Price We Pay For Google By Peter Olsthoorn

Google is the Silver Back of all search engines. Its efficiency and the query results provided surpassed those of all the other search engines around at the time when it came into the fore. And 20 years later it is still THE go-to search engine for the large majority of web users..

So I saw this as quite the provocative book title. I use Google every single day, and I use it quite heavily for my work, as do countless others across the globe. But is there a cost to this free service that we’ve simply ignored?

In this book, the author does an interesting, thorough deep dive into the history of Google, including all sorts of side projects that were started by Google, but often didn’t really take off.

The main point the author seemed to be making in this section was that while Google was originally intended to be an ad-free service centred solely around the end-user, the founders eventually (after a considerable length of time) “sold-out” and gave in to develop Adwords and Adsense, in order to provide better income for the company.

However, there was one thing mentioned in this section that really tickled me – the Founders started their project while on a program intended for the next Microsoft stars.

There are several pages listing all of the data Google has on more than just your searching behaviour. However, it’s worth noting at this point that this is a list of types of data that Google can have on you, as opposed to what Google does have on you…

The other data Google can have on you (as opposed to does have on you) comes through other Google services such as Google Photos, Google Translate, Gmail, YouTube (which was acquired by Google), and more.

Although I feel that this book ought to have received a lot more attention than it has so far, it does have some bad points against it. Most notably the date it was published…

The book was published in 2011, over a decade before this book review was written, so suffice to say Google has changed a lot since then, and continues to change and improve on a very frequent basis (often much to the distress of website investors, but at the same time keeping SEO experts in their jobs).  

But perhaps more significantly, the book was written prior to the introduction of the GDPR rules on privacy and data collection that affect the UK and Europe today.

There are, of course, benefits in Google having data on you. For example, when you are typing words into the search bar, Google retains similar searches you have done previously, so it can display search options that are more likely to be what you’re looking for.

I believe this can have downsides, but with Google’s motto being “Don’t be evil”, as you may imagine, some things about the system have been tweaked so as not to upset people.

For instance, if you were to type in search terms regarding a terminal illness, search engines may have at one time brought up funeral director ads at this point, but currently Google does not.

But while this personalization of ads can be very convenient at times, it can also be a significant distraction from other tasks.

Olsthoorn maintains that personal data is becoming a kind of internet currency, and there have been instances of personal data being used for political gain by Facebook just a few years ago.

The author readily admits that when the book was written, Google was still a long way off taking maximum advantage of personal data for commercial gain.

However, he hastens to add that since Google has a monopoly on information indexing, if the company were to fall into the wrong hands, who knows what could happen.

I felt that this book was quite the eye opener. I just wish it had been written more recently, taking the new GDPR rules into account. But it does go some way to explaining why such rules ought to be put in place to begin with.

Personally, I got a lot out of this book, but I wouldn’t go so far as to recommend it to my audience. However, I do intend to read and review the book “ Data Cartels: The Companies That Control And Monopolize Our Information” by Sarah Lamden, which is more recent, and potentially more concerning.


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Book blogger, excitement conveyor, and information forager.

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