Google: Behind the Screen (2006)

Google: Behind the Screen

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Google - Behind the Screen: The World According to Google (2006)

The World according to Google. Do you know what they know?

from VPRO Backlight

zondag 7 mei 2006 21:10

What if all the world’s information would be available and easy to find? What if all the news, all books, all texts, photographs and videos would be collected in one place, and made available, always and everywhere? This is the goal of Google, and the company seems to be realising its core mission at an amazing speed: through its popular search engine, through Google Earth, with which users can find any kind of information based on geography, and through Google Print, a project in which Google digitizes complete libraries.

Google is divulging ever more information, in the process hiring the smartest people in the industry. But is the company aware of the responsibility it has, being the guard to all the world’s information, including personal information about its users?

This documentary takes a look into the world of Google, in the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, California and in its London offices. We see –among others- Vint Cerf, named ‘the father’ of the Internet who explains the inner workings of Google as a company. Since 2004, Cerf has been working for Google, helping them to develop new applications for the Internet. What is his view on the development of the Internet, and on the role Google plays in today’s world?

With its motto ‘Don’t be evil’, Google seems to have the best intentions. But there are also claims that Google is slowly turning into Big Brother, keeping track of its users and continuously making decisions about the information it provides to an ever faster growing number of users.

Will Google turn out to be a new Library of Alexandria, serving as a middleman that brings all useful information to anyone? Or is it turning into a monopolistic Big Brother that challenges the freedom of information?

Director: IJsbrand van Veelen

Research: Martijn Kieft

Producer: Nicoline Tania

Editors in chief: Frank Wiering,Doke Romeijn


The world according to Google

BBC, Friday, 20 January 2006, 19:00 GMT

By Charles Miller

BBC Money Programme

In the 18 months since its stock market flotation, Google has been transformed from a company that prided itself on being simple and effective, into a multi-headed high tech beast which wants to get involved in everything.

According to Marissa Mayer, vice president of search products at the company's Silicon Valley headquarters, Google likes to release new products "early and often". And that means, she cheerfully admits, that nine out of ten ideas will fail. "We want to try things out, lots of things. Our goal is to fail fast, get the product out, and see what users like."

Already Google's original internet search tool sits alongside Google Maps, internet-based phone calls, email, photo storage, a searchable satellite view of the globe, and (here's one that might "fail fast") Google Ride Finder, which shows the live position of individual taxis in 15 American cities.

Google is sensitive to the charge of losing focus on its core activity.

'Anti-portal' stance

There's a history here, because when Google emerged in the late 1990s to challenge existing web portals like Yahoo and Lycos, its success was based on the idea of doing one thing well, "like a pencil", as they always said.

"If you make a list of all the things that a portal is," says Google-watcher John Battelle, "today, Google checks every one of those boxes. Lots of organisations have recognised that information is a key asset. "But when you say to them 'you're a portal now', they get very upset, because they built the whole company on the idea of being anti-portal." Google justifies its vast new range of services by explaining they all still fit the original company mission statement, to "organise the world's information."

If you count video footage, conversations and the last email you wrote as "information", then, arguably they do, but only in the geeky sense of information as data, rather than what most people understand by it. And in that sense, there really is not anything you can send over the internet that is not information.

Dangerous strategy

If Google is in danger of over-diversifying its product range, its source of income remains largely one-dimensional - and therefore potentially vulnerable.

If you run a Google search, the chances are you will find a list of what it coyly calls 'Sponsored Links' - that is adverts - to the right of the search results.

They are from hundreds of thousands of companies, which have picked particular words as triggers for their ads to appear, hoping for instance that if you search for 'France holidays' you will be a likely customer for their particular brand of French package holidays.

Only if you click on the advert does the advertiser have to pay Google, which is good news for advertisers, because they are only paying for motivated customers to visit their website.

Google UK's David MacDonald says that for advertisers the system is "a magic money-making machine", because of the measurable returns they get for what they pay Google. Indeed, so scientific is the pay-per-click system these days that Google even offers advertisers suggested mis-spelling of search terms to add to the list of words that trigger an advert's appearance.

One of the hardest spellings for British Google users, apparently, is "Britney Spears" - also one of the most popular searches. So Google now offers a comprehensive list of more than 1000 ways in which her name has been misspelt (most likely mistakes: brittany spears, brittney spears, britany spears; least likely: brinthey spears, brirrany spears, buttney spears, grittney spears, prietny spears - all of which were typed by more than one person within 3 months.)

Potential risks

Google's ad system earned the company $1.5bn during the July to September quarter of 2005, almost double what it made a year earlier. Ad income has given Google the resources to bring out products like Google Earth and Google Desktop, which have, as yet, no detectable source of income.

And ad income is the power behind Google's stock, whose apparently unstoppable rise makes the financial community's initial scepticism now look humiliatingly wrong. At the last count, Google was worth around $140bn, almost five times its value at flotation, and comfortably more than the likes of Coca-Cola and Time Warner.

Google's energy and speed of change show how determined it is to avoid resting on its laurels. "While the outside world sees a success, those of us inside know the many different challenges and possible failure points and risks," observes Ms Mayer.

Google's canny founders are also all too aware that Silicon Valley has seen many high tech companies, from Netscape to, which in their heyday appeared to be unbeatable, but are now all but forgotten.

Source: BBC

Google defies US over search data

BBC News, Friday, 20 January 2006, 10:33 GMT

Google has been resisting the government request since August

The internet search engine Google is resisting efforts by the US Department of Justice to force it to hand over data about what people are looking for. Google was asked for information on the types of query submitted over a week, and the websites included in its index.

The department wants the data to try to show in court it has the right approach in enforcing an online pornography law. It says the order will not violate personal privacy, but Google says it is too broad and threatens trade secrets.

Privacy groups say any sample could reveal the identities of Google users indirectly. And they say the demand is a worrying precedent, because the government also wants to make more use of internet data for fighting crime and terrorism. However, the Department of Justice has said that several of Google's main competitors have already complied.

Act blocked

The department first issued a request for the data last August. It wants:

* A list of terms entered into the search engine during an unspecified single week, potentially tens of millions of queries

* A million randomly selected web addresses from various Google databases.

The US government is seeking to defend the 1998 Child Online Protection Act, which has been blocked by the Supreme Court because of legal challenges over how it is enforced.

Google's refusal to comply prompted US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to ask a federal judge in the state of California on Wednesday for an order to hand over the records. But Google's lawyers said it would fight the order.

"Google is not a party to this lawsuit and their demand for information overreaches," associate general counsel Nicole Wong said in a written statement. "We had lengthy discussions with them to try to resolve this, but were not able to, and we intend to resist their motion vigorously."

Search decisions

Google has also said that providing the data would make its users think it was willing to reveal personal information about them, as well as giving competitors access to trade secrets.

One of its search rivals, Yahoo, said it had already complied with a similar government subpoena "on a limited basis and did not provide any personally identifiable information". And Microsoft said in a statement that it "works closely with law enforcement officials worldwide to assist them when requested". "It is our policy to respond to legal requests in a very responsive and timely manner in full compliance with applicable law," it said.

Source: BBC


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