Best of COM340 – Google: friend or foe to social media?

Google is our friend. They let us search the internet, look after email for us, give us the opportunity to edit documents with our friends and colleagues anywhere in the world in real time, they give us memes on YouTube, they host our blogs, they give us location based information and recommendations, maps, satellite images… There isn’t much they CAN’T do.

Except decide what it is we read and view on the internet, right?

Well, it might surprise you just how wrong that idea truly is.

To get a good idea of just how much power Google has over what you see online, take a look at this talk from Eli Pariser about the concept of a ‘filter bubble’ – how websites like Facebook and Google tailor your search results and your news feeds to suit what they think you’ll want to read.

I have to say, the comparison between the two different users and their Google results is pretty astonishing. I’ve personally noticed that Google on my work computer already knows to look for Canberra based options when I search for a kind of business. I must admit, I really don’t like that, especially since this week I had all my server details and personal computer settings changed over to a new account. Google still knows where I am, and what I’m likely to search for.

As you can see, this is SO much bigger than social media. Sure, the idea that your new boss can type your name into Google and find every single embarrassing photo ever posted of you on the web is terrifying. The idea that we may not hear about bad things in the world? It’s probably not so big a deal to us right now.

But the fact is that it’s a kind of censorship. With Google having control of so much of our online experience is it really that big a leap to them dictating what we will do in our every day lives? Their CEO Eric Schmidt doesn’t seem to think so. (Also, take a look at this one. This guy’s a bit creepy!)

So, with social media being seen and desired by many as a place where we can choose our own online destinies, especially given its importance in protests in places like Iran and Egypt in recent years, Google is most certainly a foe, but not the only enemy freedom of information and freedom of speech face on the online battlefield.

*****

And as a little PS: here’s the Google Hungry Beast File from 2010. Yes, it’s being hosted by YouTube, a Google company. (You seriously can’t escape these guys!)

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