Google: Behind the Screen (full documentary)

by Socrates on September 7, 2010

This is the 4th of a series of posts about Google.

The 1st post was The Internet is Killing Our CultureAndrew Keen‘s presentation from the Authors @Google series.

The 2nd article asked: Is Google Evil? and was an op-ed piece discussing some recent news reports, issues and videos surrounding Google.

The 3rd was Inside Google’s Don’t Be Evil extreme caricature video that was played on Times Square and posted on YouTube.

Today, I want to bring your attention to one of the more comprehensive looks at Google.

Google: Behind the Screen is a 50 min documentary by the Dutch film maker Ijsbrand van Veelen and is a well made and rather balanced point of view without avoiding all of the major issues above.

The movie asks a number of important questions such as “How can you convince people that Google isn’t a Big Brother company?”

It also includes a variety of interesting interviews with Marissa Mayer, Vint Cerf, Ian Brown (Open Rights Group), Brewster Kahle (founder of Internet Archive) and others covering topics such as page rank, targeted advertising, life at Google, user privacy, machine translation, the story of Don’t Be Evil, book search, the danger of Google’s monopoly, Google Earth and so on.

Hope you find it as enjoyable and informative as I did!

So, what do you think:

Is Google Evil?

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  • Anonymous

    There’s no shortage of rhetoric (some highly technical but opinionated nonetheless) being thrown at Google especially with respect to how dangerous, evil, or invasive it has become. Staunch arguments are frequent claiming that Google manipulates information and the public and that it is destructive in several of its motions. And of course, some of the warnings are that Google might become some distorted information tyrant in the not too distant future, so be on your guard.  I’m going to take a somewhat different stance here, not so much in defense of Google, but rather what it is we should really be focused on with regards to “Dangerous Corporations” especially within the corporate environment of 2011.

    I would like to address this big concern with Google as a highly dangerous entity.  First of all, how dangerous can it possibly be?  Second, how dangerous can it get considering the fact that it doesn’t create anything tangible?  Even if it were to maliciously spy on a large swath of the browsing public, how dangerous could it possibly get?  Before readers jump to quick answers, first consider this:  Google is an internet giant with more than just a roomful of employees.  It is an exceptionally large corporation, a Mega Corporation with employees everywhere, a massive collection of people all of whom no doubt do not share some common ideology other than the fact that many of its employees most likely want their employer to stay in business, to succeed, and stay healthy in many ways. Google’s collective force and vision, its business path, might mean further expansion to some employees, it might not mean anything of the sort to other employees.  People get alarmed when they hear reports about events and information pertaining to the likelihood that the Google network is becoming either overly invasive or that it stands to become a monopoly as such.  Remember, Google doesn’t produce anything we can touch.  Like many parts of those items attached to the internet it was assembled rapidly. Despite its size, it could also be rapidly disassembled if it suddenly were to become a reckless player. A major shift from a company like Google, still a very new company, towards outright invasive behavior and/or a zealous approach to gathering information could amount to a quick business-death-sentence, especially if substantiated reports of such behavior gather any sort of media momentum.  This is part of the risk when a company provides a virtually invisible service.  Its business hull consists of select intangible parts adjoined to one another, fragile pieces held together by rivets of trust.  And Google can’t afford to lose trust.  If Google makes big waves in certain areas then it simply won’t last no matter how big it is.  A ship that size could potentially go down quickly.

    Regardless of how Google tracks information, even if much of that collected information might appear to be very personal, again I ask the question:  How dangerous can Google get?  Also, does it in any way monitor itself?  Short of any moral code or company mission that is firmly grounded on safe and best business practices, is there a design fail-safe within Google itself that won’t or can’t allow it to push the information envelope too far, even if the behavior of its directors or the motions of its business plan become increasingly suspicious?  Google prompts a host of questions.  But the age is changing.  Given the information landscape of today.  Given the competition of internet entities that provide similar services. Given the demands of intelligence and this new trump card called The Patriot Act that is available to play.  Given the speed of communication and the outright responsibility that the media has to report accurate information and to make it quickly available to the general public.  Given the fears that many people have about protecting their own personal information, and their own identities, and that being tracked or monitored by anything that might end up looking like a “Big Brother” will not be tolerated.  And given the high value people place on keeping their own business private.  Fears, values, information, and communication all meet at a crossroads.  And through it all Google has to walk a business tightrope.

    Some people who post blogs and articles won’t explain exactly why Google is so dangerous, much of the language there is speculative or is based upon items that are minor details, small events.  They often note that Google engages in strange and conspicuous business practices, or that it engages in mysterious activities and/or full fledged propaganda. There are people within the media who have even made the wild claim that Google may be the most dangerous corporation in the world.  And if you’re one of those people who thinks so, then I must say clearly here that Google isn’t even in the discussion, at least not in adult discussions that prioritize those most dangerous of corporate culprits, those big players that perform grotesque looking things in real time and real space.  In that realm, Google isn’t even in the ballpark.  It’s not even in the stadium parking lot. To crack that Top Ten list takes some doing.  Where is Google killing?  Where is it polluting?  Where is it exploiting and laying waste to landscape and economy? Where is it destroying?  And if readers think that Google is fully engaged in a propaganda war thereby deceiving the public somehow, then those readers who think thus haven’t witnessed the impact of real propaganda, especially when it occurs on the front edge of a stealthy business rapier.

    Companies come and go.  Some get absorbed, some get passed by, some have an eminent failure for their business plan, and some can’t see around the next corner.  A few grow to immense proportions. And size often causes alarm with some people whether it be Google, Microsoft, General Electric, AT&T, US Steel, The East India Trading Company, Wal Mart, or Nike.  Some of that alarm comes with a solid foundation based upon ugly facts especially if a large corporation leaves behind a ghost town in its business wake.  But size shouldn’t necessarily draw too much alarm if that corporation doesn’t produce anything tangible even if it has in fact become a Mega-Corporation.  Similar to Facebook, you can’t touch what Google primarily does in function.  So size isn’t a big issue with me knowing that first, Google might be the clear cut favorite for search engine use right now, but there are still some players out there such as Bing and Yahoo. Second, Google provides services not products, and many of the services that it does provide are still free.  And that’s important.  And so long as those services remain free I find it difficult to go off onto any super critical tangent especially when I’m drawing value out of what it provides. Nobody is forcing me to use Google, there are alternatives.

    If you want to consider danger, then consider this: Exxon/Mobil and British Petroleum are easy to criticize given their history and what it is that they do. And not lost to many people is their advertising machinery, especially evident when they blanket television screens with the soft look of fresh and sometimes young innocent looking faces, endearing spokespersons who tell us about the future, about possibilities, and all the good works that these gentle giants are currently tackling in order to help get us there.  Some of this is presented to the public like a gentle broad stroke, a reassuring pat down the back reminding us about all the hard that they are engaged in which will move us towards a greener earth.  I see this green research and these new developments for what they are, a flimsy shroud, a cheap looking corporate rain check that keeps the future at bay, a future that should have already passed.  In the real world of the here and now these behemoths ravage the planet.  Make no mistake, that’s what a propaganda network looks like and it’s very dangerous stuff.  It’s also forced upon all of us despite any beliefs or personal opinions any of us have.  We have to deal with it on ugly levels day after day then endure it somehow.  I could talk at length about what entities like those really do, about their real impact on earth, sky, and water, and about what their real contribution is to society.  How they change the landscape, how they transform government and distort foreign policy. 

    But back to point, unfortunately those are Mega-Corporations that provide products (products that destroy). If someone feels the need to get critical when discussing the implications of size and power then those might be more appropriate places to start, not with an internet giant that concerns itself with how information is gathered, collated, and disseminated.  If Google had some weird political platform that it hoisted like a black flag, then it would be time to get worried.  So pushing the problem of size aside, right now the water is calm enough for me. And right now they offer free services that I value.  I use their search engine frequently.  I pull information from it, I apply it to what I’m doing, and occasionally I find new things that I can use and integrate into my site.  Sure, I could have used another engine and perhaps retrieved similar looking results, but I didn’t. So on a personal level, and perhaps albeit myopic, Google deserves loads of credit. 

    Daniel A. Pino, Author
    The Western Arc

  • Socrates

    Thanks for your exhaustive comment Daniel! I mostly agree with you about the current state of Google’s affairs. What I disagree with you on is the potential for things to go wrong. So, here are several links that may hopefully provide some food for thought:

    1. First and foremost, Cory Doctorow’s short story Scroogled: The Day Google Became Evil, is so good at describing such a scenario that it gives me the shivers:

    2. Secondly, here is an article I posted based on a news story about Google’s purchase of “Recorded Future” and their partnership with the CIA:

    3. Just another interesting documentary about the History of Internet Search and Google:

    Hope you find the above 3 links interesting, relevant and informative!

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