(Robert Scoble, “Google Logo in Building43”, https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/aeb163be-86c4-42ac-8e6f-8de770539f02, CC)
Google has monopolised the search engine industry and has subsequently gained significant authority in the dissemination of information throughout society. The catalyst for this is the attention economy, which combined with the wider social dependency on Google as a platform to access social, cultural and political information is highly problematic. Zeynup Tufeki defines the attention economy as the commodification of human attention in order to achieve maximum reach within society (Tufeki, 2013). As attention is an essential factor in any social movement, the manner in which Google influences it is highly important. This essay will evaluate the role of Google as a search engine in strategically controlling the attention economy to produce a positive financial outlook through exploring the genesis and history of Google. Through the case study of Google AdWords, it will deconstruct how advertising has allowed Google to monopolise the search engine industry. Finally, this essay will explore the notion of the “majority culture” in the context of autocomplete search engine results (Noble, 2018).
In order to understand the contemporary control and influence of Google as a search engine, it is important to evaluate the nature of its monopolisation. Lisa Mays defines the search engine as a “gateway for Internet users” to access any published information online, whereby users can search key words for any given topic (Mays, 2015). Mays notes that search engines have been developing since the creation of the first computer in 1940 (Mays, 2015). Search engines can be based on a horizontal or vertical system of ordering, and in the case of Google both are utilised (Mays, 2015). For Google, the horizontal system is the main Google search bar, which employs a general search of internet resources (Havalais, 2013). An example of a vertical search engine is Google Scholar as it specifically sorts through academic resources (Havalais, 2013). Google was launched in 1998 and has continued to increase in revenue since its first initial public offering in 2004 (Bilic, 2018). In 2016, Google made a total of $90b USD in revenue, 88% of which was generated from advertisements (Bilic, 2018). Since it’s origin, Google has monopolised the search engine industry, and this continued success can be observed through statistics on the Search Engine Market Share Worldwide (Statcounter, 2020). As search engines control the access consumers have to information, they are vital in directing the flow of information throughout and within society. Mays defines Google’s search algorithm as a “search bias”, whereby the result neutrality expected by users is not an actuality (Mays, 2015). By sifting through web pages, Google ranks results based on:
- Key words and phrases
- The age of the website
- Featured hyperlinks
- The evidence of spam (Mays, 2015)
This means that the Google algorithm is the final determining factor in the order of a user’s search results, and it thus has significant transformative impacts on the accessibility of available information.
The success of Google’s advertising company, AdWords is key example of the direct impact of the attention economy on marketing success for any given business. Google Adwords is Google’s main advertising product, whereby companies compete in an auction to place an advertisement as the top result for a Google search (Ammori & Pelican, 2012). This means that users are most likely to click on that link. Adwords has a pay per click policy, whereby companies that choose to advertise on the Google platform pay an agreed upon price per user clickthrough (Ammori & Pelican, 2012). This means that Google also has a vested interest in the clickthrough success of the advertisement, as this is how they make revenue (Ammori & Pelican, 2012). Google determines the potential success of each ad by providing each bid with a quality score, based on the potential revenue from that particular company, and is therefore, determining what information is provided to the user (Ammori & Pelican, 2012). The function of AdWords can be observed through the advertisement results that arise from searching the term ‘yoga mats’ into the Google Search bar (Google Search, 2020). As a financial communications tool, Adwords provides companies with the ability to control the top search result for a user and is thus abiding by the “search bias” (Mays, 2015). Combined with the decreasing attention span of users due to the commodification of human attention, Adwords has control over user access to neutral information.
Autocomplete Search Engine Results
Due to the attention economy, autocomplete search engine results are highly problematic in disseminating information through the perceived neutrality of Google results. As autocomplete search results are constructed based on the most popular searched phrase for any given topic, they are not neutral (Noble, 2018). This is due to the Noble’s notion of the “majority culture”, which means that autocomplete results are based on the most popular opinion of a topic (Noble, 2018). As users believe that Google presents the most accurate and neutral information, they are likely to believe the top results, and thus click on this. This is problematic for sexual and racial minority groups who do not fit into the “majority culture” (Noble, 2018). As popular beliefs are often based on misinformation and stereotypes the construction of autocomplete search results is dangerous. For example, when typing “why are Asian p…” into the Google search bar, the top two results are “why are Asian parents so narcissistic” and “why are Asian parents so toxic”. This conveys an extreme stereotype of Asian parents, and places a negative perception on their parenting style. This example portrays how the “majority culture” is perpetuating bias and misinformation. In this respect, Google has control over the information immediately communicated to a user.
Through the monopolisation of the search engine industry, Google has gained significant influence and control of society’s access to Internet information. As individuals often look to the internet for resources, this is highly problematic. In owning communications tools such as AdWords, Google has been able to monetise on user information, and has subsequently reduced Internet neutrality. Combined with the attention economy, the quick and responsive nature of autocomplete search engine results are perpetuating stereotypes and informing users through misinformation. Google as a search engine has complete control over the dissemination of information resources to users. Therefore, it is vital for users to understand the lack of neutrality throughout Google’s platform and apply caution to the presented order of information.
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Bilic, Pasko. (2018). A Critique of the Political Economy of Algorithms: A Brief History of Google’s Technological Rationality. Triple C, 16(1), 315-331.
Konig, R., & Rasch, M. (2014). A database of intention. In Society of the query reader: Reflections on web search (pp. 16–29). Institute of networked cultures.
Mays, Lisa. (2015). The consequences of search bias: How application of the essential facilities doctrine remedies google’s unrestricted monopoly on search in the united states and europe. George Washington Law Review, 83(2), 721-760.
Noble, S. U. (2018). A society, searching. In Algorithms of Oppression: How search engines reinforce racism (pp. 15–63). New York University.
Tufekci, Zeynep (2013). “Not This One”: Social Movements, the Attention Economy, and Microcelebrity Networked Activism. American Behavioral Scientist, 57(7), 849-870.