Google’s Media Masterpiece with a Changing Canvas

27 02 2010

We all are familiar with the term. If you are reading this, I would be willing to bet money that you know what Google is or at least have heard the name before. Having just finished reading a very engaging and insightful book by Ken Auletta, titled Googled The End of the World as We Know It, I now see the most powerful search engine in a new light.

I will not even attempt to summarize the entire scope of the book here. Please note however that it is an interesting read that is worth your time. That being said, there are several key factors which surface throughout the book that are worthy of exploration.

First, is the issue of privacy. Google serves a nearly unbridled desire – or is it need? – for people to access information. In turn, Google has built its business prominence upon this most basic premise, providing access to almost limitless information through the Internet. As more information is accessed online though, where does the differentiation between public and private information establish itself? One of Google’s founders, Sergey Brin, elaborated on privacy fears regarding user data that Google collects in the following excerpt with author:

“When asked why consumers should trust that Google would not abuse the private data it collects, Sergey Brin in 2007 told me that the fears people face are tied to distaste for advertising and to a fear of Big Brother, which is sometimes ‘irrational.’ He wondered: ‘How many people yesterday do you think had embarrassing information about them exposed as the result of some cookie? Zero. It never happens. Yes I’m sure thousands of people had their mail stolen yesterday…I do think it boils down to irrational fears that all of a sudden we’d do evil things (194).”

Herein lies the potential monster of a problem with this perspective. Although Google may not intend to do harm towards others but with the company’s incredibly expansive size, the potential for harm increases exponentially. Again, I do not think that Google is premised upon such mean spirited motivations. However, this quote reflects that one of Google’s founders seems as if he does not realize the influence, if it were so chosen, to eradicate user privacy through multiple media platforms.

Is this arrogance? I doubt it. Is it inexperience? Not quite. Rather, I think this insight is a result of so much new ground being plowed by Google that even one of the founders is not sure how to interpret such implications. I wonder….would it be wise to interpret this as a sign that regulations should be in place to help mitigate the damage or reduce the likelihood of data release IF a company like Google were to go rogue?? The potentially catastrophic results from this what if scenario could serve as a bellwether towards the eradication of online privacy.

Second, the semblance of innocence exhibited by Google’s founders wears thin by the end of the book. In many ways, the two founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, come across as intelligent, caring leaders who happen to make extraordinarily good business decisions as if by pure luck. This seems like a kosher argument for a company that uses the rallying cry “Do no evil.” to supposedly guide company decisions. I bought into this idea for the majority of the book, I freely admit. However, the truth surfaces when pieces fall into place towards the end of Auletta’s work. Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt, told the author in a rather candid admission that Google is not just a search engine, it is a company using calculated maneuvers to garner major control across the entire media industry. One of the most fundamental components of this effort centers on advertising dollars. The more ways Google can secure these funds, the more power and flexibility Google has to direct how an entire industry operates. Paraphrasing Schmidt’s words, Auletta wrote, “Google wants to be the agent that sells the ads on all distribution platforms, whether it is print, television, radio, or the Internet (294).”

Finally, a quote by Larry Page from 2002 exemplifies the idea what search means in relation to Google’s business strategy. While speaking to a class at Stanford University, Page articulated his belief that “If you can solve search, that means you can answer any question. Which means you can do basically anything (322).” This reflection is a powerful one. Keeping in mind the aforementioned innocence and play on luck Page and Brin seem to showcase throughout their careers, this quote speaks volumes behind the real ambition driving the engine of Google’s future. Both founders realize the transformative power their company oozes. The search component of their company has become the building block to an entire media empire that is expanding rapidly into various corners of the media landscape from television and cellular phones to online advertising and book publishing. The result of this strategy is causing significant waves in ways media is made and consumed. Regardless if the affects of these efforts are positive or negative, it seems increasingly clear these affects are by no means the result of luck.