The idea that Google might be becoming a national threat is what struck me when I read a Washington Post column by Zephyr Teachout, who currently is an associate professor of law at Fordham University. (As a side note, Teachout would seem to be an ideal name for a teacher.)
She makes a compelling argument that Google has reached a point where it no longer allows dissent outside the company — though, given the recent firing of a Google engineer, that may be true inside the firm as well.
Apparently, Google has been funding an organization that is set up to fight monopolies, but when that organization called it out, Google allegedly orchestrated the termination of the group. Given that it appears much of the money that used to go to fund journalism now goes to Google, and also that Google has been found by the European Union to behave badly, having Google use its impressive might to kill dissent is problematic.
I’ll close with my product of the week: a nice-looking wood veneer cover for your high-end laptop, smartphone, tablet or game machine.
Google vs. Open Markets
It kind of amazes me how often I’m seeing this now. A firm funds an effort against a large competitor, then grows, and finds that effort has become focused on it. Back in the 1990s, Sun, Google and Oracle aggressively pushed the EU to go after Microsoft with significant success. Sun eventually went under; Oracle tried to buy the company, only to find it was under painful scrutiny by the same group.
Google recently got fined, in much the same way Microsoft did, for similar bad behavior. Companies often don’t get that unless you buy the politicians, a political organization is free to do to them what it wanted the organizations to do to their competitors. Some of these folks likely should learn the old phrase “what comes around, goes around” — and that using a government agency is almost always a dual-edged sword.
In this case, it looks as though Google was funding Open Markets to get its support in going after major competitors — likely Microsoft, but it could have been Amazon as well, or both. However, when the EU fined it, the organization that was focused on stopping firms like Google from misusing their monopoly power called Google out. Then, according to the column, Google got everyone fired.
Now the New American president did denounce this story and claimed that the head of the organization was fired because he wasn’t open or collegial. Still, having been on the other side of this type of activity, that often is the language that is used when a researcher, when pressured by a major funding entity, is fired for refusing to toe the line. In my own case, I resigned — but the timing alone would be highly suspicious.
The Real Danger
Now Teachout makes some excellent points tied to Google shutting down dissent, but I don’t think this is the big problem at all. We are now seeing a pattern of abuse of power — first with Google’s heavy ties to the Obama administration, then with the EU fine, and most recently with the move to eliminate a group that spoke out against its power.
Folks have been calling out Google’s dangerous ethics for a while now. One of the most interesting accusations is that it altered search results to favor Hillary Clinton (didn’t appear to have helped much, however).
By the way, I searched on both Bing and Google for “Eric Schmidt scandal” and got the same sordid results. That guy really gets around, suggesting that Google either isn’t doing this now, at least for him, or it really doesn’t like its chairman much (or maybe Google is proud of that behavior, which is really concerning when it comes to ethics).
Google’s financial resources are almost unmatched. It controls most of what you see and hear on the Web, it has been highlighted as a potential kingmaker in the past, and it apparently has been funding groups that otherwise might speak out against it — and, at least in this instance, it may be ensuring that anyone who might flag its bad behavior becomes unemployed.
Wrapping Up: Power Corrupts, Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely
When a firm like Google gets the kind of power Google has, it typically misbehaves. There is an impressive list of firms that were broken up, shut down or massively fined to get them to behave once they reached a fraction of the power that Google now has. I think it is both fascinating and incredibly dangerous that firms that initially seem to want to break the monopoly power of another then use their win to create an even bigger problem.
One final thought: If you search for “Trump scandal” on both Bing and Google, you will see a difference. Both show highly negative results, as you’d expect, but there are some positive stories on the first page of the Bing search, while Google has none of that. (If you try this yourself, you’ll see no Fox News and a lot of Mother Jones on Google, while you’ll see a bit of Fox and a little Mother Jones on Bing. It looks a ton more balanced.)
We live in dangerous times. Increasingly, the information we receive is curated by others, and if those others continue to trend toward evil, we eventually will be totally screwed. Hmm… given the world as it is, I may need to reconsider the word “eventually.” Google may be, or perhaps already is, a national threat.
I like to one-up my peers, so at the AMD event last week I pulled out my Surface Laptop to astonished looks. My laptop looked very different from theirs, and I proceeded to tell the following story: I said, “You know the Surface folks make up a special laptop for Bill, and this time they decided to use wood, but Bill doesn’t really like wood, so they asked me if I wanted it and I, of course, said “yes.” Then after a flurry of envious comments, I came clean and told them that I’d used Toast to create a veneer cover for my laptop, and that really is what happened.
I worry a bit about wood, but aluminum is soft as well and I take good care of my hardware, so this thing still looks as good as when I first installed the wood cover. I now have a laptop that looks very different from anyone else’s, and the thing is, Toast makes covers for most of the major high-end laptop offerings, including Apple’s.
Personally, I’d prefer something a tad higher-tech, like carbon fiber, but right now the offerings are in a variety of woods and they don’t just apply to laptops either. You can get them for high-end smartphones, Xbox and PlayStation 4.
The cost is around US$70 for a laptop top, $34 for the bottom, and $24 if you want to do the inside (I wouldn’t, given how much wear you’ll put on the wrist rests). You apply the veneer yourself, and you do have to be careful to line up the parts correctly. It isn’t hard, but a steady hand helps a ton. Make sure you pre-fit the parts — otherwise, you might put them on upside down. So, for about $100, I got a custom version of my laptop and pulled a prank on my peers. As a result, the Toast veneer is my product of the week.