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The Googlization of Everything: (And Why We…

The Googlization of Everything: (And Why We Should Worry) (edition 2011)

by Siva Vaidhyanathan

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198759,376 (3.45)1
Title:The Googlization of Everything: (And Why We Should Worry)
Authors:Siva Vaidhyanathan
Info:University of California Press (2011), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 280 pages
Collections:Currently reading

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The Googlization of Everything (And Why We Should Worry) by Siva Vaidhyanathan


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The Googlization of Everything by Siva Vaidhyanathan looks at Google history and it's growing reach of services across the internet. The thesis is that Google is striving to control the world's access to the internet to harvest as much marketable data as possible.

Right off the bat, though, Vaidhyanathan approaches the different pieces of Google's services with a clear anti-Google agenda. With such negativity regardless of the evidence presented, it's hard to take any of his observations seriously.

The book first outlines the different services Google offers and how it uses the data it collects both through its robots and through user interaction. These observations, though, are done as an outsider — as a user of Google — without an effort to get Google to respond to perceived abuses. I suppose I am spoiled by the Google articles written by Barbara Quint.

The most interesting section is the examination of search usage by languages spoken. Google's saturation as a search index is highest in multi-lingual countries and amongst multi-language speakers. Google's flexibility of search in multiple and simultaneous languages makes it an invaluable tool.

The take away messages of The Googlization of Everything is that Google isn't as all present as the title implies. It does have its adopters — namely in multi-lingual countries like India, but it's not the world dominant behemoth you might think. ( )
  pussreboots | Jun 21, 2013 |
Interesting, provocative, and often quite disturbing. The author does a particularly fine job diuscussing issues of copyright, intellectual property, and privacy clearly and concisely. ( )
  Sullywriter | Apr 3, 2013 |
Google dominates the World Wide Web, bringing order out of chaos through its comprehensive indexing system, its brilliant PageRank algorithms, and its vast trove of archived data.

Our faith in Google as a business fulfilling a bold and audacious mission—“To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible”—is earned by its incomparable performance in the still untamed frontier that is the Internet. All too easily this translates into faith in Google as a benign force whose informal motto, “Don’t be evil,” seems to assure us that in fact it won’t be, can’t be evil.

But this presumed beneficence is not beyond question. Indeed, in view of the influence that Google exerts over our lives and our world, it must be questioned, and not with alarmist rhetoric but with a level, fact-based analysis. This is the thrust of Vaidhyanathan’s study of this corporate Titan and its place in a twenty-first-century experience of the information ecosystem.

Read the entire review in Peer to Peer, the magazine of the International Legal Technology Association. ( )
2 vote Meredy | Mar 3, 2012 |
This is a book about Google, but it is not intended to be an overview of the company’s history or its methods. Instead, it asks us to think about how and why Google operates the way that it does: why it has modified the services that it offers in China, why it would undertake projects like Google Books and Google Earth (and how it has responded to criticisms and legal action against those projects), and how the way that Google tailors search results for its users contributes to the “echo chamber” effect in our technological and media landscape. Vaidhyanathan never denies that Google has done a lot of things very well – it has done them so well, in fact, that it’s all but unimaginable that Google’s services could be curtailed or replaced by other organizations in the future. By innovating so much about the way information is managed so quickly, Google has kept itself at the forefront of debates about net neutrality or privacy. As a result, it has often been allowed to set the terms of those debates, while regulatory agencies, foreign governments, and its users race to catch up.

In this book (and in other pieces that he has written about Google), Vaidhyanathan encourages us to pause. The questions we ask should not only be about whether Google is right to take on the projects that it does, or how it should be allowed to pursue them, but whether, as he puts it, we should “entrust our collective knowledge to a company that has been around for less than fifteen years” without developing other options. As this question suggests, Vaidhyanathan is most interested in arguing for a public counterpart to Google’s information management projects. The book opens with his investigation of the “public failure” to take on the management of the web, which allowed Google to gain the momentum that it did. It ends with the call for a “Human Knowledge Project” that would digitize and index the contents of the world’s best libraries, funded and managed by “a group of concerned governments” instead of a corporation.

While the Human Knowledge Project is new, much of what Vaidhyanathan says about public failure has been said before. As another reviewer has pointed out, his characterization of corporations as solely profit-motivated and his faith that governments will manage resources better, and with more democratic input, are reductive. It would have been better to address the ways in which governments are currently ill equipped to manage such a project, or to acknowledge that corporations don’t always act on the short-term interests of their shareholders, at the very least. Even though I agree wholeheartedly with Vaidhyanathan about the importance of the commons, these broad characterizations brought out my inner devil’s advocate. If I reacted that way, I don’t imagine that he encouraged readers who don’t share his outlook to reconsider their opinions about a public trust – a wasted opportunity.

His treatment of privacy issues, on the other hand, is subtler, newer, better supported, and more engaging. Using specific examples – Google’s default settings, its executives’ (repetitive) statements about the “trade-offs” between privacy and better search results, and the company’s responses to subpoenas – he fleshes out the company’s apparent working definition of privacy. All of these examples suggest that to Google, privacy appears to be “something that can be counted, divided, or traded” – as in, “I […] give Google three of my privacy points in exchange for 10 percent better service.” But privacy can’t be about the kinds or quantities of information we surrender, Vaidhyanathan explains. By such a definition, people who post their personal information or hundreds of photos online are voluntarily giving up large portions of their privacy, and people whose Facebook pages include everything from their sexual orientation to where they just ate lunch have relinquished it almost entirely. Instead, he argues that privacy lies the power to make those decisions. Posting such things yourself doesn’t give you more or less privacy – but if it is Google that decides to publish a street view of your home, and refuses to remove it, that does.

This chapter alone made the book well worth the read to me. I just wish that he had unpacked other arguments, like those for a public trust, as carefully and convincingly. ( )
  ScattershotSteph | Jan 22, 2012 |
Google knows us better than we know ourselves. True story: my husband was answering a question from my son about the Large Hadron Collider (the source of the hottest temperatures we know of in the universe!) and started typing into Google search on his iPhone. By the time he finished “large,” the first suggestion—the first--was “large hadron collider,” a search term he could not recall using before. That’s freaky. And cool.

Vaidhyanathan argues that we’ve been distracted by the coolness and the freakiness from asking fundamental questions about Google’s proper role in organizing the world’s information. He argues that Google filled a vacuum created by public failure, a failure of government orchestrated by private interests in order to get the power to do what they wanted, often worse than government would have done. The political dynamic is: starve government and appoint incompetents (e.g., Hurricane Katrina), then use that to prove that government should be cut further. Meanwhile, people who are wealthy and informed enough to do so encouraged to choose “responsible” corporate providers like The Body Shop even though that doesn’t help all the animals/people caught up in producing the average unit of shampoo etc. Consumption, he argues, is not a substitute for citizenship, and by punting to private actors like Google we’re making a huge mistake of governance even if Google is (currently) well-intentioned. Eric Schmidt of Google thus preaches the same deregulatory bunk that got us the banking crisis.

We trust Google because it seems magic and we think we’re good searchers, even though we have no idea what the Google secret sauce is and most of us aren’t really good at distinguishing paid from organic results. Vaidhyanathan acknowledges that Google’s done a lot of good things, but there are also costs. Google’s withdrawal from China increased the scope of the Chinese government’s control over information (though he also argues that Google’s presence wouldn’t have been transformative either; prefiguring The Net Delusion, which I’m in the middle of now).

It’s a disturbing and often persuasive argument. Vaidhyanathan’s few unforced errors (for some reason, he thinks it’s not easy to exclude particular search engines from indexing your site and that you will have to make an up/down decision on them all together; it’s true that many people may not know about robot exclusion headers, but every explanation of them I’ve ever seen made it clear that you can exclude or allow particular bots at will), don’t go to the core of his argument. Unsurprisingly, I’m in greatest disagreement with him over Google Books: he says that offering the settlement makes Google’s fair use argument harder because Google conceded that it couldn’t do what it wanted without copyright owners’ permission, but this is really wrong, both in general and in specific. In general, we want to encourage settlement negotiations and therefore don’t treat them as admissions of wrongdoing, and in specific, the now-rejected settlement went much farther than Google’s initial scanning, as to which the fair use argument remains the same. He also says that the corpus hasn’t proven its value to research, which is (a) pretty early to be making that call, and (b) inconsistent with what I’ve read even with the early results. That said, he makes a good case that a government-scanned library could be more secure and open than Google Books proposed to be.

More generally, Vaidhyanathan is weirdly willing to accept the idea that companies have no responsibility to anyone but their shareholders—not their employees, their customers, or their society—and I think that’s a failure of imagination and history just as much as the assumption that government can’t do big things is. The idea that shareholder profits are all that matter is historically specific and economically catastrophic; “don’t be evil” could and should really mean something for corporations as well as for governments. ( )
1 vote rivkat | May 14, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
Vaidhyanathan's book starts from the premise that Google, despite its success, has always been a company much like any other. Since Google, at least by one measure, is the fastest-growing corporation in history, Vaidhyanathan has his task cut out for him.
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Unlike other books on the history of Google, this is a sharp attack on some of Googles initiatives and a broad rumination about its impact on all of our lives from a young blogger and tech expert.

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University of California Press

Two editions of this book were published by University of California Press.

Editions: 0520258827, 0520272897

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