How evil is Google? Your Senators want to know.

How evil is Google? Your Senators want to know.

Summary: Is Google evil? That's essentially what the United States Senate is going to be trying to figure out over the next few days. Here's a resource guide and some points to ponder.

SHARE:

Is Google evil? That's essentially what the United States Senate -- not exactly the best arbiters of good and evil, you gotta admit! -- is going to be trying to figure out over the next few days.

Later today, Google's former CEO and current executive chairman Eric Schmidt is going to be planting himself in a chair in front of the antitrust sub-committee of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Watch hearing webcast

This august body consists of Democratic Senators Herb Kohl of Wisconsin (Chairman), Chuck Schumer of New York, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Al Franken of Minnesota, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, and Republicans Michael S. Lee of Utah (Ranking Member), Chuck Grassley of Iowa, and John Cornyn of Texas.

The hearing, called "The Power of Google: Serving Consumers or Threatening Competition?", is quite obviously specifically targeting Google.

The power of Google

The power of Google is without dispute, as any of us who operate or write for a Web site will tell you. Almost anyone with a Web site on the Internet is, one way or another, subject to the whims and mercies of the Google search engine (and, to some extent as well, Google News and the other Google services).

If Google loves us and shares its juice, we make more money. If the Google algorithm dislikes us, looks down upon us, or believes we're "gaming it," it does its best to "disappear" us off the consumer Internet. Even a blog like ZDNet Government, which get a large chunk of traffic from regular readers, feels the effect of Google's affection. On days when my articles are picked up on Google News, for example, I get a tremendous surge in new readership.

Oh, the irony!

It's into this modern reality our Senators are preparing to tread, with some encouragement from Microsoft. The irony is hard to miss, given Microsoft's own brush with anti-trust a decade ago.

One of the interesting things to look for will be just what Eric Schmidt has to say. Mr. Schmidt has been known to make some pretty incendiary statements, including "Google policy is to get right up to the creepy line but not cross it" and "If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place."

Keep an eye out for some good, quotable quotes. But don't just listen for the fun of it. Pay attention, because what Schmidt says will have a direct impact on your relationship with the Web and the Internet for the foreseeable future.

How much control?

I believe the question shouldn't whether or not Google is padding its search results with too many AdWords ads at the top of pages. I believe the question should be, "How much control should one company have over what we can find on the Internet?"

This, of course, is an interesting paradox. We all want good information when we do a Web search. While content farms often populate our results with crap, who should be the arbiter of what information we find and what we don't? Should it be Google? Should it be Microsoft? Should it be the United States Senate? Should it be the FTC?

Or should we just leave it to market forces, which could reduce the Web into pockets of automatically-generated pablum suited for an algorithm's eyes, but of no use to society as a whole?

Make no mistake about it. This is big, although I have my doubts Senators Franken, Schumer, and their buddies really see how big. More and more of us get our information about the world, interact with the world, choose what we buy, manage our finances, and make decisions based on what we find online.

Determining who has the power to present that information to us is, essentially, determining who has the power to present to us a certain view of the world.

I am not a fan of breaking apart companies under the guise of anti-trust. I think we need to let corporations grow to their own, natural, top-heavy level and see what they do to manage themselves. Netflix is certainly a good example of the corporate form of natural selection.

But there is great power in Google's hands and that should make us all stop and think. After all, if Senators Kohl, Schumer, Klobuchar, Franken, Blumenthal, Lee, Grassley, and Cornyn ask too many hard questions of Mr. Schmidt, he could just decide to "disappear" them from what most people think of as the real Internet: Google search results.

Or worse.

Don't think it can't happen. Just ask former Senator (and current GOP Presidential candidate) Rick Santorum what he thinks about Google's power.

On one hand, it's very funny and humor points go to the Internet bloggers who Google-bombed Mr. Santorum. On the other hand, the influence of Google is not to be underestimated. Even though I don't think former Senator Santorum has a chance in heck of getting elected, he is a recognized candidate for President of the United States and still, Google's algorithm has the last laugh.

Please link to this article. I can use all the Google juice I can get.

Resource Guide

What do you think? Is Google too powerful? TalkBack below.

Topics: Enterprise Software, Browser, Google

About

David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

178 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: How evil is Google? Your Senators want to know.

    Oh, they're horribly Evil... I think they are trying to molest us and sucking us in with all these free Apps!
    slickjim
    • RE: How evil is Google? Your Senators want to know.

      @Peter Perry
      Although I think you are meaning to be sarcastic...you are actually hitting the nail right on the head. Maybe not molesting... but selling your personal information to the highest bidder by getting sucked in to free apps.
      kstap
      • RE: How evil is Google? Your Senators want to know.

        @kris_stapley@... No, they're a company man... They are no more or no less evil than any of these other companies.

        And I have news for you man, everyone is tracking you! You go but something at the store it registers as being sold and then that stat is added to a list and sold or given away to show what consumers are interested in.

        Google sells anonymous data or maybe not even that, maybe they sell targets for advertising in their apps but I do not get random sales pushes or spam because I use Google services, they don't give away my personal information.
        slickjim
      • RE: How evil is Google? Your Senators want to know.

        @kris_stapley@...
        They are very evil! So I tried signing up for the free apps, they wanted my birthdate. I put in 2010. They cancelled my email because I'm under 13. To get my Gmail back I have to produce proof of my age. VERY EVIL!
        imhop
      • RE: How evil is Google? Your Senators want to know.

        @imhop@... This is replying to imhop...

        Google trying to protect children LIKE EVERY OTHER COMPANY DOES is somehow evil?
        Your registering as a very young minor is not evil?
        aikeru@...
      • RE: How evil is Google? Your Senators want to know.

        @aikeru who are you kidding? All they protect is their a$$ by asking to provide your birthdate. Are you saying that a ten-year old is not smart enough to give him/herself some extra ten-years?
        pupkin_z
      • RE: How evil is Google? Your Senators want to know.

        @Peter Perry... They are required by law to treat children differently. Deal with it.

        Google's share of the web search business most recently was 65%. Oh how I wish _any_ other sector of computing -- OSes, office suites, graphics suites, heck even MP3 players -- were that competitive.
        daengbo
    • RE: How evil is Google? Your Senators want to know.

      @Peter Perry TANSTAAFL
      statuskwo5
    • only M$ and Apple shills attack google

      @Peter Perry
      this is just sour grapes from a moribund competition.
      google is on your side.
      The Linux Geek
      • RE: How evil is Google? Your Senators want to know.

        @The Linux Geek

        venting more hate I see.
        evilcart
      • RE: How evil is Google? Your Senators want to know.

        @The Linux Geek You are the ball the weeds are tall and you are lost - wow. You forgot your foil hat!
        ItsTheBottomLine
      • Riight...

        @The Linux Geek

        "Mom, Google's touching me! Make him stop!"
        spdragoo@...
      • RE: How evil is Google? Your Senators want to know.

        @The Linux Geek Only somebody like you can turn a blind eye to anything unsightly that Google does yet jump on any possible opportunity to bash the others. I own several Windows systems, a MacBook Pro, an iPhone and use Google for search and maps so where does that put me? I use them all but trust Google the least, does that make me an Apple or MS shill since I don't blindly bow down to Google like you?
        non-biased
    • RE: How evil is Google? Your Senators want to know.

      @Peter Perry Everyone always talks about the evil of Google, and the responses on this blog are downright pathetic (probably heap loads of OSX fans). Google took a version of Linux and mainstreamed it (so Linux fans should be happy). Google took the search experience and unified it without all the crap we used to have. People have a choice - you could go with any number of other search engines, but good luck finding what you're looking for. Bottom line? People choose Google. They're doing good at what they're doing.<br><br>Has everyone forgotten what searching the internet was like prior to Google? Altavista the hell out of a subject and hope that you got something remotely related so you could possibly search the links on that site to take you where you wanted to go? Or how about AO-HELL? You all looking to go back to that experience? Are you guys all frackin brain damaged?<br><br>"Google sells your information." Idiocracy rules the modern OSX user, doesn't it? Google gives away targeted, anonymous data for statistical usage and market awareness (just like EVERY other company in this line of business). I have Google everything, and I've never received any targeted spam. I'm guessing that those freaks in their basements wearing their Apple logo encrusted tinfoil hats have never actually used a Google product?<br><br>I'm more of a Microsoft fan for operating systems, but I own Google products (Android, etc) and appreciate them for what they are. I also appreciate Google (the search engine) for what it is, as well as GMail and the countless other "evil (but free?)" products Google has afforded me.<br><br>But they are pushing competitors out? Are they? Are they REALLY? Does Bing not exist? Does Yahoo not exist? Is Apple being forcefully pushed out of the market? Should I bring up the fact that Apple is in countless lawsuits with multiple other companies over patenting a rectangle inside a rectangle (LITERALLY)??? Or how about Apple employees impersonating police officers to fix their blunder in entrusting their prototype to a bar monkey?<br><br>Maybe people need a life. Or maybe they need to stop attaching logos, hype, and the status quo to their persona and start thinking for themselves. I know it's a pipe dream, but maybe someday people will see the companies for what they are, what they are really doing, and what they provide instead of wearing their fruit colored glasses, eh?

      And maybe, just maybe, Senators should find better things to do than worry about what search engine people CHOOSE (remember, it's a choice when you choose which search engine to attach your browser to).
      thoiness
      • RE: How evil is Google? Your Senators want to know.

        @thoiness Well said!!!!
        sbf95070
      • RE: How evil is Google? Your Senators want to know.

        @thoiness
        I concur.
        Sure is amazing how big google has gotten without selling a piece of software. They have broken Microsoft's model.
        cyrusfox
      • RE: How evil is Google? Your Senators want to know.

        @thoiness

        Very well said....Google rocks!!
        Jay E Court
      • Abusive comments don't win you points

        @thoiness it really doesn't matter what OS, computer vendor or other choices people are making. If you have a comment about the viability of Google's business model, share it. But please, don't start dragging other stuff into the conversation. It's unprofessional, childish and makes the anything else you say seem quite irrelevant, if not just plain stupid.
        greggwon@...
      • RE: How evil is Google? Your Senators want to know.

        @thoiness [i]But they are pushing competitors out? Are they? Are they REALLY? Does Bing not exist? Does Yahoo not exist? [/i]

        Then again, Apple existed when MS got their hands slapped too. The existence of a competing product or service is not always enough.

        Is Google Evil? Probably no more or less than any other overly large for profit company. I don't really trust any large corporation, but I do end up working with them anyway.
        Badgered
      • RE: How evil is Google? Your Senators want to know.

        @thoiness What does OSX have to do with any of this? That's an odd springboard for a rant on responses for a Google story.
        spstanley