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Google versus Government

I’ve been noticing that there are more and more issues arising with the big internet giants. Unlike in China, where the companies are working with governments, the big Western giants work outside government control. That creates issues, particularly in Europe where government does not like to be out of control. Hence the reason why American internet firms have been fined so heavily for their negative practices from rigging search results to abusing customer privacy.

There’s a new argument rising, that may not have been spotted by many. The argument over answers.

Today, if I asked you where you go with questions, the majority of Westerners would say Google. Google, owned by Alphabet Group, is a significant provider of answers. Very good. There are alternative providers of answers, like Bing, but which do you use most?

Now Google is getting into trouble over its policies of how it provides those answers. This came to my attention with Viagogo, a secondary market website reseller of concert tickets. From The Guardian:

Google removed Viagogo from its paid-for search results in July, accusing the company of breaching its advertising rules … before Google imposed the ban, Viagogo’s UK website attracted 4.5m visitors in June, according to analytics service SimilarWeb. The number of visits slumped to 2.5m in July, the month the ban came into effect, before plunging again to just 820,000 in August, the first full month affected by Google’s decision. Over the same period, the company’s global website Viagogo.com also suffered a steep decline, down from 15.3m visits to 4.5m.

What this demonstrates is the absolute power Google has over the online world of commerce today. Sure, there are sites you may be familiar with like Amazon and Facebook, similarly controlling firms, who you go to first for results, access and answers, but Google is the master of them all. You don’t get found on Google, you don’t get found at all.

Another example of their supreme power came up the other day on Bloomberg:

“Google’s brought on as this thing that wanted to serve information to the world,” [Lee Griffin, CEO and founder of GoComapre.com] said in an interview from the company’s offices in Newport, Wales. “But actually what it’s doing is to show you information that people have paid it to show you.”

This makes you realise a few things, if you think about it. First, if you are getting something for free, then you are the product. Sure, we know this, but Facebook and Google don’t exist as charities. They’re there to make money from you, and you are the product. Your data is sold to whoever is willing to the pay the highest fee to get it. So, it’s no surprise that when you search, you get who pays the most to get your eyeballs.

Second, people aren’t stupid. Most of us know that we’re being spoon-fed the stuff that these companies want to feed us. If you take a Google search as independent and objective, then you’re pretty stupid. You know that what they return in their results is rigged to your history, cookies and preferences. In some ways, that’s a good thing, as you get better results. In other ways, it’s a bad thing as it does not provide you with the true picture.

Third, you know they’re watching you. Any of us may find it weird that the search we did yesterday for a blood pressure monitor results in every ad we get today being for blood pressure monitors. Is that really any surprise? And is it really any surprise that the company that pays the most for blood pressure monitor ads gets the most hits?

So, this is no news for me, apart from that Viagogo thing. What this demonstrates is that the major internet giants can create or destroy a business almost overnight, by changing its policies. No wonder Bloomberg relayed this joke:

  • Question: Where’s the best place to hide a body?
  • Answer: The second page of a Google search.

However, it is also why there is this fine line balance between government and business. I often ask who governs the internet and equally the reasons why Google can get away with what it does.

There is this tenseness on a continual basis between government and Big Tech, with Margrethe Vestager leading the charge in Europe and Liz Warren coming to the fore in the USA.

Interesting times indeed.

 

About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner
Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, TheFinanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here...

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