Google! Making Information and Ignorance Easy

Reading Linda Brady Traynham’s article about education and the state of our current primary and secondary institutions struck a nerve with me, particularly the following phrase:

“Colleges have forgotten that their primary tasks are to give students a framework to organize and correlate data on, and to teach them how to think for themselves and find their own information.”

The other night my wife Jennifer and I were walking our normal circuit of 3-5 miles, when we started on the topic of information, and the lack of skills our children exhibit when trying to locate or use it.

I am now the proud father of 7 children, all of them intelligent, good looking, and athletic, dealing with issues most infants, preschool, preteens, teens, and young adults experience. Having a larger sample of children to observe through these developmental phases has shown me that each child differs in the ability to locate, store, and use information. The success or failure of any search is desire. How hard should a person have to search before being satisfied or discouraged with the results? Laughable as it may seem, I feel the Internet is largely to blame for the deterioration of search skills globally.

“What?” you might be asking yourself. Consider for a moment that we now have more information available to us with a few typed phrases and mouse clicks than any other era of history combined, and still more added every millisecond.

Within this vast trove of information lays the problem. The sheer amount of accessible knowledge is making us lazy. Again “What?” Our children and those who didn’t learn how to locate information on their own have been lulled into a state of complacency, driven by the knowledge that Google is there whenever they need it. Being able to Google anything is the primary reason for the increasing ignorance of the world. It follows the path of replacing paper and pencil with a calculator.

I hear snickers. It would be a laughable statement if it wasn’t so sad. Google works against you if your education is based on the foundation of search skills currently taught in public schools. It almost sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? Google by itself is a wonderful tool. The technology enables it to parse massive amounts of text, images, videos, and all the relations between them. What could possibly make Google bad? As Adrian Monk would say “Here’s the thing…” Google employs algorithms that score intelligence and personality based upon how you search, and serve results to you accordingly.

My Internet career started as a filler gig to get out of selling tractors and treadmills at Sears. That move has led to over 10 years in Internet Marketing, specifically Natural Search Technology. My job is to understand Google, Bing, Yahoo, and the rest of the search engines. There are thousands of variables applied to any information returned to you by a search engine. Individuals and businesses are constantly trying to break down the algorithms applied to a page, or website. The pursuit of keeping “Spam” out of their searches has made Google the most secretive of the search engines.

Those who understand how Google is applying all the mentioned variables can make considerable amounts of money manipulating websites in order to rank well for a search phrase like “Cars.” In the course of my job I formulated content and linking strategies to give websites a better chance of ranking for a valuable search phrase. The only way to do this is to be ahead of the technology Google is developing to improve their search results.

Google is one of the most prolific filers of patents in the world. If Google were the government they would be Big Brother; some argue they are already. Google is a huge researcher into the role of semantics and how they relate to human behavior and intelligence. Why would they care about those things when all they are is a search engine?

Most things in this world are focused on money and power. Google is no different. G’s entire world is centered around what, when, and how you click at the top and right side columns of their sites. It’s all about the ad clicks, money they make from them, and the power they obtain through capturing user data.

By now you may be scratching your heads wondering how the little ads on Google are the downfall of intelligence around the world. The engineers at Google are incredibly smart. I consider myself fairly bright, but in their respective micro niches they are as blinding as the sun. After analyzing billions of searches every day, for 8 years, Google has come to a stunningly profitable conclusion. Users don’t respond identically to returned search results. Tuning search results to an assumed persona and intelligence level enables Google to satisfy the users, keeping them on the site longer, clicking ads, and feeling intelligent for finding information.

What’s the downside? Search results based on assumed intelligence and personality provide little incentive to delve deeper into the searched subject. By dumbing down search results Google is satisfying individual vanity at the expense of advancing education. Why should Google limit their profit margins just because users are not motivated or smart enough to make sense of the truly valid returns for their search? Although it scares me to see information manipulated to opiate the masses, it makes financial sense. In order for Google to accomplish what they do–and what they want to do, they need to create as much revenue from every user as possible. Google’s goal is to index, evaluate, and make available all the information that has ever been, or will ever be. In order to do this they need continuously flowing enormous sums of money. They obtain this money every time users click on an ad, untold millions of times a year.

Unfortunately, with nearly unlimited funds, and data, it is only a matter of time before elements of a subversive nature begin to coerce and manipulate users on an individual level. It is not beyond the scope of possibility that an individual could be targeted by IP address to receive results, search suggestions, and ads that influence them into a particular thought pattern or action. While some may see G’s ability to contextually match searches, suggestions, and ads to be an invasion of privacy, it takes one thorough reading of their terms of service to understand that by using Google you agree to whatever they decide to do with your information, or contribution. A shorter document that talks about privacy is here on the toolbar.

One interesting point to note in their Terms of Service is located in section 2:

.2 You can accept the Terms by:

(A) clicking to accept or agree to the Terms, where this option is made available to you by Google in the user interface for any Service; or

(B) by actually using the Services. In this case, you understand and agree that Google will treat your use of the Services as acceptance of the Terms from that point onwards.

2.3 You may not use the Services and may not accept the Terms if (a) you are not of legal age to form a binding contract with Google, or (b) you are a person barred from receiving the Services under the laws of the United States or other countries including the country in which you are resident or from which you use the Services.

2.3 Creates a serious moral, legal issue. How do you keep kids in schools from using Google? Until they reach 18 they are legally forbidden to use their services. Is that stopping them from marketing to our children? No. Google’s Terms of Service are merely a veneer of plausible denial to dispel liability should any harm come to your children by accessing information that leads to physical or mental damage, or death.

Nevertheless the only deterrent Google offers regarding underage users is in the TOS which is in small print at the bottom of the page.

The final question is, “How do they know who is searching when and where?” If I were to do a poll on all who are reading this article I would not be surprised to see 8 out of ten hands raised if I asked if you use any of the following:

  • Gmail
  • Google toolbar
  • Youtube
  • Craigslist
  • and Google itself.

If you are logged in to any of these accounts your data has been diced, mashed, scrutinized and algorithmically applied to every search you do. Even if you are not logged into a service,working on a brand new computer on a wifi network anywhere in the world, Google knows within 6 searches the type of personality you trend toward and your intelligence level. They have held the patents for this technology for years, and have within the last year been employing it as a limited beta test, and implementing it for last 6 months on 90% of all searches results served by Google.

I shudder to think what would happen if Google were to suffer financial collapse by design. Google’s importance to the world is such that our government would not allow it to fail. Who knows the level of manipulation and censorship would be applied “for the greater good” to information sought if bureaucrats got involved.

Information is a double edged sword. On one hand Google can unveil the vast world of information to the truly worthy of mind, on the other are the emperors wandering around naked impressed with the knowledge they are spoon fed.

If all this wasn’t enough Google launched a new program in February of this year called Google Latitude which tracks you and your friends on a live map by using your mobile phones and devices. If George Orwell were alive he would probably shrug and say “I told you so.”

Michael Rough

September 29, 2009