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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: August 7, 2010

John Wilcock

“Google just makes things seem very easy. People don’t realize how difficult it is to make (the search rankings) happen”.
Shivnath Babu, a computer science professor at Duke University.

GOOGLE’S FAMOUS MANTRA Do No Evil is proving to be a provocative stumbling block to critics of the company that, in the words of one of them, is trying to take over the world. Is Google good or bad? Is it a dangerous monopoly or an invaluable gift? Should it be curbed or encouraged? These are some of the questions currently raised by Newsmax, the magazine that combines a Fox sensibility with a garish tabloid style. In a 16-page cover story titled ‘Google vs Everyone’ by Eric Deggans it veers from one pov to another.

By 2004, Google was handling 84% of all search requests on the Internet, a figure now at 71% (with 14% for Yahoo and 9% for Microsoft’s Bing). The London Times called Google the fastest growing company in the history of the world” and the reason it works so much better than its competitors, explains Mark Malseed “is that Google looked at the Web as a popularity contest. Your personal blog shouldn’t carry as much weight as the New York Times, Wikipedia, or giant websites that many people point to.”

In March the social networking service Facebook overtook Google as the most-visited website in the U.S., by May drawing 8.3% of the visits against Google’s 7.1%.  “The change suggests that online users are shifting from relying on Google to organize their online life to drawing on Facebook to develop networks of friends, etc.” comments Newsmax.

“No matter what anyone thinks, (Google) doesn’t want to control the world — they want to organize it,” declares columnist Jeff Jarvis, author of What Would Google Do? And, in a reference to the new competition from a new angle, adds: “Google organizes information and Facebook is trying to organize people.”

Sergey Brin and Larry Page who started their company in a Menlo Park garage in 1998 with a $100,000 check from a cofounder of Sun Microsystems, offered 19 million shares of stock at $85 each. These, says Wired, are now $507 a share,  with the estimated total value of the company estimated at $150 billion.
      Page: “Having an attitude that the customer is always right and your goal is to build systems that work for them in a natural way is a good attitude to have.”
Of course, staying at the head of the pack requires constant attention. Google spent $4million lobbying Congress last year,  Newsmax reveals. In Washington, it has nine lobbyists and four public relations firms on retainer.
“But there are dark clouds on the bright horizon of Google’s beneficial public image and widespread consumer goodwill,” the mag observes. “Even a company with the simple credo of ‘Don’t Be Evil’  may face a tougher road as governments, competitors, and customers cast a wary eye toward its expanding influence”.
Consumer Watchdog’s John Simpson argues that Google has

amassed too much power for one corporation to wield, regardless of its values. “(It) has emerged essentially as the gateway to the Internet for almost everyone in the world….but they are not the warm and fuzzy thing they hold themselves out to be. They’re a tough bunch of advertising people who make most of their money from controlling online advertising.”

Technology researcher Keith Woolcock says Google is a monopoly just as Intel and Microsoft are monopolies. But Silicon Valley antitrust attorney Gary Reback points out that it isn’t enough for a company to be huge. To run afoul of the law it would also have to be guilty of a ‘bad act’, perpetrated to attain or protect its disproportionate advantage in the marketplace. “The concern would be if somebody dominates that medium (so much) that they could charge different political candidates different sums for using certain tag words.”
Summarizing the controversy, Newsmax comments: “Often the very characteristics that make Google popular raise the biggest concern among its critics (such as) the amount of information Google stores so its search results and suite of products work best for each individual user.

“People don’t realize that their search history is quite a dossier into what you’re thinking” Malseed warns. “Google hasn’t had a huge data breach yet, but they could have one. Or, with a subpoena, you could potentially get at this data and that would be a divorce lawyer’s best friend. Madison Avenue is scared to death of Google,”  he adds, “because Google is looking to put real numbers behind advertising performance. They give accountability where there has never been accountability before.”

WAR CRIMINALS AWAITING TRIAL at the International Criminal Court in the Hague are living like guests in a luxury hotel according to the Belgrade newspaper Danas. Detained in individual suites with TV and computer, access to a library, and well-equipped gym they get plenty of sex as wives are encouraged to visit. Prisoners, among whom are former Liberian president Charles Taylor and Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, are also given $50,000 a month for their defense. “Responsible for some of the most ghastly atrocities in recent memory,” says Danas, “they are being treated like royalty.”

A NEW TACTIC by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is to invest in such companies as McDonald’s with the aim of exerting influence over the prevailing business practices. Stores reveals that PETA has so far invested in more than 80 businesses.

NUDISTS IN MANITOBA, one of Canada’s three western prairie provinces, got the bad news last week that the only clothes-optional resort has asked visitors this summer to keep their clothes on. Owners of the land used by Crocus Grove Sun Club say the shift is a result of waning interest in the bare lifestyle, but a story in the Montreal Gazette reports that all over Canada naturists (as they prefer to be called) are getting ready for their ‘nakations’. The resorts are updating their recruiting via Facebook and Twitter, aiming to recruit a younger generation of nudists who weren’t around when the movement went mainstream in the 1960s and ’70s. “People are also looking to re-connect on a human level because of technology,” says Stephane Deschenes, who owns Bare Oaks Family Naturist Park in Sharon, Ont. “People find that they are missing something.”

THERE’S ALWAYS A NEW DRUG, something that law enforcement hasn’t yet banned, often not even discovered. One of the latest is mephedrone, MCAT for short and nicknamed meow meow by tabloids in Britain where it has swept the nightclub scene. So far it’s been largely unstudied. “There have been many media claims,” says clinical psychologist Paul Dargan, “but very few clinical facts.” Invented in an Israel lab in 2007 and somewhat resembling cocaine or the Sudanese shrub known as khat, mephedrone has stayed under the radar partly because it’s been marketed — especially on the Internet — as a plant food. But after overdoses led to hospitalization in North Dakota — it has been banned there, the first state to do so.

“I’m addicted to perfection. Problem with my life is I was always also addicted to chaos. Perfect chaos.
— Mike Tyson in Details


IF YOU DON’T READ fiction, you may never have heard of Janet Evanovich but nearly a million fans bought her last book, Finger Lickin’ Fifteen, and she’s in the news because her agent (who’s her son Peter) is asking $50 million for the next four books about her bounty hunter heroine Stephanie Plum. Evanovich’s publisher St. Martin’s Press is balking and Publishers Weekly has sparked a lively discussion about whether any author is worth 50 million bucks.

THE WILCOCK WEB: Recent elections have shown that the longest war in U.S. history is a low priority with voters. Of course, if they reintroduced the draft, we’d be out of Afghanistan in about ten minutes….And the preliminary gift of $180million to Yemen to combat Al Qaeda is probably the preface to our third war….ABC’s Christiane Amanpour is the best reason to wake up early on Sundays….If that offensive mosque is still going up near Ground Zero, a bacon factory would be the most appropriate neighbor for next door …. Congressman Charles Rangel is so arrogant that he doesn’t think he’s done anything wrong...Strapping a live snake to the ceiling of a brain scanner, Science News reported that researchers studied the brain waves to measure the “fear” of entrapped volunteers as they moved the reptile closer and closer to their heads The Nation alleges that unfair influence by Time-Warner caused the Feds to again increase postal rates, adding an additional $180,000 to the liberal mag’s bill for a total increase of $800,000 since 2007… Deft Definition: decafalon — The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you… After too many birds died by crashing into glass doors, Toronto now requires new buildings to incorporate window treatments and similar elements to reduce reflection…. Norwegian author Åsne Seierstad is being sued by an Afghanistan family with whom she lived and whose intimate lives she depicted in her The Bookseller of Kabul….  The surfeit of lawyers involved in the Gulf oil spill will undoubtedly clean up as much money as BP lost…. The battle against Arizona’s attempt to curb illegal immigration is turning Sheriff Joe Arpaio into an unlikely hero…..With 1,740 stores throughout the U.S., the first Target store in Manhattan opens (in East Harlem) next week…. EMILY, a 4ft-long talking robot buoy, that can speed towards a drowning swimmer at 28mph, is being tested off Malibu beaches…. It’s never too late to be what you might have been,” advised George Eliot …… Steve Carell, that veteran of cruel humor,  gets less and less funny with each successive movie…. According to something called the Harris Poll, two-thirds of those asked have switched to generic brands to save money and two out of five are filling their water bottles from the tap….A German sewage plant has found that the vibrations from playing Mozart at high volume stimulate microbes to break down the waste ….“If a man is proud of his wealth, he should not be praised until it is known how he employs it.” — Socrates (469BC-399BC)