“Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
It was John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, the first Baron of Acton (1834–1902), otherwise known simply as Lord Acton, who uttered those immortal words, and the phrase has probably never been more applicable than it is today.
Earlier today I stumbled across one of the most ruthless and evil online propaganda campaigns ever mounted — a campaign for nothing less than total dominance of the World Wide Web, and one that, if it succeeds, would totally destroy any remaining semblance of freedom, choice and privacy that remains online.
I say shocking because the all-powerful actors that have unleashed this malicious campaign have successfully portrayed themselves as anything but the authoritarian, selfish, power-hungry gangsters that they really are. They like to champion themselves as the defenders of the free internet, and the defenders of freedom of expression. Almost daily, they rail against the outrage of censorship, and launch blistering attacks on “evil” governments such as Syria, China et al that attempt to restrict access to the web.
Google stinks of hypocrisy.
The company that likes to boast of its informal motto “Don’t be evil” has seized upon its latest chance to be exactly that. In response to today’s well publicized UN International Telecommunications Union meeting, which sees internet regulators from 193 countries meet to thrash out a new treaty to govern the World Wide Web, Google has launched an all out attack aimed at nothing more than fending off any perceived threat to its global empire.
All this is a far cry from Google’s humble origins, when the company began life as just one of a dozen little search engines attempting to grab a slice of the pie from the old giants of the day, Yahoo and Ask Jeeves. When founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin started out in 1998, there’s was a simple mission — to make Google the most effective and reliable search engine in the business.
This goal has long since been achieved, to the point where the company’s dominance of worldwide search is all encompassing. Globally, Google accounts for an astonishing 84.14% of all searches made in the world, including close to 70% of all US searches, and a whopping 90% of all searches made in the UK. Aside from a few remaining outposts (notably China and Russia) there are few places left in the world where Google doesn’t flex its muscles. So successful has it been, that even the name “Google” has entered every day usage — we no longer ‘search’ for something on the internet, we ‘Google’ it instead.
None of this has to be a problem, but it is. As Lord Acton stated many years ago, when all the power is concentrated in one pair of hands, corruption is all but inevitable, and that’s exactly what is happening with Google now.
Accusations of the company abusing its position as the go-to search portal for the vast majority of the world’s netizens are well documented, and totally deserved. In one of the most publicized cases, the company is attempting to face down an anti-trust lawsuit that alleges Google is violating the law by using its power to favor its own products ahead of its competitors.
What’s shocking is that the company is so blatant about it doing-so. Go to Google now, and search for “Best sushi New York”. The first result offered up features one of its own restaurant review sites, Zagat, followed by seven listings from the company’s own local information service. So we have to drop down to the ninth result for a listing (by Yelp) that has nothing to do with Google.
It’s not just restaurants, but practically every industry that Google thinks it can profit from. Be it flights (Google Flight Search comes up tops), or shopping (Google Shopping), you can guarantee that if Google has its greedy fingers in that business, one of its subsidiaries, partners or affiliates will inevitably appear at the top of its search results.
But Google sees its empire as being under attack, and to divert attention away from this it has made one hell of a ruckus, voicing its opposition to any change to international laws that could possibly threaten its hold over the internet. Already, it’s successfully conned 1.5 million (and counting) ignorant souls into voicing support for its dastardly plans with tales of how evil governments will seize the opportunity to stifle the so-called freedom that Google itself has already taken from us.
Leading this campaign is one of the internet’s ultimate turncoats, the self-styled “father of the internet”, Vint Cerf.
Cerf has truly mastered the art of deception, writing on CNN that new legislation could lead to the banning of anonymity online (anyone who wants to use Google’s services gave that up years ago), or the introduction of rules that would “require any internet content provider, small or large, to pay new tolls in order to reach people across borders”. Naturally, Cerf fails to mention that Google’s biased search engines prevent this from happening anyway.
Google’s campaign is nothing more than blatant propaganda, driven by an innate fear of losing control of its empire. It’s understandable why Google might feel this way, as it sees itself surrounded by countless existential threats. As well as the anti-trust lawsuit, it’s facing competition on numerous other fronts — lawmakers in Germany and France are threatening to make it pay to link to websites, Bing is slowly but surely eroding its US market share, Windows 8 seems to have emerged as a serious competitor to its Android platform, Facebook is winning the battle for prestige, while ‘social’ is slowly taking over from ‘search’ as the internet’s main focus.
Let’s face it. The Google regime is facing up the reality that it’s no longer fighting for dominance like it has been throughout its existence. Now it’s become top dog, it’s been forced to fight a new kind of battle, a defensive war that it may ultimately be destined to lose.
Lord Acton was wrong when he said that absolute power corrupts. Instead, it was Aung San Suu Kyi who got it right when she said that it’s not the power that corrupts people, but the fear of losing it. Today, it would seem that Google has never been more fearful than it is now.