Google recently agreed to forfeit $500 million to avoid prosecution for knowingly accepting illegal advertisements from online Canadian pharmacies. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Google knew as early as 2003 that the pharmacies were promoting illegal importation of drugs, yet it continued to accept the ads and provide customer support to the advertisers through 2009.
However, this isn’t an isolated incident. Google has repeatedly been accused of violating privacy laws, facilitating copyright infringement and aiding online piracy. Google consistently demonstrates disregard for the rule of law — a disregard stemming from Google’s radical political beliefs.
Google’s radical ideology consists of five key ideas:
Information should be free: Google and its political allies want to turn the Internet into an “information commons.” To that end, they seek to weaken copyright, trademark and patent protections. This “what’s yours is mine” philosophy is used by Google to monetize others’ information and content without paying for it. For example, Google allows its customers to use others’ trademarks as search advertising keywords.
Access to information should be unfettered: Google aims to replace user privacy and data security with radical transparency and openness. Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt wants us to believe that omnipresent surveillance is simply a modern fact of life: “If you’re online all the time, computers are generating a lot of information about you. This is not a Google decision, this is a societal decision.” What Schmidt doesn’t mention is that Google uses its free products and services to track and profile users. That’s why Google has earned the moniker “Big Brother Inc.”
Innovators don’t need permission: Google believes that if you are developing innovative solutions, you shouldn’t require others’ permission to use their property or violate their privacy. Put another way, innovators provide a service to society and should be exempt from laws that get in their way. For example, Google appointed itself to scan and digitize the world’s books without first obtaining permission from copyright holders.
Everything that’s technically possible is allowable: Google believes that if something is technically possible, it should be done, because inevitably it will be done. Therefore, the development and use of technology trumps all other values. This idea can be used to justify everything from tracking and profiling users against their wishes to cloning human beings.
Our information-based society should be run by engineers: Google believes that technology is too sophisticated and complex to be managed by non-experts. Therefore, the Internet should be run by elite engineers (many of whom work at Google). This idea places Google above the laws, rules, norms and standards of accountability that apply to everyone else.
Google’s radical ideology poses a number of dangers. Google is the dominant provider of Internet search service, handling about 80% of Internet searches worldwide. Google has the power to determine what information gets found and what gets lost in the crowd. Google claims that its search engine is “unbiased” but has admitted to using human raters, regularly adjusting its search algorithm and placing its own content at or near the top of search results. If Google manipulated search results in subtle ways for political purposes, would we even know it?
As the world’s biggest data-mining operation, with more than one billion users, Google knows more about influencing people than anyone in history. That may explain why Google’s dominance of search advertising is even more pronounced than its dominance of search. With this knowledge, Google has acquired unprecedented power to sway public opinion — should it choose to do so.
In fact, Google’s leaders have repeatedly said that they are not in business to make money but to “change the world.” As they stated in their 2004 IPO letter, “We aspire to make Google an institution that makes the world a better place.” Eric Schmidt is even more emphatic: “The goal of the company is not to monetize anything … The goal is to change the world — and monetization is a technique to do that.”
As the Internet’s lone superpower (consuming more electricity than Salt Lake City), Google has the wherewithal to influence elections, trade favors with government agencies and meddle in international disputes. Eric Schmidt publicly boasted that Google is on track to develop “truth predictor” software to keep politicians honest. Google’s free Political Campaign Toolkit promises to help candidates win elections. It all sounds non-partisan until you consider the evidence to the contrary. For example, Google removed Republican Senator Susan Collins’s AdWords ads countering television ads by Moveon.org based on a company policy that (as Brit Hume showed) Google only selectively enforces.
Google wants to change the world by destroying privacy, abolishing property rights and putting its engineers in charge of the Internet. With that attitude, it’s no surprise that Google felt justified hosting advertisements by pharmacies promoting the illegal importation of drugs. As the dominant provider of search and search advertising services, armed with its radical ideology, Google could cause far worse damage. It’s up to the rest of us to make Google obey the law, respect the rights of others and be more accountable.
Ira Brodsky is co-author with Scott Cleland of the new book Search & Destroy: Why You Can’t Trust Google Inc. Visit SearchAndDestroyBook.com.