Privacy issues continue to come up in conversations about Google’s data collection practices, with users concerned about what data is being mined and how that data is later used. While data is necessary for Google or other search engines to function, Google’s dominance as a search engine allows it to, essentially, dictate what users see and how they see it. In other words, if a website does not comply with Google’s policies, the site owner is unlikely to see it anywhere near the top of a shopper’s search results. In addition, Google’s very design allows it to collect an incredible variety of information about users and makes it virtually impossible for average users to avoid being tracked. With that being said, is Google really some sort of evil villain, or is the company more of a benevolent despot?
How Much Power Does Google Really Wield?
Google is clearly the most powerful of the search engines. Industry insiders estimate Google processes between three and four billion queries every day. Yahoo, Bing and Asia’s Baidu combined have fewer users than Google. That degree of dominance allows the organization to set policies defining how search engines are structured. It also puts them in a position to collect an enormous amount of data without users even realizing they are sharing information.
To be effective, a search engine must collect some data. If it didn’t, search results would be haphazard at best. However, Google admittedly goes far beyond analyzing what sites visitors go to and what they are likely to buy. Newer applications are so invasive users’ personal information, photos, travel habits, and other data are collected, often without users even realizing what is happening.
Are There Ways Users Can Avoid Being Tracked?
The short answer is yes. Users can take steps to minimize the digital trail they leave, but average users often don’t, as doing so would eliminate some conveniences. Online shopping is pervasive, with, for example, Amazon’s sales threatening to top $100 Billion this year, providing evidence users find the convenience worth some loss of privacy. However, Google’s tracking of email, travel habits, and other online personal data concerns a lot of users. At this point, the very nature of Google and online shopping makes it virtually impossible to eliminate tracking.
Where will Google tread next? With the company’s forays into other business venues, it’s uncertain where and how user data will be used in the future, but it is a certainty the net cast by Google’s collection practices will continue to expand unless actions are taken, at some level, to curb the organization’s insatiable appetite for information. So, Is Google Evil? There are many who would argue the company’s efforts need to be reined in, but others suggest data collection is valuable for both users and the search engines. The boundary between good and evil is yet to be determined but, until it is, users need to be more aware of how their personal information is being collected and used.