Are Google’s Business Practices Ethical?
Such strong position is unusual and should make us even more aware and alarmed of Google’s unethical methods of doing business. With its share of U. S. searches of 72. 17% in May(Boulton, 2010) and even higher figures in EU (around 90%) there is no doubt that Google Inc. owns monopoly on Internet search. Its competition represented by Microsoft’s Bing and Yahoo’s search engine is hardly trying but it seems that Google’s position is stable. That’s also why Google’s influence over the Internet itself is so great. For most of the average Internet users simple equation applies: Internet = Google.
What they don’t find on Google, they don’t find at all and it doesn’t exist for them. Vast majority of users don’t even look at other than first page of search results. According to research done by chitika. com situation is even more extreme. 34. 35% of users click on first result, 16. 96% on the second and as little as 2. 71% click on 10th result which is the last on first page of results. (Ruby, 2010). The connection between search result position and business success nowadays is critical and it only illustrates the “kingmaking” power that Google has. It doesn’t matter that Mr.
Singhal (Google’s ranking team head) assures us that “All rankings are decided algorithmically, and the focus is on user benefit, not advertiser or commercial benefit. ” , because no one can see the algorithm (which is being changed 600 times per year) and prove him wrong. The fact that search algorithm is a black box gives Google unlimited power not just among information, but also over all businesses. Cases such as Google vs. Foundem or TradeComet’s lawsuit against Google are real life examples of Google using its monopolistic power in anticompetitive way.
There is huge conflict between public perception of Google search results and the real meaning of these results that leads to consumer mislead and prevents competition in more industries that we could imagine. But we don’t have to look only at the cases of competitors being disadvantaged by Google because lack of objectivity is even more obvious when it comes to Google’s services. And we can use another Google owned company to prove this. Double-Click is the Google owned Internet Ad serving company which runs a database of the 1000 most-visited sites on the web (http://www. google. com/adplanner/static/top1000/).
When we look at the list, it is obvious that most of the Google services such as Google Maps, Google News, Google Finance, Google Picasa etc. are not on the top positions, unlike its competitors. The fact that these services are at the top positions of Google search results on related keywords is at least strange. It gives us certain image of the objectivity of Google search and points us back to the abuse of monopolistic power. Consumers believe that what they find is the most relevant to their search and they tend to trust these results. But instead of getting relevant information they receive list of Google owned or Google friendly pages.
The conflict of interest is obvious. We can expect such unethical behaviour from a profit seeking company but combined with its monopolistic power over Internet search it is a “killer” that can lead to huge problems in future and it should be prevented. Another very important showcase of Google’s unethical behaviour from the Internet users prospective is the Privacy issue. Thanks to its abnormally huge cloud of servers all-over the world and search monopoly, Google is capable to track the clics of ~99% of Internet users(Cleland, 2010) and keeps record of “click path behaviour” i. . where a user goes, what a user seeks, does, reads or views, how often, and for how long. (Cleland, 2010) Google also keeps its own copy of every page on the Internet indexed by its search engine, which means that site either is (and Google has its copy) or it is practically impossible to find it. Moreover, since Google owns, hosts or aggregates more Internet content on its servers than any entity in the world (YouTube, Google Earth / Maps / StreetView / Books / News / Finance / Blogger / Picassa, etc. , and since Google does not allow competitors to track visits to Google content, Google uniquely tracks these trillions of clicks. (Cleland, 2010) Google also has right to analyze contents of all emails coming through its Gmail servers. This (as an exchange for free service) is itself questionable but Gmail users at least had to agree with such practices. What seems to be much worse is that everyone who sentds an email to or answers on mail from one of 175m Gmail users is also emailing the user and Google at one time.
And it cannot be even predicted from the email domain, because Google outsources Gmail services for many other domains. That practically means that average user should count on that at least some his or her emails can and will be analyzed by Google Inc. And there are even more publicly known privacy issues such as Google StreetView’s WiFi antennas set to record all internet traffic, Chrome browser automatically downloading and installing updates without permissions or Android’s OS default setting keeps tracking users location via GPS, even with all applications turned off.
The fact that these issues are publicly known and Google still didn’t take any action only supports the image of “evil” Google hidden behind the “Don’t be evil” image. All unethically acquired private information are being stored and analyzed by Google, and gives it inconceivable and nearly unlimited power that can be used against consumers or competition in future. In my opinion Google’s business practices are now becoming more harmful to the Internet users than it may seem at the first sight.
Without any intervention it can be just a matter of time that there will be no competition to Google’s services and Google will become absolute monopoly across much more industries than we can imagine. “Total Information Awareness”, biased search results and lax antitrust policies can in long-term end up very badly for Internet users and antitrust authorities such as FTC should be aware of the risk and treat Goolge with special attention needed due to its enormous influence on different markets all over the Earth.