Two incidents last week pointed out the reliance that much of the world wide web asks of Google. The first was the implementation of the European Parliament’s “Right to Forget” ruling, where individuals in the European Union could request Google to stop linking to a specific page which holds personal information that is in breach of EU data privacy laws.
The second was a brief period on July 3rd where some users received a ’500 Internal Server’ error from a handful of Google services.
In the case of the latter, the impact was immediate, albeit transitory. Lots of comments on Facebook and Twitter, a mix of ‘how can I do my job now’ alongside incredulity that Google simply wasn’t working. There was even the classic reference to The IT Crowd asking if someone had broken the search engine by searching in Google for ‘Google’.
I wonder how many people thought about using Bing?
The former incident has thrown up many opinions. With Google not linking out to certain stories via certain search terms, words such as Orwellian, controlling, and censorship, are being bandied around. While it’s fair to say that Google’s approach has arguably put everyone under the same suspicion – and by alerting UK news sites (including The Guardian, The Daily Mail, and BBC News) to their removal, the headlines have swung behind Google and against the EU – it highlights the power that Google has over the search and retrieval of information across all the world wide web.
Magnify these effects slightly and you would have a weakened world wide web, where the trust in Google both as a connecting force, and one that is always there, would be diminished.
Let’s be honest, that is unlikely in the near future – Google is not going to go away overnight, the company is part of the fabric of the modern world wide web. Perhaps planning on Google suddenly going offline is a bit far-fetched, but it’s Google’s influence over the navigation of the world wide went that you should be wary of. Break an unwritten rule, fail to act in the correct manner, and you run the risk of Google running you out of town with little recourse, even if everyone supports you and nobody can publicly say how you transgressed.
Every company who relies on Google should be aware of the case of Metafilter, an undocumented change to the rules behind search engine demoted one of the ‘Grand Old Sites’ on the Internet (it was launched in 1999 and continues running to this day), decimating referrals and advertising revenue to site.
Again, being honest, everyone with a presence online is affected by Google. Mostly in a positive way, but those positive ways are usually gifts from Google, be it AdSense revenue, referral traffic, or a free email accounts with years and years of personal or business data. What would happen to your business, your blog, or even your own personal information, if these gifts were removed? What would happen if Google decided you were no longer welcome in their service?
Every business should be on the constant lookout for threats to their existence. Falling out of favor with Google should be seen as one of those potential threats, and if you haven’t considered what would happen without Mountain View, then you have your task for next week.