In Germany, the U.S. Internet company Google is constantly in the headlines these days. In addition to the weekly reports of further acquisitions of technology companies, there is a heated public debate about Google as being a scary data octopus, aiming for world-power and omnipotence.
First, some brief facts about Google (Sources: Reuters, ZDNet, Spiegel Online):
- Google employs approximately 48,000 employees with an annual turnover of about 60 billion U.S. dollars, largely generated through advertising revenue in connection with Google services such as the search engine or YouTube.
- in May 2014, Google superseded Apple as the most valuable brand in the world, with a current brand value of now 159 U.S. dollars
- in Germany, Google has a market share of 91.4% for searches on the Internet (worldwide: 69.4%) – theis stands for 2.162 million Searches processed, just in 2013
- The most important acquisitions of recent years did include the world’s largest video portal YouTube, the mobile phone maker Motorola, the company Nest Labs (specializing in the networked home), various development companies in the field of artificial intelligence, a drone developer, as well as several smaller providers in the areas of social media and online advertising.
- On June 10, 2014 Google also announced the planned acquisition of the the satellite provider Skybox Imaging for 500 million U.S. dollars.
And here some of the recent headlines about the company in Germany:
- In January 2014, Google annonced the Open Automotive Alliance (OAA), which aims to develop the connected car based on Android. As the first major german car maker, Audi entered the alliance from the start.
- In May 2014, the European Court of Justice committed Google to delete links to Web pages with sensitive personal information from its search results. The company is currently working on an implementation and already has received several thousand deletion requests (Handelsblatt)
- Springer Media & Publishing CEO Mathias Dopfner published on 04/16/2014 an open letter to Googles Chairman of the Board of Directors Eric Schmidt, titled “Why we do fear Google” (FAZnet)
- on May 28th, Google introduced the prototype of a totally automated car (tagesschau.de)
- Every now and again we read about some (not nice, but legal) practices of Google, to shift profits to low-tax countries in order to massively save on taxes. (Handelsblatt)
Generally speaking, all this seems to support the popular perception of a ruthless monopolist, which creeps up everywhere in our lives, spies us online, building out a business model that is just based on total surveillance of each and every individual . The first calls for “smashing” Google are being heard. The evil has a name!
It’s not that simple…
Of course one can and should be divided on the one or other business practice or objective of Google. Ultimately however, with its variety of initiatives, the company pushes and develops the Internet economy substantially.
The dynamics of the global, mobile and networked reality are overwhelming for many of us. Life is turning faster and faster. Business models are changing, markets break away, new opportunities arise. In addition, our communication and social behavior changes in the tension between anonymous comments and the unlimited publicizing of oneself in social networks.
Privacy is a great good, but let’s not kid ourselves: even if we force a search engine to delete entries about us, the Internet itself forgets NOTHING. I think that’s a good thing in the end, because the alternative to unfiltered online transparency is censorship – and thus the arbitrary decision about welcome and unwelcome content.
Again, Google is a hard-hitting, profit-driven business enterprise – but these are Siemens and Telekom also. It may even be lucky to have Google in its present form, because that company holds up a mirror to reflect on the technological progress with all its postitive and negative impacts. In addition, the conversations around Google are effectively mirroring the fundamental questions we are facing today in regards of our personal beliefs and sustainable social values in the Internet age..
Google is not the evil – Google makes the evil visible and constantly reminds us, that the cozy world of yesterday won’t return. If we do not like what we see, smashing the mirror is not a solution at all.