Google’s most ambitious project yet: Reshaping the way you think

In a column yesterday at Sharp, Joel Kotkin, urban studies specialist, author of The rise of neo-feudalism: a warning to the global middle class (2020), provided depressing evidence that the power of Big Tech is beginning to truly resemble the power that medieval lords had over their serfs. It’s not just an office joke anymore.

Joel Kotkin

Google, he says, was part of an anti-authoritarian high-tech culture when it went public in 2004. Its search engine technology, and others, were seen as empowering the little guy .

In 2018, for unclear reasons, Google dropped the famous “Don’t be evil” slogan. Since then, according to Kotkin, he “became more and more a force not for good, but for, well, evil.” It puts together impressive arguments for a slow but sure change of the industry in this direction:

Back when I started reporting on Silicon Valley in the mid-1970s, many start-ups were run by people who had groundbreaking ideas about how to improve society. During the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011, anti-capitalist protesters even observed a minute of silence when they learned of Steve Jobs’ death. They hailed him as a liberator and maverick.

Joel Kotkin, “Google: What happened to ‘Don’t be mean’?” at Sp!ked (July 20, 2022)

The weather is changing. Google now controls 90% of the global search engine market and 75% of email (1.5 billion monthly users).

Two outcomes he highlights are: Google is less innovative and more defensive of its dominance (a typical fate for Bigness of all kinds) and that its search engine and behavior have become increasingly politicized. In a frightening and possibly dangerous way.

Kotkin notes Google’s efforts to hamper competitor DuckDuckGo. As Technocracy News says it:

DuckDuckGo CEO Gabriel Weinberg, whose company offers a competing search engine that touts its privacy protections, told me and Gerrit De Vynck in an interview Tuesday that Google is rolling out manipulative design features, known under the name of “dark models”, to encourage users to abandon competing products. …

Since Google implemented the changes, DuckDuckGo said it saw a significant drop – 10% – in the number of new users it was able to retain on its services on Chrome. DuckDuckGo said this resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of new users. (Chrome is by far the most popular desktop browser in the world.)

Cristiano Lima, Aaron Schaffer via MSN News“Charge: Google hammering competitors by manipulating browser extensions” at Technocracy News and Trends (January 10, 2022)

We’re told this was the first time a DuckDuckGo executive has spoken publicly about the issue. But readers who have tried installing DuckDuckGo as a search engine may have encountered it. And if Google can’t destroy the competition, it can usually buy it.

Two other key changes noted by Kotkin are 1) Silicon Valley itself has stark social disparities between the homeless encampments/car dwellers and the tens of thousands of tech millionaires living very comfortably. And 2) although Google started out politically nonpartisan, beginning with the Obama administration (2008-2016), the Valley has become staunchly Democratic, putting its money in its mouth and maintaining a close relationship with the current White House.

This is where it gets scary

This is not about Silicon Valley being rich and powerful, Kotkin tells us,

The tech oligarch’s greatest weapon against dissent is his ability to control the flow of information. Tech companies today seek to police thought just as much as the Catholic Church did in the Middle Ages. They engaged in a widespread de-platforming of largely conservative voices. And Google, thanks to its algorithms, now removes or downgrades posts or individuals as it sees fit. He has become, as US News put it in 2016, “the world’s biggest censor”. To make matters worse, Google Chrome is widely cited for tracking its own users through “pervasive surveillance” technology.

Joel Kotkin, “Google: What happened to ‘Don’t be mean’?” at Sp!ked (July 20, 2022)

And they are also after our minds. This is not a conspiracy theory:

Google seems determined to extend its dominance over information. This year, it unveiled a plan to use its algorithms to encourage users to use more properly “inclusive” language. The growing confluence of Google and other mainstream platforms with the executive state is even more disturbing. This has become especially clear during the pandemic, when online platforms have engaged in censorship of those voices, no matter how credentialed, who have dared to question official policy on Covid. Tech companies attempted this year to create a “misinformation committee” that would work to limit dissent from federally-backed orthodoxy.

But this is only the beginning. Last year, Google announced a “crackdown” on climate change skeptics, including well-known scientists. »

Joel Kotkin, “Google: What happened to ‘Don’t be mean’?” at Sp!ked (July 20, 2022)

It’s certainly not a conspiracy theory if the company “opens up” and “announces” its intentions.

Not surprisingly, Kotkin notes, public opinion has turned against Big Tech in recent years:

A plurality of 45% of American adults have a very or somewhat negative opinion of these companies, defined in the survey as “technology companies, such as Amazon, Facebook and Google”. 34% have a very or fairly positive opinion and 20% are neutral.

One in three Americans holding a positive view of Big Tech reflects a 46% drop in August 2019, while negative views rose from 33% to 45%. And the proportion of very negative reviews has more than doubled, from 10% to 22%.

Megan Brenan“Big Tech Views Worse; Public Wants More Regulation” at Gallup (February 18, 2021)

The pandemic helped shape heightened public distrust: “During the pandemic, Big Tech companies were able to reap huge profits, at a time when Main Street businesses were ordered to close.” (Kotkin)

SEO symbol on laptop keyboard, 3d render, concept image.  online google and search concepts.

Unsurprisingly, the proportion of the public who want more government regulation of Big Tech has increased (from 48% to 57% according to Gallup). But, as Big Tech increasingly integrates and merges with Big Government, reform becomes difficult – especially as Big Tech controls the spread of information in a way that historical dictators never have. just dreaming. However, also looking at history, what if Big Tech categorically supported one party instead of paying for both? A party that comes to power despite its efforts owes it nothing.

Not only is Big Tech a force for “evil” according to Kotkin, but – more relevant to his position – a force that will work for limit innovation: “After a remarkable era of greater dispersion of wealth and opportunity, we are inexorably returning to a more feudal era marked by greater concentration of wealth and property, reduced upward mobility, demographic stagnation and increased dogmatism. “

The independent search engine Brave (and others, no doubt), is clinging on in the meantime – attracting attention even for doing so – and offers pioneering methods that give the user more control. Whether such innovations are allowed to thrive or ultimately succumb largely depends on whether users accept or challenge their serf status.


You can also read: The Brave search engine survives; so does privacy still matter? Despite Google’s overwhelming dominance, Brave has logged 2.5 billion searches since this time last year. Not content to just survive, Brave pioneered Goggles, which allows the user, rather than the business, to personalize search.

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