It doesn’t look like much. And it’s not very big. But Google’s little search bar is a small window into a very large world. And every time we enter text into it, we are helping the company get bigger and richer. For twenty years now, the Google search engine has been indexing millions of websites and offering neat, organized, and monetized answers to our queries. Today, Google handles over 3 billion searches a day and is the most-used search engine in the world, dominating both desktop and mobile search in the U.S. search market. As a result, it’s the fastest, most efficient, and most informed search engine out there, which is usually why so many people turn to it. But are we comfortable letting Google make billions of dollars by pairing our searches with companies paying to reach us? Are we finding real answers to our queries or just what Google wants us to find? And can we trust Google?
What started as an academic pursuit to build a better way to organize the Web has turned into one of the largest and wealthiest companies on the planet. But perfecting search and making truckloads of money doing it is not the endgame – it’s only the beginning. “Google is not a conventional company,” wrote founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin when they took their company public in 2004. “We do not intend to become one.” The aim of Google, and parent company Alphabet, includes nothing less than creating a superior species that transcends our natural form. First, they’ll harness the world’s information and capture what we’re looking for. Then, they’ll use all that data to build Human 2.0. “If you solve search,” said Larry Page to a group of students at his alma mater Stanford University, “that means you can answer any question, which means you can do basically anything.” Page calls it “AI Complete,” the development of machines that can equal and later exceed human intelligence. And once those machines are perfected, they’ll dictate human thought, telling us what do next, how to do it, and even why we should do it. The need for humans to think for themselves will melt into oblivion, and humanity will be permanently and irrevocably altered.
What we search for is intimately related to our identity and our personal journey through life. Those questions we’re afraid to ask other people? We ask Google. If we don’t like something about ourselves or the world, we ask Google how to fix it. We search for things we need and things we want. We share all our problems. We lay our curiousity and vulnerability at the feet of Google and receive responses that we immediately apply to our lives. And it’s virtually instant. Google doesn’t say “Come back tomorrow after we’ve both thought about it more.” Or, “Are you sure you want to have that information?” The best and worst of humanity, as Google presents it to us, is less than one second away from us. Who could resist? And, if we’re signed in to Google when we search, our privacy and anonymity will take a big hit. Google will take all those searches and page visits and build an incredibly detailed digital portrait of us across all its products and services, and then use that info to sell advertising to us across every website we visit. Do you want this kind of relationship with Google?
My goal here is to encourage you to pause before you jump onto that Google search bar, or more frequently these days, speak directly to the Google app on your phone or the digital assistant in your home. Just think. If I send this query, I’ll be one among millions of people today who will build Google’s data empire and add a few cents (or dollars) to their bank balance. Do I need to do this? Can knowing the name of that one actor in my favorite show wait? Do I have to let Google tell me how to get there? Is there another way to look for the products I need?
And if you don’t want Google invading your privacy and serving up ads everywhere you go online based on your searches, consider StartPage, a great alternative to corporate search engines. The nice thing about StartPage is that it utilizes the unparalelled search power of Google while at the same time giving you complete privacy protection. StartPage acts as an intermediary between you and Google. Google never sees you in the equation. And you’ll get equal access to the Internet, instead of what a company wants you to see. StartPage is available at StartPage.com on desktop and through a handy mobile app for your phone. Give it a try!
The Internet is a big place, and we all need help navigating it. But don’t trust just one company with your searching and browsing. And don’t sacrifice your privacy for a little convenience. Do hard things. Take a few extra steps. It builds character!