Last week Kate Dailey posed a question on BBC News Magazine Online: “Is it possible to quit Google?“. Featuring the thoughts of three computer professionals trying to part ways with Google, the article raised concerns over the Google group’s privacy agreements that even EU officials have suggested are too invasive, but is Google really that bad?
In a word: No. Without the data-mining, data-crunching and processing that Google has spent years building its reputation on, the internet wouldn’t be as advanced as it now is and equally neither would our daily lives. What Google does may lead the way – certainly in terms of numbers – but it isn’t alone in wanting to collect information about us, process it and then use it to improve our user experience. It’s rife, not just on the web but also offline too. Your bank will use fraud monitoring systems to track what, when and where you spend, process that and then flag up an alert if your ‘pattern’ changes. Your store loyalty card does the same. Tracking what you buy, processing it and sending you vouchers for similar things, trying to tempt you back in, to link more data and more processing about you, into their systems. Same intrusion? Same tracking? Same complaints? As Google themselves are always at pains to point out, they don’t sell users’ personal information, they merely use it in-house. That’s not something others online or offline could realistically claim.
A lot of the anti-Google speak is based on their sheer dominance of the market, number one and two in search land (Google Search and YouTube) is massive in the digital world but they have achieved that from nothing by just being good at what they do, very good. Much criticism is also based on the founding values of the internet: Freedom and everybody as equals. Nice values to respect and uphold but the internet is a much different beast nowadays, driving economies across the globe and still continuing to connect those on the periphery at a tremendous rate.
We all owe a great deal to Google, especially those of us who find themselves using the internet daily whether we consciously use Google products or not.
Part of Google’s success as a search engine is its own success. How many of us have simply typed a website into the Google search box instead of typing the full URL in the address bar? Google is now the lazy man’s bookmarks. Google knows that too, and based on their processing of our data, is trying to help us to find ‘exactly’ what we are looking for, via innovations such as social search, etc.
Whatever their knowledge, use or understanding of the internet, 99.9% of people who have surfed have probably used Google. They know it. Even people who haven’t used the internet know of it. That’s not a bad thing. That’s good branding but that is also being good at what they do too and providing solutions to problems sometimes we didn’t even know existed. As a business Google should and will serve you on so many levels, via so many channels. For the former customer looking to get back in touch “after that great work you did a couple of years ago” for them, Google offers the way of finding you if your office has moved or your number changed.
Google not only re-unites but it also helps find new customers. It is no fluke that SEO and PPC are now abbreviations known to almost every business person and wannabe in the developed world. Google helped drive that, and like it or not, Google lead the way in each of them. That’s technology. It’s what they do and it’s what they do best. Yet, it’s helping hand for businesses needn’t even be that techie. Potential customers who see your print advertisements, see your office sign, or perhaps just get recommended via word of mouth, will more often than not simply “Google it”. It’s a phrase that is almost a caricature of itself now, simply because it works. Google can even help connect you to would-be customers who have never heard of you, just searching for a solution to a problem that you have been clever enough to cover in your content that has then been trawled, crawled and listed in Google’s massive data system.
So while privacy online should be a concern and you should always be encouraged to read the small print, we shouldn’t see Google as the ultimate dark force to be evaded. Interestingly, in the article referred to at the start, the attempts by the interviewees to de-Google themselves seemed to fail. One of the three interviewees even admits to now being “a total Google geek”. Perhaps only when you truly look at the impact of what it does and how it goes about it, do you really appreciate the fact that without Google we would be lost. So if you and I (with a fairly high level of internet knowledge) would be lost, where would that leave our customers and furthermore where would that leave our businesses?
What do you think? Do you agree? Let us know.