This is an immensely political question which has really nothing at all to do with technology.
As a user of the internet and of Google, I do wonder, day in and day out, about the power of the information they’re accumulating. These topics–the competitive landscape and the right to be forgotten –merely scratch the surface of many other issues we should be thinking about.
When I put my address in Google and I can see my house, then and there, it worries me. When I put my name in it and realize how much they know about me, it scares me. The amount of information about “us”companies the likes of Google are accumulating is misunderstood, at best, and in my books, information equates power. Today Google is a “nice”company, eager to comply with the laws, be green, relaxed and do the right thing. But things change –a simple change of powers within the company could change this attitude; and suddenly, we may find ourselves with a private company that has more information about us than the NSA does. And since it’s a private corporation, there are no House committees that can be called upon for a government review. Who will tell Google how they can or cannot use that information? Who will police their activities
We need to start, today, to set some limits as to how this information is and can be used. We may discuss a difference between corporations and individuals, private corporations and public ones, criminals or non criminals (watch out for witchhunts); but in the end, we must find a way to “watch”what data companies such as Google are collecting and, more importantly, what they’re doing with that information. Not just what they’re displaying as a result of our searches, but what else they’re already, or could potentially, be doing with it.
And yes, the results of a search have to be guaranteed to be fair and unbiased. A company like Google could easily influence our choices, our habits and even our political choices, by skewing the search results in one direction or another. They themselves may not even have realized yet the power they have; but think about it–China has banned Google and has created its own equivalent. Why do you think they’ve done that? Because they clearly recognize the power hidden (or not so anymore) in the results of a search, and how this can easily sway public opinions in any direction.
So should Google be regulated as a public utility? If this means in economic terms, I’m not so convinced. I don’t think we should be involved in what the market is willing to pay for an ad on Google or Bing.
But if this means how they should be returning the search results; if it means that they must be fair and give space to everyone –then I think we should put serious considerations into that thought, because we want to avoid, from the onset, the possibility that companies like Google may be able to swing results in ways that favor them, before we lose control over the whole issue altogether.
Before they start moving results in favor of politicians who might be willing to “close an eye”, and we find ourselves with a government structured by Google! Sounds dramatic? I don’t think it’s that far from the truth, really. Might not be today’s Google; but, as I said above, things –and people – change over time. And Google isn’t a live entity; it’s a corporation, whose behavior and actions are dictated by those who run the corporation, humans. And humans often succumb to the lure of power.
I’m very glad that Europeans are already understanding the dangers. Here in the US, we seem to be too trusting, and too eager to empower. Europeans have already witnessed, throughout the centuries, what this might lead to. And they aren’t willing to repeat it any time soon.
Perhaps we should learn from them, adopt a more cautious and watchful stance. Not just of the NSA, but also of those private corporations that are so large that they can, quite literally, control our lives.