Among all internet services, platforms, companies, the search engine is the most common tool people use when they are surfing the net (Li, 2015). This essay will critically analyze the dominant search engine in the world, Google search, by reviewing its developing history, explaining its business model and internet ecology, analyzing its transformative effect in economic, political social and/or cultural terms, and discuss related debate both domestically and internationally.
What is Google Search?
Google search is the most used web search engine worldwide developed by Google LLC. According to StatCounter Global Stats (2020), Google captures a global search engine market share of 92.71% by October 2020 across all platforms, which nearly corner the market.
Due to Google’s monopoly position in the search engine area, it has been ubiquitously seen as a synonym of “search” in conversational English (Curwen, 2018). Basically, Google search functions through three steps (Google Search Central, 2020):
By crawling, google automatically invokes webpages and record them (Halavais, 2013, p. 14).
From The Engines, Halavais, 2013, p.15
Then, like many other search engines, Google would extract essential terms to establish a keyword index for the worldwide web by indexer (Halavais, 2013, p. 17).
Last but not least, Google uses algorithms like PageRank to help ranking its search results from the most relevant to the least based on factors including the reliability of the hyperlinks, geographical address of the searcher, the user’s search history, and so on (Halavais, 2013).
Below is a video provided by Google on Youtube explaining how google search works:
How Google Search Works (in 5 minutes), provided by Google on Youtube
The History of Google Search
Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded Google in California in September 1998 (Dai, 2007). Before the establishment of Google, these two Stanford graduate students collaboratively developed an algorithm called PageRank for a search engine dubbed Backrub which now known as the precursor of Google, and have been a great success (Bellis, 2020). Google quickly dominant the search engine market since it adopted a more sophisticated range of factors while ranking the relevance of its search results (Curwen, 2018). Three years after the foundation of the company, Google tried to use AdWords model to make money from the advertiser by presenting their advertisements alongside search results (Curwen, 2018). Since then, Google gains most of the profit through advertisement (Graham, 2017). Google carried on a department reorganization and the personnel restructuring and became a subsidiary company of Alphabet in 2015 (Bellis, 2020).
History of Google Company – Animated, provided by Past To Future on Youtube
Google’s Business Model
Graham (2017) states that around 90% of the revenue that Google generates is from advertising. Kang and McAllister (2011) agree that Google gains most of its profits through advertisement instead of selling its online services or applications directly. As an alternative, Google sells its users’ cognition, including attention, to advertisers to make targeted advertisement according to their search behaviours (Vaidhyanathan, 2011). Google provides three advertising services: AdWords, Adsense and DoubleClick (Kang & McAllister, 2011, p. 146). AdWords is an advertising program mainly based on auction, and it enables ads to present on services of Google and Google network members, including partner websites and third-party websites (Bilić, 2018). It allows advertising companies to set up a budget for advertising and only required to pay when people click on ads (Cant & Nadine, 2017). While Adsense is different, it offers every website owner a chance to register their websites on the Google network and expend their advertisement coverage to a broader extent (Kang & McAllister, 2011, p. 146). DoubleClick was not part of Google until 2007, it makes up the deficiency of Google in multi-media online ads and helps Google to target users precisely through extensive surveillance (Kang & McAllister, 2011, p. 147). Together with the help of Google Analytics which analyzes users’ preferences and assists advertisers to target potential consumers, Google commodifies its users (Kang & McAllister, 2011, p. 147). Below is a figure that describes the process of Google’s audience commodification.
From Selling You and Your Clicks: Examining the Audience Commodification of Google. By Kang & McAllister, 2011, p. 147
As Wiethaus argues (2015), the business model of Google search is double-sided and depends on matching advertisers or sellers to their potential customers.
Google’s Internet Ecology
As mentioned in the previous paragraph, Google is a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc. from 2015 (Curwen, 2018).
As shown in the previous paragraph, Google rules the search engine market by 92.71% of market share across all platforms globally (StatCounter Global Stats, 2020). Followed by Bing with a market share of 2.73%, Yahoo with a market share of 1.47%, and Baidu with a market share of 1.08% (StatCounter Global Stats, 2020). Bing is listed here because it is the second largest search engine, and it is owned by Microsoft, a dominant internet company in the world (Petrie, 2010). Yahoo could be seen as Google’s competitor since it was the leading search engine before Google rise to prominence (Zhao & Tse, 2011). Baidu and Naver are selected for a similar reason because Google failed to archive the predominant position in China and Korea search engine market (Zhao & Tse, 2011). According to Zhao & Tse (2011), Google only holds about 21% of the search market in China, which is a lot lower than the 70% held by Baidu. Likewise, Korea’s market leader Naver has a market share of 62%, while Google only has 4% (Zhao & Tse, 2011). Considering the market share Google owns, none of these search engines would bring a massive threat to Google in the global context.
From ACCC Digital Platforms Inquiry – final report. (2020)
Other advertising suppliers are also competitors to Google since it gains most of the profit from advertising. The figure above indicates companies that may compete with Google in the advertising market. Australian Competition & Consumer Commission argues (ACCC, 2019) that suppliers of general search advertising and competitors of specialized search are two kinds of competitors for Google in the supply of search ads. Google’s competitors for general search are the same as competitors for search engines. Suppliers of specialized search advertising like Amazon and Expedia provide advertising services for specific advertising businesses. However, for a similar reason stated in the last paragraph, none of these companies can genuinely constraint Google in the advertisement area. As displayed in the chart below (ACCC, 2019), Google shares 96% of general search advertising profit in Australia, nearly dominant the market. Users are used to using Google, and advertisers would prefer Google due to the competitive advantage it has (ACCC, 2019).
Furthermore, there is limited substitutability between search advertising and other advertising which includes offline advertising, classified advertising, and display advertising (ACCC, 2019). Therefore, although Google has competitors, they could not restrict Google.
Below is an ecosystem map of Google:
Google’s Transformative Effect
According to Google’s Economic Impact Report United States 2018 (p.4), Google’s search and advertising tools offer $335 billion of economic activity for more than 1.3 million companies and organizations throughout America. Google influence and portray the online business model to a great extent, especially the advertising market. Spurgeon (2008) demonstrates that the search engine is possibly the most critical innovation for advertisers. The successfulness of Google reveals the significance and preciousness of users’ data to advertising. Therefore, companies now pay more attention to users’ information online than their product and/or services (Vaidhyanathan, 2011).
However, Google also has negative effects on the global economy. The rise of online advertising disrupts the traditional advertising market and inflicts heavy losses on the traditional media business. Print media is also relied on the advertisement to earn money, but due to the prosperity of online advertising, many advertisers move online, traditional media businesses face extreme challenges, many companies are forced to declare bankrupt (ACCC, 2019).
Moreover, the predominance role of Google in the search engine market also cause bitter controversy about whether it monopoles the market or not. The European Commission announced that Google Inc. had abused its predominant role in the general search market to illegally favour Google shopping in the European Economic Area (EEA) (Blanckenburg, 2018). The lack of transparency of Google’s ranking algorithm invokes distrust in public. It raises suspicious when Google starts integrating its products (Petrie, 2010). People are concerned that Google may have a competitive advantage through its flagship position of the search engine industry.
More information about the EU case could be found in the video below:
Google hit with record EU fine over Shopping service – BBC News provided by BBC News on Youtube (2017).
Furthermore, the lack of transparency enables Google to take advantage of consumers economically. Users are facing price discrimination and economical inequality, they often overestimate services that Google provides and/or undervalue data they shared with it (Newman, 2014).
The government should formulate an act to protect traditional companies and control the job loss. Promulgate anti-trust law to stop Google search from monopolies the market and gain competitive advantages through it. Supervise its transparency and protect consumer’s benefit.
Politically speaking, misinformation, synthetic media, and the search engine manipulation effect (SEME) may interfere with the democratic process (Dowdeswel & Goltz, 2020). For Google search, SEME is probably the most related and serious one. Since the internet search rankings have unbelievably impacts on individuals’ decision, consumers tend to trust higher-ranked search results (Epstein & Robertson, 2015). Epstein and Robertson’s research illustrates that “biased search ranking can shift the voting preferences of undecided voters by 20% or more” (2015). Besides, PRISM operation that codenamed by the U.S. government makes people anxious about the government may secretly violate their personal privacy by accessing their data (Jarrett, 2014). Legislators should force both Google and surveillance operation to be more transparent.
Social and/or Cultural
Google search changes the way many people gather knowledge, brings convenience to society, and shifts the definition of “search”. People no longer need to go to the library to search by themselves, Google can help us to search on the internet anywhere (Curwen, 2018). However, Google sometimes may present prejudice opinions, since its autosuggestions and search results sometimes may reflect stereotypes in society. Nobel (2018) found out Google’s automatically complete her sentence with sexist and racist words. Below are several autosuggestions Nobel got (2018, p. 15):
The autosuggestions she received reflects the existing stereotypes towards female and coloured people in Australian society. Google needs to raise its awareness to stop reinforcing these prejudice thoughts when developing their algorithm.
In conclusion, the development of Google search brings not only new opportunities, convenience, and new thoughts to us, but also negative impacts. There is no good or evil for the technology itself. What we can do is try our best to avoid the negative effects. As a new industry, imperfections are almost unavoidable. The government should protect the traditional business from the hit of new technology, put pressure on Google to be more transparent to consumers, and improve the rules and orders to supervise to set public’s mind at rest.
ACCC. (2019, July 25). ACCC Digital Platforms Inquiry – final report. Retrieved 18 November 2020, from ACCC Digital Platforms Inquiry website: https://www.accc.gov.au/focus-areas/inquiries/digital-platforms-inquiry
Blanckenburg, K. (2018). Google search abuses dominant position to illegally favour Google Shopping: an economic review of the EU decision. Digital Policy, Regulation and Governance, 20(3), 211–224. https://doi.org/10.1108/DPRG-05-2017-0020
Bellis, Mary. (2020, August 27). The History of Google and How It Was Invented. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/who-invented-google-1991852
Bilić, P. (2018). A Critique of the Political Economy of Algorithms: A Brief History of Google’s Technological Rationality. TripleC, 16(1), 315–331. https://doi.org/10.31269/triplec.v16i1.914
Cant, M. C., & Nadine, V. R. (2017). The use of search engines in the marketing of accommodation establishments: Adopt or reject the use of google AdWords? International Review of Management and Marketing, 7(3) Retrieved from http://ezproxy.library.usyd.edu.au/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.ezproxy2.library.usyd.edu.au/docview/1984679538?accountid=14757
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