[IRP] Book Review: "Googled: The End of the World As We Know It"

Katitza Rodriguez katitza
Fri Dec 4 23:58:24 EET 2009

[7] EPIC Bookstore: "Googled: The End of the World As We Know It"
"Google takes seriously its motto, 'Don't be evil.' But because we're
dealing with humans not algorithms, intent sometimes matters less than
effect." "

In "Googled: The End of the World As We Know It", Ken Auletta chronicles
the ascension of Google as a new media company and its transformative
effect on the way people live and work. Culling stories from more than
two years of interviews and access to closed-door meetings, Auletta
reports on the innovative philosophy and pioneering engineers that have
spurred the creation of a wide variety of successful products.

However, as Auletta explains, the same strengths that have allowed
Google to become a dominant new media force are also a source of
weakness. Google's singular strength lies in its unrivaled mountains of
data culled from web searches and other user data. Google's cofounders
"often say that their ideal is to have so much information about their
users that Google can devise an algorithm that provides a single
perfect answer" to search queries. However, that strength leaves Google
vulnerable to other challenges: "Google depends for its continued
success on users and governments that trust it will not abuse this

Auletta reports that one reason users and governments may distrust
Google's use of data derives from Google's flippant attitude towards
privacy. In a chapter entitled "Waking the Government Bear," Auletta
explains how the Center for Digital Democracy and EPIC helped catalyze
government inquiry into Google's activities, specifically its proposed
merger with online advertising giant Doubleclick.

Auletta examines both sides of the Google privacy debate: from the
privacy advocate's perspective, "the central question should not be,
'Is Google invading people's privacy?' Rather it should be, 'Why does
Google need to collect all of this information?'" From Google's
perspective, many privacy concerns are "irrational fears that all of a
sudden [Google would] do evil things."

Although Auletta does not editorialize regarding Google's privacy
issues, he argues that privacy is one of the many obstacles that Google
will have to avoid in order to continue "surfing a huge wave that seems
not to have crested." Only by protecting users' privacy and otherwise
maintaining its "deposit of public trust" can Google continue to be a
"company that has swept so swiftly across the media horizon."

--Matthew Phillips
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