Allow me to explain where I’m coming from.
About five years ago, I was writing an email about some tax problem I was having, and after I pressed send, I got an advertisement on my sidebar for tax software or H&R Block or some shit. At the time I was using Google services, which I thought was awesome because it was a super easy and convenient way to manage the email accounts for my website, soleone.org. I had gigs and gigs of stored emails, and as the years passed, my storage capacity increased to surpass my needs. This felt innocuous until one day I noticed that the newsletter I send out biweekly for my music wasn’t showing up in my email anymore. I was stunned, upset, and angry. It had been moved to a new place in my email called “promotions,” which is reserved for bullshit like daily unwanted Expedia updates and inspirational quotes from the Republican party that I never signed up for.
Interaction with newsletters like mine dropped dramatically as a result. I could only assume Google was making my newsletter irrelevant so that someday I could pay extra so people would actually see my emails. I contacted other labels, artists, and PR agencies to see what their experience was; their newsletters too had been defeated by this new algorithm.
This may sound petty, but it’s not. Collecting email addresses at shows and connecting directly to supporters via email has been the last holdout for independent artists and businesses to maintain connections without having to pay for advertising. For truly independent folks, we despise having to give a cut to others to use what we have worked so hard to build; it runs contrary to the entire idea of being independent. I come from an era where you could sell 10,000 copies of an album without sending out a single promotional copy or having a marketing budget.
It’s 2014. Why is Google apparently trying to nickle and dime our nickels and dimes?!
I began researching what was happening, trying to figure out what it all meant. I still don’t know what it all means. Unlike most corporate entities, Google is truly in a league of its own. While it shared many of the traits as mega influencers like the Koch Brothers, Halliburton, or Monsanto, Google has unique access to an asset that is more valuable than anything on Earth: you. Google knows what you think, feel, write, what makes you react, buy, and sell, in ways that Facebook and Amazon could only dream of. This information is not limited to Internet activity (whatever the “Internet” is). Google wants to learn your “pattern of life”: How long do you hang out in your living room or at the coffee shop? What drives your impulse purchases at a gas station? Why do you interact in the world? What makes you want to head to the voting booth instead of riot?
What does all of this information mean, and how will this impact our future? More importantly, who has the power to stop Google?
Recently, Google has acquired many of the key players in robotics and artificial intelligence. These companies, namely A.I. startup DeepMind and drone maker Titan Aerospace, are building crazy shit that thus far has been reserved for science-fiction novels. We’re talking about solar-powered drones that broadcast Wi-Fi to Africa, medical implants that monitor your blood sugar levels, robot helpers, and artificial intelligence that can process millions of faces per second.
Those sound like remarkable achievements, and they very well could be, but such power will come with unprecedented responsibility—and we’re talking about a private corporation!
My concern is about how hooked we’ve become on Google products. I mean, we’ve reached the point where “Google” has become a verb in everyday language! Whether its for business, personal use, or activism, folks are hooked on Google products. I want to see a world where people can do what they love and see things that will inspire, empower, and educate them, not one of increasing control over the flow of information and increasingly precarious labor.
I think people would change their tune if they actually knew what was being stored and how that information is being used. When I ask people what the alternatives are to Google, they can’t tell me any. That shows you how pervasive and problematic Google potentially is—it’s the oxygen of the Internet! (For the record, here is a list of privacy-concerned alternatives to Gmail.)
Google is big, powerful, and subject to the whims of its CEOs and shareholders. What would a slight change in management mean? What if they decide to change their motto from “do no evil” to “we can do whatever the fuck we want”?
When I consider all these things, and the battle lines being drawn over net neutrality, I’m worried about what this means for the future. If advertisements and governments can control what we find when we search things on the Internet, and major media conglomerates are cracking down on the flow of information, how will these powers get checked?
Now excuse me while I submit this piece to the Daily Dot using Google Drive.
Screengrab via soleonedotorg/YouTube