The Wall Street Journal says Google is considering giving a boost in its search-engine results to websites that use encryption.
Is Google being a bully? Are they a force for good? I’m not sure it matters. What concerns me is the idea that a company is now so powerful and influential that it can force the rest of us on the internet to make decisions that may or may not be in our best interests.
I know a lot of people lost their faith in the company when they dropped Google Reader. But I think we all more or less understand why it happened. I recently got one of those calls confirming recent credit card transactions and they described Google as an advertising company. Nothing about technology or the internet.
Google’s power comes from the fact that, to a very large extent, they control what people see on the Internet. They create the system and they game the system to their own ends. They offer a service for free to the end user- provided they can make money off that service.
It is probably inevitable that almost all technologies we depend on for our online experience will be heavily influenced by a few powerful organizations. The question is, where does that influence and control end?
Here’s a useful thought experiment. Imagine that Google takes away search results. Search may seem like the company’s essential function. But why does Google have to keep serving up search results from the Internet? Very few people look beyond the first couple results anyway.
Why wouldn’t a company in a position of almost total control serve up nothing but sponsored content if they could? Or just content only from sites that jump through their hoops. (Content from unencrypted sites would almost never be seen if Google changes its algorithm to de-value their content.)
In fact, Google would probably make more money than they already do if they took this approach. The idea that a search engine doesn’t show search results isn’t too far fetched once you think about it. No different than Facebook neglecting to show you posts from a person or company that you follow.
I don’t expect everyone to trust me or assume that we have their best interests at heart. We want people to gravitate to the Old Reader because it gives them what they ask for. It’s not altruism- it’s just how the open web works. We will certainly make decisions about how to run the service that not everyone will agree with.
Critics have said that RSS has not always been as consumer-friendly as social media. But what is more user-friendly than giving you exactly what you want to see, and not what a single company wants you to see? That’s how the Internet is supposed to work.
By its very nature, The Old Reader is not a closed system and will never have the kind of concentrated market power to control what you see. The very nature of RSS is that it delivers the content that you request.
We don’t need some Advertising firm telling us how to consume or construct our web. Do we?