America (and much of the industrial world) has become dependent on the internet – and that is a good thing – at least it was. The opening of the internet, in essence, democratized access to information. People were no longer dependent on an historically biased source for news – the liberal dominated mainstream print and broadcast media. In order to maximize the use of the new information resource, information needed to be gathered, algorithms needed to be created, and users needed to be encouraged to use the internet and a way to pay for it all needed to be created – remember that the use of the internet is free and most of the search engines are likewise free.
The tech companies that thrived were those who were able to mine the data collected and demonstrate how to target users for advertising purposes. You may remember that Mark Zuckerberg, when asked by Congress, described Facebook as being in the advertising business – not the social media business. Chief among these data gatherers is Google.
Alphabet, Inc. (GOOG), the parent company of Google and a host of other “internet information providers” is big. No, I mean really big. Its current market value based upon current stock prices is nearly $850 Billion. Its gross domestic (GDP) exceeds all but a handful of nations in the world. According to statistics gathered by Smart Insights for 2017, Google dominates internet search engines transacting nearly three quarters of all searches with Microsoft and Yahoo a distant second and third and account for most of the rest of the searches. Among other companies that Alphabet, Inc. owns or controls are YouTube, Android, Inc. (the operating system used by most smart phones and tablets not sold by Apple. Inc,), Gmail, Google Maps, Picasso, Zagat (restaurant reviews), Google Wallet (electronic payment web service) and Google Earth. This is just a smattering of Alphabet’s international ownership. It has been estimated that Alphabet acquires at least one company, product or application a week.
While Google may have begun its corporate life as an internet search engine it has long since become an information gatherer, custodian, and manipulator. So valuable is the information gathered by Google that it does not sell it, or even rent it, to others. Those who wish to use the database amassed by Google are asked to identify the purpose for which the data will be used and thereafter Google will apply those parameters to its database and, thereafter, apply it. For instance, if the use is for commercial advertising Google will actually place the advertising that best corresponds to the target audience. It’s complicated, and unless you are brilliant mathematician you are unlikely to understand exactly how it works – in essence it is “geek paradise.” Suffice it to say that since the search engines require complicated algorithms and the response to requests (advertising, etc.) for use of the data gathered requires complicated algorithms there is a substantial amount of manipulation of the data gathered.
That manipulation of data not only provides pathways to information, but it provides prioritization of those passageways – and therein lies the problem. Virtually every web search results in literally thousand of responses. In order to read all of them you would spend a day perusing each website that is listed. For instance, search Google for Larry Huss, Oregon – there are over 115,000 responses. The list goes on for pages and in it you will find references to my columns in OregonCatalyst, comments by others about my columns, articles about my service as a vice-president for US WEST, personal information, and then it devolves into articles about other people named Huss, other people named Larry, etc. but right smack dab on the first page of the information, the tenth referenced article, is reference about Gov. Kate Brown (D-OR) which has absolutely nothing to do with me or anything I have done. It’s a political ad. It was purchased and was manipulated into the data search. Recently the European Union fined Google $2.7 Billion for manipulating their search engine. According to a June 27, 2017, article in Record:
“The European Union slapped Google with a record-breaking $2.7 billion fine on Tuesday, charging that the U.S. tech giant had manipulated search results in a way that gives an ‘illegal advantage’ to its own services while harming the company’s rivals.
“The punishment — announced at a press conference by Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s leading competition official — follows a seven-year investigation into Google and requires the company to change its practices within 90 days or face additional penalties.
“At issue for EU regulators is Google’s comparison shopping service, which Vestager believes the company had boosted unfairly by giving it’prominent placement’ in search results — all the while having ‘demoted rival comparison shopping services.”
The point being is that Google can and has manipulated its search engine algorithms for a variety of reasons. And those reasons can be for purposes other than advertising and can include politics and protectionism. Google leans toward the liberal/progressive side of politics. Their executives have donated millions of dollars to Democrat politicians, including $350,000 to former President Barack Obama and $1.6 million to Hillary Clinton.
But here is the kicker. All of that data that is collected, stored and manipulated by Google is provided free to them by you. The same is true for Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and almost every other “social media” provider. In return for a free service, you give them carte blanche to pry into and use your most private thoughts and actions. If you search for a recipe for blueberry pie, they have it. If you search for the causes of a rash on various parts of your body, they have it. If you are curious as to who Stormy Daniels is, they have it. And they use that information in whatever ways they want. Google read your emails to obtain data for advertising – although it announced that it will no longer do that, it possesses the ability to do it – just like Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo. And Google utilizes the data collected from all of the companies, partnerships and applications it has acquired over the years to boost is massive data base.
The creation of “clouds” has given Google access to information that was formerly stored internally on your computer or downloaded to a flashdrive. And despite all of the assurances of protection against hacking by private individuals it still goes on – just ask the Hollywood stars (including Jennifer Lawrence, Ariana Grande and Kate Upton) who had their intimate photos and videos downloaded and released over the internet.
J. Edgar Hoover, the infamous former head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was noted for responding to a call from a member of Congress by telling the member that he (Mr. Hoover) had the member’s file right there on his desk before they began the conversation. Even more complete files on our politicians are available to Google at the stroke of a key.
The point being that the internet, and the inattention of Congress, have allowed the accumulation of information on citizens that would have been decried as criminal a decade ago. And despite rising concerns the politicians have done nothing. And they should.
The country’s antitrust laws were initially designed to prevent monopolization of markets. But that isn’t what is involved here. What we have here is a monopolization of the free access to information. That sounds strange doesn’t it – a monopolization of something that is provided free? But the effects are exactly the same as monopolization of the petroleum industry (Standard Oil), film (Kodak), communications (AT&T), tobacco (American Tobacco Company), and steel (Carnegie Steel now U.S. Steel). When a single player so dominates a market that their market share becomes inelastic (immune to price changes) it is deemed to be anti-competitive. In this instance the Google so dominates the internet search market that the amount of information demanded from its users has become inelastic and thus anti-competitive.
I don’t want to see the government regulate these internet giants because the surest way to make a bad situation worse it to give government oversight. We have already witnessed the willingness of politicians to corrupt government agencies for political gain: the FBI burying Hillary Clinton’s scandals, the FBI advancing an investigation of President Donald Trump solely on the basis of fallacious and salacious dossier financed by Ms. Clinton, the attempted muzzling of conservative advocacy groups by the IRS, the burying of the gun-running scheme to drug cartels by the Obama administration and the stone-walling of information requests for the Iran nuclear deal. No we don’t want to let the government anywhere near Google or any of the other internet information companies. The simplest solution would be to simply ban the use of data collected from users for any purpose other than retail merchandising without the written express, annual consent of the users. It’s just that simple – if you want to give Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. unfettered access and use of your private information, just tell them in writing.
We would not have tolerated this behavior from the postal service or the telecommunication industry. There is no reason to tolerate it now.