Is Google a Threat to Civil Liberties?

Part of the price that successful corporations pay for innovation is their exposure to increased calls for extensive government regulation. Regulators claim that dominant firms, especially in modern high-tech industries, will be guilty of at least two forms of malfeasance.

First, the firms will abuse their “monopoly power” to extract huge profits from consumers. Second, the firms will acquire vast amounts of information that will then be used for improper purposes that pose a serious threat to both privacy and civil liberties. Google becomes a natural focus point here for two reasons. 

First, it holds a commanding position in the search market; second, each user’s click adds to its treasure trove of valuable information about the consumer and the firms with which he interacts. These realities in part explain why Robert Epstein, a Harvard-based psychologist, recently wrote a four-part expose for the Huffington Post titled, “Regulate Google Now.”

But, as I argue in my column this week, when it comes to regulating large tech companies, the government should proceed with caution. I explain further at Hoover’s Defining Ideas

  1. Robert E. Lee

    How is data mining done by Google different for data mining done by the government?  In either case rights of the citizen are subordinate to the profit/power motive.

  2. Spin

    Reading the HuffPo article first, and after the first page, which is a laundry list of things Google has done wrong.  Oh, also, most of the things it has done wrong were activities that were illegal or otherwise regulated by the government, and Google paid a fine in many cases.  So I am interested to see how more regulation does anything to protect the consumer.  It strikes me that the primary purpose of regulation is to fill the public coffers.  But I’ll read on, with an open mind!

  3. Spin

    Second point:  don’t install Google’s toolbar.  In fact, never install any tool bar, from anyone, period.  I’ve been saying that for years but no one listens.  

    Robert Epstein says, “In any case, who made Google the guardian of the Internet?”  Well, you did, sir, when you agreed to their terms and conditions by using their toolbar.  Turn it off.  

  4. Caleb Doxsey

    Regulation doesn’t make sense because Google is not a monopoly. There are perfectly capable online search engines that don’t keep track of you: http://duckduckgo.com/.

    And if you’re really concerned about remaining anonymous on the internet use Tor. The answer to the web’s privacy concerns are more informed users and better technology, not government regulation. (And the technology already exists. We just don’t use it enough)

  5. Spin

    Agreed, Caleb.  This is about informed consumers.  

    I don’t know Robert Epstein’s politics, but this seems like the typical liberal deal:  company is big and makes lots of money, must have done so by beating up the little guy and the consumer, bring in the government.  

  6. Misthiocracy

    Nobody is forced to use Google’s search. There are other search providers.  Use one of them.

    Nobody is forced to use Google’s email. There are other email providers. Use one of them.

    Nobody is forced to use Google’s anything.

    Heck, Google isn’t even the default search engine with Internet Explorer!  

    If the concern is that Google has too much power over uninformed consumers, then how come the majority of uninformed consumers (who one would assume stick with the default settings on the default browser, since they are oh so uninformed) aren’t using Bing for their search needs?

  7. Mendel

    I wholeheartedly agree with the above comments.

    How is information “private” when a customer willingly gives such information to a business which has announced its intention to share it with others?

  8. Joseph Eagar

    That article made points that may appeal to many Ricochet members, so here are a couple of counterpoints in reply.  One, advertisement platforms would not be so intrusive privacy-wise if people didn’t expect so many things online to be free.  With such a huge supply of ad space, the only way to make any money is to target ads, which requires breaking people’s privacy.  If people paid for their content more often, this wouldn’t be a problem.

    Two, at least on all the browsers I’ve used, the Google “blacklist” is more of a “redlist.”  All it does is pop up a warning that a given site might be infected with malware, or otherwise unsafe.  You can still go to the site if you want.  The author of the article exaggerated Google’s power in this area; it doesn’t control the browser market, Microsoft and the Firefox project do.  If it abuses its power, those companies/projects will simply find another redlist provider.