Google As Benevolent Dictator: The Gatekeeper And The Data Collector
from the are-you-scared-yet? dept
Two separate stories in the NY Times provide fodder for those who view Google as the new scary borg. The first, looks at Google’s sometimes slippery slope role as a “gatekeeper” of information within certain countries. For example, it looks at Google’s agreement to help block access to certain YouTube videos in Thailand and similar decisions in other countries. The article plays up Google’s reluctance to be involved in making these sorts of decisions (and highlights how the company hopes that more countries learn to accept free speech a bit more), but it still leaves you with this questionable feeling of Google as quasi-government censor. No matter how well-meaning the people may be who are making the decisions, it still feels questionable.
The second article isn’t just about Google, but talks about how, with various online services, many people are effectively giving up their privacy. This is hardly a new topic, and it’s one that’s been discussed repeatedly — often with a nod to the famous Scott McNealy quote from almost a decade ago: “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.” The article touches on a lot more than just Google, but does mention the fact that Google seems to have access to all sorts of data that, when clumped together, could be seen as a violation of privacy for some.
Between the two stories, you can see why there’s a growing sense of worry among some about how Google could become dangerous. It has access to all sorts of data about you — and has the power to make decisions about what you can access, often with no explanation or recourse. Put that together, and you get this picture of Google as the benevolent dictator of the internet — where it may be using its powers (mostly) for good, but there’s plenty of potential that eventually it could turn evil. And, to some extent, it’s worth highlighting these issues, so that people don’t become complacent about Google’s actions. But, there’s an undercurrent to these stories that seem to miss out on a few things: if Google really does start abusing either of these “powers,” unlike with a dictator, people have pretty easy choices to go elsewhere. Furthermore, as more concerns are raised about any potential abuse, people are rapidly working on technologies that solve both issues — allowing people to surf the internet much more anonymously, while also routing around censorship. So, while it’s not problematic to highlight these potential issues with Google, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t necessary checks and balances in place.