astray and perhaps set a precedence for other companies or even for itself which went against its original code. From the other side however, we must give credit to Google; a company who attempted to organize the world’s information has suddenly become a moral police. In sum, Google has clearly impacted our world, from legislation to personal accounts, Google has left it’s mark.
1 The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture. By John Battelle. September, 2005. Portfolio Trade.