Google is a modern day oracle. Like the flawed heroes of tragedy, we ask it to answer our questions, solve our problems and tell us “why”. Ask Google how to plumb a sink and it will tell you. Ask it for a strategy for negotiating a car price and it will tell you. You can even ask Google for the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. And unlike Kutlu, the God of Darkness, Google will tell you. You don’t even have to sacrifice a goat.
Frankly, it is too bad that Google is the oracle of unchecked capitalism and corporate greed. Had the dawn of the search engine gone a bit different, Google could have been more like Wikipedia – a community-oriented technology dedicated to the service of humanity. But, as we’ve seen from the company’s behavior, Google serves only capitalism. In pursuit of profits, Google has wrecked industries, pushed drugs, monopolized markets, and spied on all of us.
Here in the United States where greed is good, Google has yet to be held to account in any serious way by regulators. But in Europe, Google was just fined again. This time the company was fined $57,000,000 for not revealing to customers what the company is doing with their personal data. This fine is the first under GDPR and shows that European regulators are serious about forcing Big Tech to be honest with customers.
Because let’s face it, Big Tech is using all of our personal data in ways we would be horrified to discover. Think of all of the embarrassing things you’ve asked Google. Seriously, think about it. Have you asked it about medical conditions? Have you made a questionable search you’re sure has put you on some kind of “list”? Looked at videos or images that might later be compromising? Most people have, and Big Tech can tie those searches directly to you. By name, by address, by phone number – but also by favorite dessert, hair stylist, and sports team.
Now think about this thirst for data in the context of an always listening device sitting in your kitchen. That Google Home or Amazon Echo is sending data to Big Tech one query at a time. Sure, they say that they respect your privacy, but the GDPR fine tells us that they aren’t fully disclosing how they are obtaining and using our data. Who knows what information that device is sending out? Your preference in cereal? Television? More personal matters?
Regulators aren’t going to be able to reign in Big Tech alone. These companies have shown time and again that the only forces they care about are market forces. Until consumers challenge the narrative that we must give up all privacy in order to get tailored services, companies like Google and Amazon will continue to thrive to the detriment of everyone but their executives and early investors.