How has Google successfully shaped our lives?

A critical analysis of Google's transformative effect.

Google search engine
"Google Main Search" by MoneyBlogNewz is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Introduction

Google, as the most popular search engine worldwide, plays a leading role in the online search market (Halavais, 2013). Google is a very convenient tool for people to search, entertain, and learn new things. Google has also produced other services and products to facilitate people’s daily lives, work, and study, for example, YouTube, Gmail, and Google Docs. The development of Google has transformed the business model and social communication online, which create more opportunities for business to grow and people to communicate. However, issues of market monopoly and digital privacy also present. Therefore, Google is a double-edged sword that has both beneficial and adverse impacts.

This web essay will first briefly summarize the historical development of Google and how it transformed the internet. Then, Google’s business model and internet ecology will be explained. The last part will critically analyse Google’s transformative effect and potential issues from an economic perspective and a social perspective.

History of Google

First, check the short video created by IG UK to get a brief understanding of Google’s history.

Through the rapid development of the internet, an increasing number of people began to search online (Brin & Page, 2012). In the beginning of the World Wide Web, search engines, such as World Wide Web Worm (WWWW), were unable to handle a growing number of users’ queries (Brin & Page, 2012). The search results contained too much irrelevant information and junk results which were quite overwhelming for users to find the correct details (Girard, 2009). Not only plenty of junk results became a difficult problem for the web, search engines also became increasingly commercialized which was useless for people (Brin & Page, 2012). Search engines shifted from the academic domain to an advertising oriented platform (Brin & Page, 2012).

Therefore, Brin and Page, who were two university students from Stanford, had the ambition to create a perfect search engine (Vaidhyanathan, 2011). Their goal was to build a system that can produce precise and interesting results efficiently from large-scale web data (Brin & Page, 2012). Brin and Page first designed an initial search engine in 1996 called “BackRub”, which was later named “Google” (McAlone, 2015). Brin and Page became the co-founder of Google and they explained Google’s mission was

“to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” (Girard, 2009, p. 11).

The invention of Google has successfully improved users’ searching experience and was a breakthrough in Artificial Intelligence (AI) development (Girard, 2009). It remarkably transformed the web search engine into a high-quality research tool (Brin & Page, 2012).

Google’s Business model

Google's business model
Google’s Business Model” by FourWeekMBN.com. All Rights Reserved.

Based on the diagram, users, businesses, and publishers are the key players in Google’s business model. Advertising is a major approach for Google to earn money. Although users are free to use the platform, their online activities are reorganized into demographic and taste-identifying statistics and sold to advertisers and marketers (Jarrett, 2014).

Google provides two types of advertising tools for business which are AdWords and AdSense (Davis, 2010). AdWords allows companies to display minimalist ads of 10 to 15 words on a search result page (Girard, 2009). Users who search for relevant keywords would see the ads which help businesses targeting customers and gaining value (Davis, 2010). AdSense is for publishers and site owners to make money by placing relevant ads on their webpages (Girard, 2009). The site owners are able to earn part of revenue each time a visitor clicks an ad, and Google would keep part of the payment (Girard, 2009). AdWords and AdSense create a win-win business model for publishers, advertising companies, and Google.

Moreover, Google has another way to generate revenue by providing cost-per-click (CPC) and search engine optimization (SEO) strategies for advertising companies (Girard, 2009). CPC enables advertisers to decide how much they want to pay per click; therefore, if a company pays more, the larger exposure it gets (Girard, 2009). SEO can be used to target audiences and increase web traffic by selecting the best keywords that are relevant to its products (Girard, 2009; Noble, 2018). CPC and SEO are very useful tools for businesses to accurately reach large audiences and attract customers.

The image below shows how Google ads are displayed when searching “email marketing 101”.

Email Marketing 101 Google SERPs with Constant Contact Email Subscribe Form Google Ad
Email Marketing 101 Google SERPs with Constant Contact Email Subscribe Form Google Ad” by DavidErickson is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Google’s internet ecosystem

  • Ownership

According to Larry Page’s letter (2015) from Alphabet company’s official website, Google is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Alphabet. Alphabet Inc. has replaced Google Inc. and becomes the parent company of Google (Larry’s Alphabet Letter, 2015; Nobel, 2018).

  • Competitors

By the early 2000s, Google had dominated a large proportion of the global search engine market (Halavais, 2013). According to Nielsen NetRatings (as cited in Dai, 2007, p. 435),

“in July 2006, nearly half (49.2 percent) of internet search volume in the USA was generated by Google, followed by Yahoo (23.8 percent), Microsoft MSN (9.6 percent) and other search engines combined (17.4 percent).”

The data shows Google was the leading search engine compare to its competitors. At present, Google still maintains the most popular search engine among others (Halavais, 2013).

Besides the major competitors, Yahoo! and Bing from the same search engine category, social media advertising companies, such as Facebook and MySpace, are also Google’s competitors (Vaidhyanathan, 2011; Girard, 2009). Moreover, Google has produced Google Voice that offers similar technology to Skype’s long-distance Internet phone service which inevitably competes with Skype (Vaidhyanathan, 2011). However, Google failed to compete with Naver and Baidu which are a Korean search engine and a Chinese search engine due to unfamiliar local market and lack of local language content (Tse & Zhao, 2011).

  • Partners

Google identifies businesses and organizations that work with Google are partners, for example, app developers on Google Play, organizations that help to secure services, and companies that measuring advertisement statics (Google Privacy and Terms, 2020). Specifically, Kantar, comScore, and DoubleVerify, are measurement companies that collect users’ information for ad measurement purposes (Google Privacy and Terms, 2020).

  • Regulations

The former CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt (as cited in Vaidhyanathan, 2011, p. 41), states that there is no need for the government to regulate Google as a public entity, Google’s private sector work very hard to run Google based on a set of values and principles. The company spends millions of dollars every year to make sure it adheres to copyright, antitrust, national security regulations, and so on (Vaidhyanathan, 2011). Google also tries to maintain Internet neutrality by promoting strong regulations (Vaidhyanathan, 2011).

  • Here is the ecosystem map of Google.
Ecosystem map of Google
Figure 1: Ecosystem map of Google. Created by the Author.

Google’s transformative effect

  • Economic perspective

The creation of Google has altered a new business model online. More and more companies start to create both personal and business webpages to build relationships with potential customers (Brogan, 2013). E-commerce and web-based advertising have emerged through the growth of search engines (Halavais, 2013). And companies pay more attention to web users’ information than the product itself now because understanding users’ data is important for advertising (Vaidhyanathan, 2011).

Google not only provides a new opportunity for businesses to make advertising campaigns online, but it also develops other services and subsidiary products to improve e-commerce, such as Google docs, Google Analytics, YouTube, and etc. (Brogan, 2013). For instance, Google Docs creates shared documents, spreadsheets, presentations which helps companies to communicate and distribute information (Brogan, 2013). Moreover, Google+ support business to collaborate with colleagues and engage with customers easily (Brogan, 2013). Google-branded services are growing astonishingly and a large number of people have shifted to use Google products (Vaidhyanathan, 2011). Vaidhyanathan (2011) describes this phenomenon as the “Googlization of everything”.

However, not everyone benefits from the creation of Google. The strong economic power of Google establishes the monopoly status on the web (Noble, 2018). Google can prioritize search results regarding its own business interest over competitors and small companies that are less profitable than large corporations (Noble, 2018). This limits small business to develop and leads to market inequality. Recently, the US Department of Justice has sued for Google’s unlawful monopolisation (Kemp, 2020). Google spends billions of dollars each year to preserve its monopoly power (Kemp, 2020). Hence, from an economic perspective, Google has transformed companies to market online which advances the method to communicate and promote business. But Google’s monopoly power also causes unfair market competition.

Check the short video created by ABC News to get an overview of the accusation of Google’s unlawful monopolisation.

  • Social perspective

The rise of Google has transformed the way people access information and communicate. Nowadays, people no longer find relevant information from a large size of books and papers collected in the library (Halavais, 2013). Google helps people to obtain correct information in a simple and fast way. Communication shifts towards networking online which creates new ways of filtering, sorting, and finding information (Halavais, 2013). People now have more approaches to find information including traditional media and online search engines. According to Pew statistics of “search engine use” (as cited in Noble, 2018, p. 35), “83% of search engine users used Google and 59% report using a search engine every day” in 2012. The data illustrates a significant number of people use Google and searching every day. At present, Google becomes indistinguishable from the Web itself (Vaidhyanathan, 2011).

Besides Google’s search engine, other Google products such as Google Maps, Google Classroom, and YouTube facilitate people to find the location, build a learning community, and entertain. The frequent use of Google products is Googlizing people’s daily lives (Vaidhyanathan, 2011). Nevertheless, while Google shapes the way people work, study, and entertain, it takes personal information from users to support advertising companies (Vaidhyanathan, 2011). Google stores “cookies” in Web browsers to track clicks and users’ predilections, this process extremely threat to users’ data privacy (Vaidhyanathan, 2011). Leakage of personal privacy becomes a very serious issue.

ACCC has claimed Google misled consumers on collection and use of location data (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission [ACCC], 2019). According to ACCC Chair Rod Sims (ACCC, 2019),

“Google has collected, kept and used highly sensitive and valuable personal information about consumers’ location without them making an informed choice.”

Google’s inadequate disclosure and lack of transparency are deprived of users’ digital rights (ACCC, 2019). Users only have limited power to protect personal information. Therefore, on the one hand Google offers the platform to facilitate users to search, blog, and work, but on the other hand, it obtains the gigabytes of Google’s millions of users’ data for commercial use (Vaidhyanathan, 2011). Google is like a double-edged sword, it has both positive and negative impacts on society and the individuals.

Conclusion

Overall, Google is a very successful technology invented by Brin and Page. It achieves its goal and plays an influential role in internet transformation. Google established a new form of business model and communication which enables companies and individuals to take advantages of it. But, Google’s strong economic power and misuse of users’ information lead to potential issues, such as unfair competition and leakage of personal privacy. So it is important for people to have a critical view of Google’s impact on society.


References

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. (2019). Google allegedly misled consumers on collection and use of location data. Retrieved from https://www.accc.gov.au/media-release/google-allegedly-misled-consumers-on-collection-and-use-of-location-data

Brogan, C. (2013). Google+ for business how Google’s social network changes everything (2nd ed.). Retrieved from https://learning.oreilly.com/library/view/google-for-business/9780133114218/?ar

Brin, S., & Page, L. (2012). Reprint of: The anatomy of a large-scale hypertextual web search engine. Computer Networks, 56(18), 3825-2833. doi: 10.1016/j.comnet.2012.10.007

Dai, X. (2007). Google. New Political Economy, 12(3), 433-442. doi: 10.1080/13563460701485706

Davis, H. (2009). Google Advertising Tools (2nd ed.). Retrieved from https://www.oreilly.com/library/view/google-advertising-tools/9780596805432/?ar

Girard, B. (2009). Google way: How one company is revolutionizing management as we know it. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy2.library.usyd.edu.au

Google Privacy and Terms. (2020). Who are google’s partners? Retrieved November 21, 2020, from https://policies.google.com/privacy/google-partners?hl=en

Halavais, A. (2013). The engines. In Search engine society (pp. 5–31). Cambridge, UK ; Malden, MA: Polity.

Jarrett, K. (2014). A database of intention. In Society of the query reader: Reflections on web search (pp. 16–29). Amsterdam: Institute of networked cultures.

Kemp, K. (2020, October 21). The US is taking on Google in a huge antitrust case. It could change the face of online search. The Conversation. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/

McAlone, N. (2015). The true story behind Google’s hilarious first name: BackRub. Retrieved November 21, 2020 from https://www.businessinsider.com/the-true-story-behind-googles-first-name-backrub-2015-10

Noble, S. U. (2018). A society, searching. In Algorithms of Oppression: How search engines reinforce racism (pp. 15–63). New York University.

Page, L. (2005). Larry’s Alphabet Letter. Retrieved November 20, 2020, from https://abc.xyz/investor/founders-letters/2015/

Vaidhyanathan, S. (2011). The googlization of everything: (and why we should worry). Retrieved from https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy2.library.usyd.edu.au

Zhao, W., & Tse, E. (2011). Competition in search engine market. Journal of Business Strategies, 28(2), 123-150. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.library.usyd.edu.au/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.ezproxy2.library.usyd.edu.au/docview/1241201969?accountid=14757

 

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About Fuyao Xie 2 Articles
Hi! My name is Fuyao Xie, you can call me Fiona :) I'm a second-year university student majored in Digital Cultures.