Google, the most widely-used search engine on Earth, is involved in much more than noting LOLcat links. It has both gobbled up products and services and come up with its own, ranging from a host of online tools to physical products like Android smartphones and even driverless cars. Their product list features no less than 47 categories of online services, 7 just under “Specialized Search”.
Despite the occasional misstep like Google Glass, it’s been an amazing success story. However, recent developments may cause some wondering at the extent of the company’s influence and ambition. In Europe, for instance, Google has been under investigation for 4 years for antitrust violations. Complaints have come from publishers in Germany and in Spain, as well as Microsoft Europe and travel sites, including Expedia and TripAdvisor in the US. CEO Eric Schmidt is set to visit next week to work things out. The stakes are quite high; the company could be fined billions of dollars.
He also needs to address the raft of complaints on privacy violations. Europe’s “digital czar”, Günther Oettinger, recently fired off a blast at Google and Facebook, warning of the US giants’ exploiting Europeans by harvesting and selling their personal data. He called for a single European-wide law to protect their data privacy, and has spoken ominously of taxing American companies operating there.
Investigation into antitrust charges has also begun in Russia after a complaint from a native search engine company. Meanwhile Google’s had two class-action lawsuits for anti-competitive practices thrown out in California for their dominance by default on Android phones. So it’s safe to say there’s a lot of anxiety coming from many quarters over Google’s policies and not much consensus.
It’s not just size that’s at issue but intention and it’s not the first time. After all, Google quietly abandoned the slogan “Don’t be evil” a long time ago. And it was also Eric Schmidt who famously alarmed many with his dismissal of personal privacy a while before we ever heard of Edward Snowden. Yet their latest moves have even their fans scratching their heads.
Google has recently announced that it will block adult content on its popular Blogger platform after March 23, content it may have previously allowed behind an “adult-only” warning page, and some not even subject to that. This doesn’t mean just explicit sexual pictures. One irate writer of an adult-oriented blog listed the following forbidden interests:
Currently, Blogger blogs marked as “adult” include LGBT and “outsider sexuality” diaries, erotic writers, transgender activists, romance book editors and reviewers, sex toy reviewers, art nude photographers, film-makers, artists such as painters and comic illustrators, text-only fiction writers, sex news and porn gossip writers, LGBT sex activism, sex education and information outlets, fetish fashion, feminist porn blogs, and much, much more.
This ironically, includes writers working against sexual abuse. Only some limited nudity which Google deems “artistic” may be publicly posted.
The offending blogs will be hidden away, not listed in any search results unless the operators remove the offensive materials and receives the corporate blessing. Blogger won’t delete any themselves, just make them non-updateable while Google makes them invisible. Perhaps those website owners should consider moving to other platforms and hosts, such as WordPress and SWCP, for instance.
In any case, it’s not Google’s first blow against adult material. They quickly banned porn apps from Google Glass after some enterprising person tried to sell one. And they had previously banned sexual content for sale on Blogger soon after purchasing it.
But it’s enough to make one wonder. Is the giant corporation responding to pressure? If so, from whom? Anti-porn activists? Christian Fundamentalists? Muslims?
Is this an attempt to clean up the Internet? Or does it have more to do with looking ahead at future corporate interests? It’s interesting to note that Google just launched a new app for Android tablets and phone called YouTube Kids. This will be curated with YouTube videos, with all search results prefiltered for safety, and with parental controls, too. It looks like a clever ploy to, as the old phrase went, “get ’em young”.
The content wars will continue to play out between the giants for some time to come. It will be interesting to see what succeeds and what opportunities are missed. But once again, it may be those creating content and trying to share it that get most often crushed in the scuffle.