Tech - Internet
By: - at October 18, 2013

Top 15 Myths about Google

Not many companies have ever earned the distinction of being "verbed." It's rare for a company to become so synonymous with its services that people simply use the name of the company to refer to the action of using them. The most recent company to earn this distinction is Google. The massive search engine company has become so popular that "googling", a word for looking information up on the Internet, has earned its place in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Google Logo

Since Google has become such a pervasive part of online life and with the company seeming to always expand its range of products and services, myths and hype surround the online giant. Google "google myths" on Google and you'll find plenty of hits. Here are the top 15 myths, and some facts to put them into perspective.


Myth 15)  Google Doesn't Make Any Money
This myth probably stems from the fact that Google offers so many of its services for free. Gmail, Google+, Google Drive, YouTube, Google Maps, Google Earth, Blogger, Chrome, Google Analytics, and the list goes on not to mention the granddaddy service of them all, Google's search engine. Depending on your computing needs, you could theoretically run your entire digital life using Google's free services.

google advertising

How philanthropic of them, at least it would seem. In fact Google is a highly successful business, and one area funds everything else: advertising revenue. According to Adweek, in 2012 Google earned more than $50 billion in revenue, 95 percent of which came from ad revenue. All of Google's other services ride on the back of its advertising business. Google's search engine, what Google was made famous with, is closely linked to advertising in the company's inner workings. When you run a search on Google, the results pages often contain "sponsored links." These are ads that companies or individuals paid Google to run when specific terms are searched for. A large part of Google's financial success comes from the fact that being good at searching means they are also good at knowing when to run specific ads, making them a top choice when people want to advertise online. 


Myth 14)  Google Is Making You Dumber
Some people fear that Google is reducing our collective intelligence, because nobody needs to remember anything now. This assumes, however, that the primary marker of intelligence is being able to remember things off the top of our heads. Sure it's good brain training, and yes some facts are important to remember, but there's much more to intelligence than remembering facts. Google can only provide facts when a user requests them through their search engine. It's still up to humans to turn facts into analysis, or stories, or art. In this way, having Google is not much different than a library full of source material. Having information available doesn't make a person "stupid." It just gives a person different options.

google logo

This is not to say that Internet use has no effect on the way we think, however. Nicholas Carr, author of " The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains," makes the argument, backed up by numerous researchers, that the constant skimming of the internet makes it harder for people to focus on longer pieces of writing or to entertain long, involved trains of thought. But every technology from writing, to clocks, to television, has had its own effect on how we think. When some cognitive functions are weakened, others become stronger. It's not clear yet what the ultimate effect will be. But whatever the case, it's wrong to say that Google is simply making our brains leak out of our ears.


Myth 13)  Google Knows "Everything" About You
It is true that Google stores information about you. Some of it is information that you give Google yourself in exchange for using its services, free or otherwise. Google also stores every search query you enter into its search box. Whether you search for "banana bread recipe" or "remove nose hair" or "playstation 3" or simply your own name, Google keeps a record of it.

google search results

Over a long period of time, you might think that this could reveal a lot of information about you. That's true, if Google was interested in building a specific profile of you as an individual. That's not what the company does, however. Your name is not attached to any of your searches. What Google stores is the IP address that a search came from, which is not at all the same thing as knowing the specific person who made the search. Google also has internal regulations that restrict employees from even trying to link an individual person with a specific IP. So while it's true that Google stores information about what you do online, its goal is not to build an all-encompassing profile about you.


Myth 12)  Google Earth Is Spying On You
While satellite imaging technology has been around for a long time, Google Earth is one of the first services which enabled ordinary people (that is to say, people not involved in the espionage business) to view and explore satellite images in person. It can be fascinating to see what is visible from the edge of space, but when you can identify your own house clearly, along with your own car, the building where you work, and your favorite fishing spot; it can all be a little spooky.

google earth

If Google can see the whole world so clearly, you might wonder if it can track you (maybe as part of that massive personal profile it's building about you, from the last myth). Not at all. Google Earth is not the stuff of spy movies. None of the images shown in the service are taken in real time. In fact, any given image you view in Google Earth could be between one and three years old. So there's no telling if what you see on Google Earth is still the same today as what is shown on your screen.


Myth 11)  Google Earth Is a Threat to National Security
national securityIf Google is not spying on people itself, then maybe other people are using the service in order to track people illegally. Google Earth is publicly available, and if you can look at locations all over the world, then so too can anybody else. With terrorist threats still in the news almost daily, some might wonder if Google is giving important information away to anyone who wants to plan an attack.

The truth is that satellite imagery has been available for a long time. Google and other services are making it free to view, but if you have the money, you can buy much more current satellite images for yourself. So Google is not letting the proverbial cat out of the bag by showing us images of our planet. Combined with the fact that the images available on Google Earth are often out of date, up to a few years out of date, it's safe to say that Google Earth doesn't pose a serious threat to national security. What good would images that are a couple years old be to a terrorist organization who is after up to the minute information that is necessary for coordinating an attack?

google earth


Myth 10)  Google Wants to Own the Whole Internet
Google's acquisitions usually make for big news, because the company is so well known among the technology sector. But the company has acquired a lot of dark fiber very quietly, which makes some people wonder what the purpose is. Dark fiber is simply high-speed fiber-optic cable which is not being used. Some conspiracy-minded folks think that all of Google's dark fiber, rumored to be the largest amount owned by any organization in the world, will in some way enable them to take over the Internet.

Inside One of Google's Data Centers
Inside One of Google's Data Centers

In point of fact, Google has much more mundane intentions for its dark fiber. According to the company, it will be used to connect data centers, which it needs a lot of to keep providing all of its services at top speeds.


Myth 9)  Google Will Always Be Dominant in Search
Because Google is so well known and is so often used for searches, it seems like it will always be the dominant search provider. But there's no reason to assume this will always be true. Other search engines have come and gone. Microsoft's Bing service is providing a strong modern challenge to Google, and Facebook is also working on providing search from within its popular service. Other companies are also working on new search algorithms. Google itself was once a small tech start-up. Another start-up may come and upset Google's market dominance, especially if they provide a better service and get enough buzz.

google logo

Sometimes being the biggest player in a particular market can work against you. If something happens and people decide not to trust Google for a particular reason (whether or not the reasoning behind distrusting Google as a company is legitimate or not), they will seek out other search-engine options just because of rumors or some bad press. 


Myth 8)  Google Is the Next Microsoft
It's hard to know what exactly is intended by this myth. Microsoft is still here, and doesn't appear to be going anywhere any time soon. There is hardly any need for a "next" Microsoft when the original is still around and is still profitable. 

microsoft

There's something to be said for one dominant tech company dictating the entire tech market. There was a time when Microsoft was more than the 800-pound gorilla in the tech sphere. They had an enormous share in the control of how technology progressed and developed, based largely on their dominance of the operating system market. It is debatable whether or not Google will ever have this level of prominence. Google's focus is very different than Microsoft's. Being a major player in search does not give them the same kind of control as making the operating system that nearly every computer in the world utilizes. There are also multiple tech companies with substantial market force vying for space today, which was not true during Microsoft's heyday. Google may face similar issues to those Microsoft is currently facing, as it grows and matures as a company. But to a large extent, these are issues that any large and successful company faces. How to stay competitive, innovative, and continue to attract the brightest minds in a business that sees more failures than it does success stories, are all challenges Google will face in the years to come.


Myth 7)  Google Owns Whatever You Upload to Google+
This one hits especially hard for creative people, because Google+ is such a good platform for sharing photos and other media. There has been confusion over Google's terms of service for Google+, because they seem to say that if you upload content to Google+ you are giving Google the right to hand it over to other individuals or companies, free of charge. If you are a professional artist, the idea of your creative works being shared without your consent may greatly upset you.

google plus

That's not what the terms of service actually say, however. Google's terms of service specifically state that you retain copyright on any materials you upload to Google+. What the terms of service say about transmitting your material to other people is basically that you are giving Google permission to let other people look at your stuff, by letting them download it to their computers when they view their Google+ feed. That's basically just how webpages work in that information is transmitted from a server to your computer, with no assumption that any creative rights are transferred along with it. So Google's terms of service are just intended to spell out that Google will share your uploads with other people, which is probably why you posted them to Google+ in the first place.


Myth 6)  Google Glass Is a Spy Device for Google
Google Glass is so new and there are already tons of rumors circling Google's newest project. It is more than a little creepy to think that Google will soon have thousands of people walking around with devices that will let Google watch anything they want to, at any given moment. The reality is very different than this paranoid notion. Google Glass is not even a final product, and the units which have been released so far are mostly designed for testing and experimentation by Google's own employees. 

google glass
By Tedeytan via Wikimedia Commons

There is some cause for concern about people taking your picture with Glass without your knowledge. If you are in public, however, anyone can take your picture with any kind of device perfectly legally. You don't have to like it, but it doesn't mean Google is at fault for what individual people who are not affiliated with Google choose to photograph. Likewise, Apple is not at fault for the pictures people take with their iPhones, or Nikon being responsible for what people shoot with their cameras. Glass also enables video recording, but it's hard to do so surreptitiously when you literally have to stare at the person you want to record on video, because you're wearing your camera on your head. This is a lot more obvious than many kinds of surveillance, and it's still the individual person behind it, not Google. Finally, battery life limits the device pretty severely. There's no way a person could walk around wearing Glass and film all day long. There's simply not enough juice in the built-in battery to do it.


Myth 5)  Google Spies On Your Email
Many people use Gmail for their email service. It is free, reliable, and easy for users to register for a free email account. These are all great selling points for many internet users. But some users are troubled that Google drops ads into your inbox, or so it appears if you view your email online via their web view. They wonder what else Google could be doing or how it knows what ads to display, without reading your personal correspondence.

google gmail

The answer is that nobody is reading your personal email in order to decide what ads to present to you. Just like Google uses computer algorithms to drop sponsored links into search result pages, it uses keywords from your email to choose ads when you view your email online. In order to show you email, Google needs to accept and keep your email on its servers, and it can run automatic processes on it. But that's a far cry from the idea of someone opening all of your secret letters and reading them.


Myth 4)  Google Is a Government Stooge
Many people have been shocked by recent revelations that the NSA has a broad program for surveillance that includes scooping up personal online data. Media reports have gone a little far in describing this program, however, suggesting that the government has direct access to everything that Google and other tech companies like Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple know about you.

NSA Headquarters at Fort Meade
NSA Headquarters at Fort Meade

Facts about the NSA's program are still coming out, but Google is seeking to reassure its users that it is in no respect just handing over entire databases to the federal government. One of Google's founders, Larry Page, has gone on record to say that Google only releases information to the government when it is required by law, and only after hard reviews by Google's legal department to determine if the requests were actually valid. He further says that Google actually resists such requests that are too broad or do not follow the proper legal protocol. Google may need to comply with the law and release information in some cases, but Google is in no way in the government's back pocket when it comes to the security of your digital information. 


Myth 3)  Google Has a "Master Plan"
Due to Google's size and reach of its search technologies and other services, conspiracy theorists are drawn into suspecting it of having some secret plan for dominance of all technology, or a plan for world domination. A lighter side to the conspiracy theories is focused around antitrust issues, where Google has secret plans to undermine any would-be competitors. Some think that all of the company's various products and services are adding up to one largely dominating, powerful entity. An entity that could even have political motivations.

From Left to Right, Eric Schmidt, Sergey Brin, and Larry Page of Google
From Left to Right, Eric Schmidt, Sergey Brin, and Larry Page of Google
By Joi Ito via Wikimedia Commons

In actuality, anyone who has watched the company over the years can tell you that Google often tries out new products which are unsuccessful and quickly abandons them in pursuit of other projects. For all the familiarity of a few Google services, there are whole lists of Google trials which you've probably never heard of. Google X, Google Answers, Google Wave, Jaiku, Google Buzz, Google Page Creator, Google Notebook, Google Audio Ads, Google Wiki Search, Google Catalog, Google Lively, Google Print Ads, Dodgeball, and Google Video are some of the rejects from the last decade of Google's corporate history. Google's only real financial winner is in selling ads, and it is still mostly known for its successful search engine. Its primary plan seems to be to try out a lot of things and peruse what will work, and ultimately be profitable just like any successful company. Google's underlying motivation is to make money and to stay in business. That's no more devious than any tech company, or any other type of company for that matter.


Myth 2)  Google Is Evil
This myth riffs off of part of Google's overarching philosophy of doing business, encapsulated in ten principles the company titles "Ten things we know to be true." The sixth point on this list is "You can make money without doing evil," which is usually short-handed in the press and public awareness as "don't be evil." It's a great point, and most people agree with it in principle. It's unfortunate though, that many take such an honest statement as "don't be evil," as a sign that the company has something to cover up. To naysayers, saying that Google believes in not being evil, means the company is just trying to hide something evil within its corporate culture.

Google Music Search Product Launch
Google Music Search Product Launch
By keso via Wikimedia Commons

The truth is, Google is not a singular entity. It's made up of thousands of people, none of whom are wholly good or wholly evil. All of them make a lot of decisions about their work daily, and some of them are better decisions than others. The company has created products which benefit millions of people daily, many of which are free and therefore available to people with scarce resources. Every company makes mistakes along their journey, and Google is no exception.

Google is a corporation, not a religion. Questions about good and evil really don't enter into the conversation. 


Myth 1)  Google Is Not Evil
This myth is basically tied with number two, as they are two sides of the same coin. It's a corporation, not a religion. If it isn't a company full of cackling maniacs, neither is it full of harp-strumming angels. Just a company made of fallible but well-intentioned human beings.

Because Google is such a large company, its decisions are far-reaching. When it makes a change in one of its products, a lot of people are affected by it. If it makes a mistake, then a lot of people can be affected by it. If Google has a breach in security or privacy, then it becomes big news fast, and it should because of Google's size and relative importance. The company has a big responsibility, because of the number of people it serves with its products on a daily basis. But making a mistake doesn't make a company evil any more than it makes a person evil.

Google Mountain View Campus Garden
Google Mountain View Campus Garden
By Ashstar01 via Wikimedia Commons

Thinking of Google, or any company, as "evil" or "not evil" just gets in the way of a productive relationship with them as a consumer. If Google produces good services that interest you, then use them. If they make a mistake, they should be called on it and if they intend to serve people with integrity, they will extend every effort to fix it. It's ultimately up to users to decide if Google's services are the right ones for them or not, and those decisions are best made without any ideological biases. Performance should always be measured in an objective and reasonable manner. 


Conclusion
Google isn't alone in having myths flung around about them. Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, Twitter, and every other large tech company gets its share of rumors and speculation at one time or another. Google's set of myths, like every company, has a lot to do with their particular focus on their search engine. The amount of data the company tracks is difficult to conceive of, but there is a lack of hard evidence that Google intends to use that data in damaging ways toward its users. On the contrary, it seems that Google makes choices in order to better serve its users. Whether or not it always gets it right, Google isn't a spy agency, has no overarching agenda other than financial success, and isn't trying to manipulate people in unsavory ways. At the end of the day, it's a company that made a great search engine as well as many other useful tools that are used by millions of people every single day.


 

 

 

 

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