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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
If 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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
Google Mountain View Campus Garden
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.
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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