Monday, October 19, 2020

"To Break Google’s Monopoly on Search, Make Its Index Public" (GOOG)

 Treat them like the utilities they are.

The author,  Dr. Robert Epstein is the former editor-in-chief at Psychology Today, search-engine researcher, Huffington Post contributor etc.

From Bloomberg Businessweek, July 15, 2019:

The tech giant doesn’t have to be dismantled. Sharing its crown jewel might reshape the internet.

Recognition is growing worldwide that something big needs to be done about Big Tech, and fast.
More than $8 billion in fines have been levied against Google by the European Union since 2017. Facebook Inc., facing an onslaught of investigations, has dropped in reputation to almost rock bottom among the 100 most visible companies in the U.S. Former employees of Google and Facebook have warned that these companies are “ripping apart the social fabric” and can “hijack the mind.”
Adding substance to the concerns, documents and videos have been leaking from Big Tech companies, supporting fears—most often expressed by conservatives—about political manipulations and even aspirations to engineer human values.

Fixes on the table include forcing the tech titans to divest themselves of some of the companies they’ve bought (more than 250 by Google and Facebook alone) and guaranteeing that user data are transportable.

But these and a dozen other proposals never get to the heart of the problem, and that is that Google’s search engine and Facebook’s social network platform have value only if they are intact. Breaking up Google’s search engine would give us a smattering of search engines that yield inferior results (the larger the search engine, the wider the range of results it can give you), and breaking up Facebook’s platform would be like building an immensely long Berlin Wall that would splinter millions of relationships.

With those basic platforms intact, the three biggest threats that Google and Facebook pose to societies worldwide are barely affected by almost any intervention: the aggressive surveillance, the suppression of content, and the subtle manipulation of the thinking and behavior of more than 2.5 billion people.

Different tech companies pose different kinds of threats. I’m focused here on Google, which I’ve been studying for more than six years through both experimental research and monitoring projects. (Google is well aware of my work and not entirely happy with me. The company did not respond to requests for comment.) Google is especially worrisome because it has maintained an unopposed monopoly on search worldwide for nearly a decade. It controls 92 percent of search, with the next largest competitor, Microsoft’s Bing, drawing only 2.5%.

Fortunately, there is a simple way to end the company’s monopoly without breaking up its search engine, and that is to turn its “index”—the mammoth and ever-growing database it maintains of internet content—into a kind of public commons.

There is precedent for this both in law and in Google’s business practices. When private ownership of essential resources and services—water, electricity, telecommunications, and so on—no longer serves the public interest, governments often step in to control them. One particular government intervention is especially relevant to the Big Tech dilemma: the 1956 consent decree in the U.S. in which AT&T agreed to share all its patents with other companies free of charge. As tech investor Roger McNamee and others have pointed out, that sharing reverberated around the world, leading to a significant increase in technological competition and innovation.
Doesn’t Google already share its index with everyone in the world? Yes, but only for single searches. I’m talking about requiring Google to share its entire index with outside entities—businesses, nonprofit organizations, even individuals—through what programmers call an application programming interface, or API.

Google already allows this kind of sharing with a chosen few, most notably a small but ingenious company called Startpage, which is based in the Netherlands. In 2009, Google granted Startpage access to its index in return for fees generated by ads placed near Startpage search results.

With access to Google’s index—the most extensive in the world, by far—Startpage gives you great search results, but with a difference. Google tracks your searches and also monitors you in other ways, so it gives you personalized results. Startpage doesn’t track you—it respects and guarantees your privacy—so it gives you generic results. Some people like customized results; others treasure their privacy. (You might have heard of another privacy-oriented alternative to called DuckDuckGo, which aggregates information obtained from 400 other non-Google sources, including its own modest crawler.)

If entities worldwide were given unlimited access to Google’s index, dozens of Startpage variants would turn up within months; within a year or two, thousands of new search platforms might emerge, each with different strengths and weaknesses....

At the Huffington Post:

Google Critic Killed in “Ironic” Car Accident: Struck by Google Street View Vehicle
By Camille Johnson, San Diego Union-Tribune
San Diego, CA. Prominent research psychologist and author Dr. Robert Epstein, age 60, was killed yesterday afternoon by a Google Street View vehicle while crossing Front Street in San Diego, where he has long resided. Although foul play is not suspected, Epstein’s friends are calling the accident “ironic.”
According to Daryn Thompson, a 30-year friend of Epstein’s who also lives in San Diego, “We all know that Google isn’t evil, so there’s no chance this was deliberate, but it’s troubling and ironic that it just happened to be an outspoken critic of Google who was hit. I’m sure it was just a coincidence, though.”...MORE

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