Nineteen years ago,it started as a PhD thesis by two ambitious Stanford students . And now, it’s a modern day utility that we can’t live without. Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin had a clear mission: to organize the world’s information. It seemed ambitious during its inception, but now, it’s a mundane reality, starting as Google Search, to Gmail, Maps, Google Plus, Android and more. They restructured their company to include the now parent company Alphabet.
But, Search remains one of Alphabet’s core revenue contributors and target for lawsuits by the EU and competitors like Microsoft. They claim that Google uses practices that leverage certain links to a higher ranking for more profits. To understand this better, let’s look at how Google Search works, which has numerous algorithms powering it.
The original algorithm called PageRank, was determined by various factors such as the domain’s age and trust or social media presence. It received many updates but only few had drastic impacts on how consumers access the engine’s data.
The Florida and Austin updates were the first and they algorithmically eliminated spammy webpages and those that were created using keyword stuffing, which ranked weblinks based on the number of times the words in a search query was mentioned.
NoFollow was an update that combats spam and outbound link quality, links you would reach after clicking a Google search result. Personalised search started Google Search’s privacy reducing trend as it scanned your web history to give more relevant search results while the universal search update integrated traditional search results with News, Video and Images. The Attribution and Panda update cracked down on spammy pages with disproportionately higher proportion of ads. Another important update was how rankings would vary for mobile friendly websites, which is more important than it seems due to 2017’s 4.77 billion mobile users.
Now that you’ve understood the basics of how it works, let’s see how they breach user privacy. The latest accusation is how their algorithms promote their shopping app Google Shopping, increasing profits and establishing market dominance.
Google’s other top revenue generating services, AdSense and Android are being investigated, raising important questions on our privacy with Google and if it’s really “free”.
Our privacy is not safe as millions of private Gmail accounts were hacked and sold on the Dark web. Scary, right? This happened despite Google’s countless privacy measures, including SMS and two step verifications. Also, Google can access ALL your web usage data and their latest messaging app Google Allo accesses all your data claiming that it’s used to enhance user experience. This applies to Google’s video calling app Duo too. To their defense, they created a feature called Google Takeout which enables users to take all their data generated by their Google accounts. Still, Google doesn’t endorse this feature very well.
Further, Google uses our data to pitch more effective ads using AdSense, which ultimately creates large profits for Google.
The question is, do we let Google organize our information?