When Google emerged on the scene, it changed everything. If you ask a collegian if he or she remembers the Internet predating Google or its subsidiaries, chances are you will receive a dry “no.” Siva Vaidhyanathan’s “The Googlization of Everything” explores the uses, expectations and implications of the search engine that changed our lives forever. Initially, Google began as a grassroots effort to organize the clutter that characterized the World Wide Web. It didn’t accept money to rank one page higher in a search than another and seemed like a perfectly democratic and friendly place. Vaidhyanathan states that “we are not Google’s customers: we are its product” which is symbolic of the emphasis he places on the grave impacts Google has had and continues to have on our lives. He offers three ways in which the search engine complicates the ways in which we manage information about ourselves:
It collects information from us when we use its services; it copies and makes available trivial or harmful information about us that lies in disparate corners of the Internet; and it actively captures images of public spaces around the world, opening potentially embarrassing or private scenes to scrutiny by strangers—or, sometimes worse, by loved ones.
Google has come a long way since its days as a start-up company. The company has been able to rule the web thanks to its vast data-retention abilities as well as the power to analyze search queries for patterns. However, Vaidhyanathan warns us that Google has an uneasy relationship with censorship and that we shouldn’t blindly follow, as he so perfectly puts it “The Gospel of Google” but users should be conscious and aware of the dangers it poses. A few reasons, among many, are that it collects and displays knowledge according to what is most popularly searched, companies will pay top dollar to have their website appear first on a search and finally it guesses what we are looking for when we enter information into the search box. Rather than playing the guessing game with where the future of Google and our society lies, Vaidhyanathan makes an effort to lie out what is at stake with the globalization of Google, or more accurately, the Googlization of Us.
I happen to be what Vaidhyanathan would dub a “power-user” of Google. I have multiple Blogger accounts, use Gmail as my primary email service provider, have Google set as my homepage and am only familiar with YouTube as the only video hosting site to my knowledge. I’ve experienced, first-hand, Google’s aggregation of the content of my emails. If I’ve sent an email with the subject line reading “Fashion Intern- Resumé” advertisements will thread at the top of my Gmail window pertaining to my assumed interest in fashion, internships and/or resumé writing. This is an example of Google using my information without my explicit consent. After reading “The Googlization of Us” my reaction wasn’t to delete all of my Google accounts but rather made me more aware of the information I essentially hand over to the company. The fact is that we live in a surveillance culture, where little goes unmonitored and unnoticed thus threatening individual privacy. It remains that if Google has changed so drastically in a mere decade, what will be at stake in as little as five or ten years from now?