Google has been accused of being the Mecca of misinformation on the internet today.
Google has come a long way since its establishment in September 1998. While conventional search engines ranked results by counting how many times the search terms appeared on the page, Google theorized about a better system that analyzed the relationships among websites. A mere improvisation to an existing system is what started this tech behemoth. Amid controversies regarding misinformation, alleged data manipulation, and censoring there are two questions, ‘Is Google censoring search results?’ and ‘How reliable is Google as a search engine today?’
Google now owns over 90% of the internet search market. Meaning 9 out of 10 people use Google to gather information making it one of the most powerful companies in the world. We are now at a point where Googling something has become a synonym for searching something on the internet. But like Spiderman was told, ‘With great power, comes great responsibility’. Has Google been doing its thing responsibility? Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like it.
Google adhering to government censor requests
In the last few years, Google has found itself at the center of many problems. While it prides itself on being a free independent information technology organization, there have been far too many instances of the company bending to various govt’s requests to censor content and effectively stifle free speech.
It is common knowledge that China had banned the use of Google back in 2010. Google was approached by China to design a search engine, especially for Chinese citizens. However, Google had a falling out with the Chinese government and refused to obey Chinese regulations when it came to the design of the search engine. In 2018, TheIntercept revealed that Google was going to return to China and was willing to obey the Chinese government this time. It was developing a search engine that censored results on democracy, human rights, religion, and protests. This search engine was called Dragonfly. This plan was eventually dropped when this information came to light and Google’s move was widely condemned from all quarters including Google’s own employees.
Apart from China, Google has also had trysts with other countries. Argentina, once made Google remove content exposing a government official for sexual harassment. Brazil, in April 2017, made Google remove blog posts and search results that criticized court judges and exposed fraud. Germany asked Google to remove a Google Maps review in 2009 involving two government officials working with child protective services. The officials are said to have sexually abused two children.
Google infringes on free speech
In 2019 Donald Trump had accused YouTube of bringing down two of his advertisements for no reason whatsoever. Later, YouTube merely responded by saying that the advertisements were against their company policy. YouTube refused to provide more information about how the ads breached “company policy” or which specific policy was breached. It also denied accusations saying that the advertisement was removed for political reasons.
In more recent news, Google also gathered a ton of negative press when it demonetized two right-wing blogs called The Federalist and ZeroHedge. Meghan McCain tweeted: ‘Google is now trafficking in digital fascism. How soon until all conservative speech and publications are completely banned?’ After the fiasco, Google tweeted that it never demonetized the blogs in the first place.
In order to tackle this spread of misinformation regarding climate change, the U.S. House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis wrote a letter addressed to Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, requesting the company to take action against climate disinformation
“YouTube has been driving millions of viewers to climate misinformation videos every day, a shocking revelation that runs contrary to Google’s important missions of fighting misinformation and promoting climate action,” wrote Kathy Castor, chair of the committee.′ “Last September, you proudly declared that ‘sustainability has become one of Google’s core values from our earliest days,’ and announced ‘the biggest corporate purchase of renewable energy in history.’”
Google then took things too far when it blocked every website under the .co.cc subdomain. This comprised of over 11 million websites belonging to a South Korean company. This company allowed its users to create free websites and over 15,000 websites for as little as a thousand dollars.
If you think that a probe into Google can simply solve all these problems and provide clarity then you must know that Google’s search algorithm is a closely guarded trade secret. Robert Epstien, an established author with a Ph.D. from Harvard University has spent years trying to reverse engineer this algorithm. He said that Google had the ability to rig entire elections through search engine manipulation in his article titled ‘The search engine manipulation effect.’
Google knows a lot about you
The word Google has become synonymous with the phrase ‘looking for information’ which portrays our level of dependency on that platform. It not only runs its own search engine but that search engine runs on its own browser, Google Chrome. If you use Google on your smartphone and subscribe to location services, your phone sends the following information about you to Google every few minutes:
- The exact location of your smartphone within a few feet
- The speed of movement of the phone
- The altitude of the phone (i.e., which floor of a building the phone is on)
- The surrounding temperature of the phone
- The number of steps taken by the person carrying the phone
This information is communicated to Google servers 14 times per hour, 24 hours a day. In addition to this, a quick glance at ‘Activity History’ shows us that Google practically records every button pressed on your phone throughout the day, not to mention passwords and keystrokes.
Why should you care?
Google has enjoyed the cream of the cake, all of the power with none of the responsibility. Information on the internet for reasons of freedom and right to access should not be censored. You as the public should decide what to read and what not to. Tech giants have been mining user information to censor the internet more heavily in order to promote several other agendas. These political aspects should not ruin user experience when it comes to the internet.
In today’s digital age when everyone is heavily reliant on the internet, no multinational corporation should have the right to tell you what is meant for your eyes and what isn’t. Information and access to information should be free for all irrespective of political leanings and opinions. Luckily, all hope is not yet lost. There are companies that are willing to sidestep this current model and protect user privacy.
What can you do about it?
There are various other search engines out there that do not collect any data. These search engines also provide uncensored and unbiased results and give you exactly what you’re looking for without distorting information.
Some alternative search engines are mentioned below –
DuckDuckGo and elliot! are said to be one of the best private search engines since they are completely uncensored and do not record any information such as browsing history, social media profiles, emails to give you personalized search results, unlike Google.
An alternative to Google Chrome
The Tor browser is best suited for discreet browsing and improvised searches using the aforementioned search engines. Tor also has an inbuilt VPN. Tor is for people who value privacy above everything else. Earlier known as The Onion Router, Tor is a framework that routes your internet traffic through multiple distributed nodes. This ensures that the information received by the website you are browsing is encrypted on multiple levels and it is almost impossible for trackers to track you. This browser would be a much better alternative to Google Chrome.
Your privacy is something that should be protected so that you control what you see or absorb on your devices and not an algorithm that constantly mines your data. The reason for this is merely disguised as a better user experience but there is nothing preventing a corporation from influencing mass public opinion by showing you information that might manipulate your decisions.