Dispatches from the Digital Revolution
As someone who grew up in the ’90s, I have trouble remembering how I went about solving life’s greatest mysteries before the advent of Internet search—but more specifically, Google. With google as a verb firmly entrenched in my vocabulary, I can’t fathom what happened when, 15 years ago, someone asked me a trivial question such as, “how many different iterations of the Oreo are there?” (In case you’re wondering, there are 25.) Did I “Encarta ’95” it? Doubtful. More likely, I would ask my mother or father, whom, being the omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent beings they were at the time, I believed wholeheartedly.
Then Google arrived, and we never looked back or questioned our reliance on it for our everyday inquiries. But over the past few months, people have started to question Google’s future as the technology company that does no evil. According to Google CEO Larry Page, “the perfect search engine would understand exactly what you mean and give back exactly what you want.” Some now believe Google has taken those concepts of understanding and giving back what the user wants a bit too far.
Alexis Madrigal, a senior editor at The Atlantic, wrote last Thursday that what many of us loved about Google “was the idea that it showed us The Known Universe of Stuff on a Topic.” He’s right; everyone knew when you did a Google search that you would get results ranked by relevance. From the large number of results, you would then decide which was most accurate based on how well you trusted each source. The problem with Google search now, Madrigal said, is that Google has taken away some of that decision-making ability with personalization. “The more the search engine—and the web more generally—adjust themselves to us, the less they represent a collective idea of what is known,” he wrote.
How do you feel about this shift in Google’s business plan? Do you think your personal information is being exploited by the search engine, or do you approve of a little privacy breach for the sake of a better search experience?