Google is NOT your friend. Never has been, never will be.

Ok, I PROMISE that I wrote, saved and put this article into the ‘to write soon’ queue before I ran across this. Furthermore, I promise that I’ll tie this into education and teaching our kids before I am all said-and-done.

A story on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday prompted me to queue this piece for finishing in the near future. I should clarify - I had already been tossing around the whole story involving Google and current events. Listening to NPR locked it in for me, however.

You may be aware of the current situation where Google has been asked by the federal government to provide a certain amount of search history for evidence regarding child pornography. Google refused to do so and has wound up in a lawsuit. On what appeared to be the opposite side of their fight to protect digital rights, Google partnered willfully with the Chinese government to filter results on the Chinese version of Google. You can test this out yourself: Google America (results for Tiananmen square), and Google China (results for Tiananmen square). You may not be able to read Chinese, but do you see the difference in the results? Look for that magic total results number in the upper right hand corner of the Google results screen.

Initial reactions to Google’s apparent split response to online rights sparked many to wonder why they would work to ‘protect’ digital rights in one place and inhibit them elsewhere. This is where I firmly believe that the NPR story and the article published in ZDNet are right on target. Google is looking out for nothing but themselves in both cases. They are protecting their own search results for fear of releasing important pieces of the Google ‘recipe’, and protecting their relationship with the Chinese government because, heck, it is the biggest market in the world. Their response is consistent, and I would predict that this will be the continued response from Google in related issues revolving around digital rights in the future. If you take a look at the blog of Robert X. Cringley you might get a glimpse of why. Google makes money on advertising, and what they are poised to provide for the relatively ineffective mass marketing provided by radio and television is specific, spot marketing to individuals at any time and any place. (Remember Minority Report?) So, I sound like a conspiracy theorist. However, before you throw me out the window, I would advise that you take a look at the article that I first linked to. It advises you of your legal rights to all of the times you have searched, explored and grabbed anything via Google. In short, they have your data, and there are no laws (like there are –minimally - with email) that prevent them from using it however they like. Google is a corporation that makes a LOT of money. That’s what they do. Every time we search and use the service that they provide, we are making their ability to market to us more robust; making their ability to collect data about who we are and what we do easier; and making their ability to make money a piece of cake.

I promised I would tie this into education: We are in a tough time, as teachers. It is hard enough to teach our students to be fluent in digital literacy, to find information and then to verify it. I believe that we need to, at the very least, consider the ramifications of all of the data that is being collected, and how that plays into the decisions we make when we search and mine the internet. Why does Google provide this information to us? What happens when we compare it with other search engines? Do corporate motives get in the way of providing information in a non-biased manner? We are very far behind, I believe, in teaching our students to be fluent in digital literacy, and just because they can navigate the internet, text message on cell phones and play interactive networked games doesn’t mean they are fluent in digital literacy. We need to push forward in questioning the accuracy and validity of the way we construct our knowledge (through the use of Google , in this specific case) and teach our students to do the same.

You know those handy little grocery story cards that fit on your keychain? That barcode gets you a discount, but it is also a digital leash that tracks your every purchase and compiles them all into trends that you may not even be aware of. Letting corporations know private information about us wouldn’t be so bad if we knew they would use it appropriately - but power and money are a dangerous thing. So for me, every time I click ’search’ on that wonderfully clean and easy to use Google search screen, I feel my digital leash get a little bit more taught, and try to remember that Google is not providing the information that I am returned, simply out of the goodness of their hearts.

They might be on the path to make a lot of money, but I, for one, certainly don’t think Google is anywhere close to finding where the left lane ends.

3 Responses to “Google is NOT your friend. Never has been, never will be.”

  1. Peggy Says:

    Excellent! I have you bookmarked!

  2. astephens Says:

    Here is another interesting article about Google…

  3. jfroese Says:

    Thanks for sharing the article, Angela… It just amazes me how important a single search is now-a-days. What concerns me even more, is that Google’s motives are clearly set on profit. Where there is money, there are moral decisions to make - particularly in regards to our global platform in today’s economy. AND, when money is involved in moral decision making, the outcome is (more often than not) not what I think is ‘good’.

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