Criticism of Google
Criticism of Google includes possible misuse and manipulation of search results, its use of others' intellectual property, concerns that its compilation of data may violate people's privacy, possible censorship of search results and content, and the energy consumption of its servers as well as concerns over traditional business issues such as antitrust, monopoly, and restraint of trade.
Google Inc. is an American multinational public corporation invested in Internet search, cloud computing, and advertising technologies. Google hosts and develops a number of Internet-based services and products, and generates profit primarily from advertising through its AdWords program. Google's stated mission is "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful," but this mission, and the means used to accomplish it, have raised concerns among the company's critics. Much of the criticism pertains to issues that have not yet been addressed by cyber law.
Possible misuse of search results
A group of Austrian researchers observed a tendency to misuse the Google engine as a "reality interf". Ordinary users as well as journalists tend to rely on the first pages of Google search, assuming that everything not listed there is either not important or merely does not exist. The researchers say that "Google has become the main interface for our whole reality. To be precise: With the Google interface the user gets the impression that the search results imply a kind of totality. In fact, one only sees a small part of what one could see if one also integrates other research tools".
Danger of page rank manipulation
The page ranking algorithm of Google can and has been manipulated for political and humorous reasons. To illustrate the view that Google's search engine could be subjected to manipulation, Google Watch implemented a Google bomb by linking the phrase "out-of-touch executives" to Google's own page on its corporate management. The attempt was mistakenly attributed to disgruntled Google employees by The New York Times, which later printed a correction.
A group of Austrian researchers warns that page rank can be influenced by individual views of the Google staff: "it became clear that not only mathematical algorithms and software, but also human brains in the Google headquarters will edit information processed by Google and decide what will go online and in which form."
Daniel Brandt started the Google Watch website and has criticized Google's PageRank algorithms, saying that they discriminate against new websites and favor established sites. Chris Beasley started Google Watch Watch and disagrees, saying that Mr. Brandt overstates the amount of discrimination that new websites face and that new websites will naturally rank lower when the ranking is based on a site's "reputation". In Google's world a site's reputation is in part determined by how many and which other sites link to it (links from sites with a "better" reputation of their own carry more weight). Since new sites will seldom be as heavily linked as older more established sites, they aren't as well known, won't have as much of a reputation, and will receive a lower page ranking.
In testimony before a U.S. Senate antitrust panel in September 2011, Jeffrey Katz, the chief executive of NexTag, said that Google’s business interests conflict with its engineering commitment to an open-for-all Internet and that: "Google doesn’t play fair. Google rigs its results, biasing in favor of Google Shopping and against competitors like us." Jeremy Stoppelman, the chief of Yelp, said sites like his have to cooperate with Google because it is the gateway to so many users and “Google then gives its own product preferential treatment.” In earlier testimony at the same hearing Eric Schmidt, Google's chairman, said that Google does not "cook the books" to favor its own products and services.
In 2006, the parental advice Internet site Kinderstart.com sued Google for setting its Page rank to zero, claiming that the reset caused the site to lose 70 percent of its audience. In this lawsuit, it was stated, that "Google does not generally inform Web sites that they have been penalized nor does it explain in detail why the Web site was penalized". Kinderstart claimed that they were penalized for being a Google competitor (setting up the search engine). Kinderstart has formally lost the process (while their rank seems no longer zero). Google Incorporated claims that allowing one to win such process would set a dangerous precedent, encouraging other penalized sites to protest as well.
Numerous companies and individuals, for example, MyTriggers.com and transport tycoon Sir Brian Souter have voiced concerns regarding the fairness of Google's PageRank and search results after their web sites disappeared from Google's first-page results. In the case of MyTriggers.com, the Ohio-based shopping comparison search site accused Google of favoring its own services in search results (although the judge eventually ruled that the site failed to show harm to other similar businesses). Souter accused Google of censoring his personal website, www.BrianSouter.com.
Google Print, Books, and Library
Google's ambitious plans to scan millions of books and make them readable through its search engine have been criticized for copyright violations. The Association for Learned and Professional Society Publishers and the Association of American University Presses have both issued statements strongly opposing Google Print, stating that "Google, an enormously successful company, claims a sweeping right to appropriate the property of others for its own commercial use unless it is told, case by case and instance by instance, not to."
On September 20, 2005, the Authors Guild, a group that represents 8,000 U.S. authors, filed a class action suit in federal court in Manhattan against Google over its unauthorized scanning and copying of books through its Google Library program. Google responded that its use was a fair use because they were only showing "snippets" for books where they did not have permission from a rightsholder and was in compliance with all existing and historical applications of copyright laws regarding books. Google temporarily suspended scanning copyrighted works to allow for changes to its program and allow copyright owners to submit lists of books they wished to be excluded. In the Spring of 2006 the parties began negotiations in hopes of settling the lawsuit.
On October 28, 2008, Google announced a proposed agreement with the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers in which Google would pay $125 million to settle the lawsuit. The agreement also included licensing provisions, allowing Google to sell personal and institutional subscriptions to its database of books. On November 9, 2009, the parties filed an amended settlement agreement after the U.S. Department of Justice filed a brief suggesting that the initial agreement may violate US anti-trust laws.
Following a Fairness Hearing in February, on March 22, 2011 supervising judge Denny Chin issued a ruling rejecting the settlement. Chin urged that the settlement be revised from "opt-out" to "opt-in" and set a date for a "status conference" at which to discuss next steps. As of mid-September 2011 settlement discussions were continuing, but a discovery and briefing schedule was also established that would bring the case to a hearing sometime in the second half of 2012, if a settlement is not reached before then.
Kazaa and the Church of Scientology have used the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to demand that Google remove references to allegedly copyrighted material on their sites. While Google potentially faces lawsuits when not removing such links, critics[who?] argue that Google has an obligation to direct users to intended content and not censor results based on copyright.
The New York Times has complained that the caching of their content during a web crawl, a feature utilized by search engines including Google Web Search, violates copyright. Google observes Internet standard mechanisms for requesting that caching be disabled via the robots.txt file, which is another mechanism that allows operators of a website to request that part or all of their site not be included in search engine results, or via META tags, which allow a content editor to specify whether a document can be crawled or archived, or whether the links on the document can be followed. The U.S. District Court of Nevada ruled that Google's caches do not constitute copyright infringement under American law in Field v. Google and Parker v. Google.
After privacy concerns were raised, Google's CEO, Eric Schmidt, declared in December 2009: "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place. If you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines—including Google—do retain this information for some time and it's important, for example, that we are all subject in the United States to the Patriot Act and it is possible that all that information could be made available to the authorities."
Privacy International has raised concerns regarding the dangers and privacy implications of having a centrally-located, widely popular data warehouse of millions of Internet users' searches, and how under controversial existing U.S. law, Google can be forced to hand over all such information to the U.S. government. In its 2007 Consultation Report, Privacy International ranked Google as "Hostile to Privacy", its lowest rating on their report, making Google the only company in the list to receive that ranking.
Potential for data disclosure
Google, like most search engines, places a cookie, which can be used to track a person's search history, on each registered user's computer. Google uses the cookies to maintain user preferences between sessions and offer other search features. Originally the cookie did not expire until 2038, although it could be manually deleted by the user or refused by setting a browser preference. As of 2007, Google's cookie expired in two years, but renewed itself whenever a Google service is used. And more recently Google anonymizes its IP data after 9 months and its cookies after 18 months.
There is no evidence that Google shares this information with law enforcement or other government agencies, though some users remain anxious about the possibility. And newspaper articles about the October 2011 Quebec murder trial of Mohammad Shafia, Tooba Mohammad Yahya, and their son, Hamed, 21 report that records of "google inquiries" on Mr. Shafia’s home computer were entered as evidence in the trial.
Steve Ballmer (Microsoft's CEO), Liz Figueroa, Mark Rasch, and the editors of Google Watch believe the processing of email message content by Google's Gmail service goes beyond proper use. Google Inc. claims that mail sent to or from Gmail is never read by a human being other than the account holder, and content that is read by computers is only used to improve the relevance of advertisements.
Possible ties to the CIA and NSA
There have been allegations about connections between Google and the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), going as far as saying that Facebook and Google are CIA fronts. U.S. intelligence agencies are reported to use Google software to support their work.
In February 2010 Google was reported to be working on an agreement with the NSA to investigate recent attacks against its network. And, while the deal did not give NSA access to Google's data on users’ searches or e-mail communications and accounts and Google was not sharing proprietary data with the agency, privacy and civil rights advocates were concerned.
In October 2004 Google acquired Keyhole, a 3D mapping company. In February 2004, before its acquisition by Google, Keyhole received an investment from In-Q-Tel, the CIA's investment arm. And in July 2010 it was reported that the investment arms of both the CIA (In-Q-Tel) and Google (Google Ventures) were investing in Recorded Future, a company specializing in predictive analytics—monitoring the web in real time and using that information to predict the future. And, while private corporations have been using similar systems since the 1990s, the involvement of Google and the CIA with their large data stores raises privacy concerns.
Google has been criticized for both disclosing too much information to governments too quickly and for not disclosing information that governments need to enforce their laws. In April 2010, Google, for the first time, released details about how often countries around the world ask it to hand over user data or to censor information. Online tools make the updated data available to everyone.
For the period between July and December 2009 Brazil topped the list for user data requests with 3,663, while the US made 3,580, the UK 1,166, and India 1,061. Brazil also made the largest number of requests to remove content with 291, followed by Germany with 188, India with 142, and the US with 123. Google, who stopped offering search services in China a month before the data was released, said it could not release information on requests from the Chinese government because such information is regarded as a state secret.
Google's chief legal officer said, "The vast majority of these requests are valid and the information needed is for legitimate criminal investigations or for the removal of child pornography".
Google's online map service, "Street View" has been accused of taking pictures and viewing too far into people's private homes and/or too close to people on the street when they do not know they are being photographed.
Surveillance of WiFi networks
Google apologized, said they were "acutely aware that we failed badly here" in terms of privacy protection, that they were not aware of the problem until an inquiry from German regulators was received, that the private data was collected inadvertently, and that none of the private data was used in Google's search engine or other services. A representative of Consumer Watchdog replied, "Once again, Google has demonstrated a lack of concern for privacy. Its computer engineers run amok, push the envelope and gather whatever data they can until their fingers are caught in the cookie jar." In a sign that legal penalties may result, Google said it will not destroy the data until permitted by regulators.
On February 9, 2010 Google launched Google Buzz, Google's microblogging service. Anyone with a Gmail account is automatically added as a contact to pre-existing Gmail contacts, and must opt-out if they do not wish to participate.
The launch of Google Buzz as an "opt-out" social network immediately drew criticism for violating user privacy because it automatically allowed Gmail users' contacts to view their other contacts.
Google+ and Nymwars
Google+ requires users to identify themselves using their real names and accounts may be suspended when this requirement is not met. Critics point out that pseudonymous speech has played a critical role throughout history and feel that the Google+ policy deprives some people of an important privacy protection tool.
YouTube and Viacom
On July 14, 2008, Viacom compromised to protect YouTube users' personal data in their $1 billion copyright lawsuit. Google agreed it will anonymize user information and internet protocol addresses from its YouTube subsidiary before handing the data over to Viacom. The privacy deal also applied to other litigants including the FA Premier League, the Rodgers & Hammerstein organization and the Scottish Premier League. The deal however did not extend the anonymity to employees, because Viacom wishes to prove that Google staff are aware of the uploading of illegal material to the site. The parties therefore will further meet on the matter lest the data be made available to the court.
Privacy and data protection cases and issues by state
Starting in 2010, after more than 5 months of unsuccessful negotiations with Google the Czech Office for Personal Data Protection has prevented Street View from taking pictures of new locations. The Office described Google’s program as taking pictures “beyond the extent of the ordinary sight from a street”, and claimed that it “disproportionately invaded citizens’ privacy.”
In May 2010 Google was unable to meet a deadline set by Hamburg's data protection supervisor to hand over data illegally collected from unsecured home wireless networks. Google added, “We hope, given more time, to be able to resolve this difficult issue." The data was turned over to German, French, and Spanish authorities in early June 2010.
In November 2010, vandals in Germany targeted houses that had opted out of Google's Street View.
In April 2011 Google announced that it will not expand its Street View program in Germany, but what has already been shot–around 20 cities' worth of pictures–will remain available. This decision came in spite of an earlier Berlin State Supreme Court ruling that Google's Street View program was legal.
The Data Inspectorate of Norway (Norway is not a member of the EU) has investigated Google (and others) and has stated that the 18- to 24-month period for retaining data proposed by Google was too long.
In early 2005, the United States Department of Justice filed a motion in federal court to force Google to comply with a subpoena for, "the text of each search string entered onto Google's search engine over a two-month period (absent any information identifying the person who entered such query)." Google fought the subpoena, due to concerns about users' privacy. In March 2006, the court ruled partially in Google's favor, recognizing the privacy implications of turning over search terms and refusing to grant access.
In April 2008 a Pittsburgh couple, Aaron and Christine Boring, sued Google for "invasion of privacy". They claimed that Street View made a photo of their home available online, and it diminished the value of their house, which was purchased for its privacy. They lost their case in a Pennsylvania court. "While it is easy to imagine that many whose property appears on Google's virtual maps resent the privacy implications, it is hard to believe that any – other than the most exquisitely sensitive – would suffer shame or humiliation," Judge Hay ruled; the Boring family was paid one dollar by Google for the incident.
In the United States, Google commonly censors search results to comply with Digital Millennium Copyright Act-related legal complaints, such as in 2002 when Google censored websites that provided information critical of Scientology. Furthermore, in February 2003, Google stopped showing the advertisements of Oceana, a non-profit organization protesting a major cruise ship operation's sewage treatment practices. Google cited its editorial policy at the time, stating "Google does not accept advertising if the ad or site advocates against other individuals, groups, or organizations." The policy was later changed.
In the United Kingdom, it was reported that Google had 'delisted' Inquisition 21st Century, a website which claims to challenge moral authoritarian and sexually absolutist ideas in the United Kingdom. Google later released a press statement suggesting Inquisition 21 had attempted to manipulate search results. In addition, in April 2008, Google refused to run ads for a UK Christian group opposed to abortion, explaining that "At this time, Google policy does not permit the advertisement of websites that contain 'abortion and religion-related content.'" In Germany and France, a study reported that approximately 113 White Nationalist, Nazi, anti-semitic, radical Islamic and other websites had been removed from the German and French versions of Google. Google has complied with these laws by not including sites containing such material in its search results. However, Google does list the number of excluded results at the bottom of the search result page and links to Chilling Effects for explanation.
As of January 26, 2011, Google's Auto Complete feature will not complete certain words such as "bittorrent", "torrent", "utorrent" and "rapidshare" In addition, swears and pornographic words are not completed. However, they are not censored from actual search results.
Until March 2010, Google adhered to the Internet censorship policies of China, enforced by filters colloquially known as "The Great Firewall of China". Google.cn search results were filtered so as not to bring up any results concerning the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, sites supporting the independence movements of Tibet and Taiwan, the Falun Gong movement, and other information perceived to be harmful to the People's Republic of China (PRC). Google claimed that some censorship is necessary in order to keep the Chinese government from blocking Google entirely, as occurred in 2002. The company claims it did not plan to give the government information about users who search for blocked content, and will inform users that content has been restricted if they attempt to search for it. As of 2009, Google was the only major China-based search engine to explicitly inform the user when search results are blocked or hidden.
Some Chinese Internet users were critical of Google for assisting the Chinese government in repressing its own citizens, particularly those dissenting against the government and advocating for human rights. Furthermore, Google had been denounced and called hypocritical by Free Media Movement for agreeing to China's demands while simultaneously fighting the United States government's requests for similar information. Google China had also been condemned by Reporters Without Borders, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
In 2009, China Central Television, Xinhua News Agency, People's Daily reported Google's "dissemination of obscene information", People's Daily claimed that "Google's 'don't be evil' motto becomes a fig leaf". Chinese government imposed administrative penalties to Google China, and demanded for a reinforcement of the censorship.
However, on January 12, 2010, in response to an apparent hacking of Google's servers in an attempt to access information about Chinese dissidents, Google announced that “we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all.” On March 22, 2010, after talks with Chinese authorities failed to reach an agreement, the company redirected its censor-complying Google China service to its Google Hong Kong service, which is outside the jurisdiction of Chinese censorship laws. However, at least as of March 23, 2010, "The Great Firewall" continues to censor search results from the Hong Kong portal, www.google.com.hk (as it does with the US portal, www.google.com) for controversial terms such as "Falun gong" and "the June 4 incident" (Tiananmen Square incident).
In August 2008, Google closed the AdSense account of a site that carried a negative view of Scientology, the second closing of such a site within 3 months. It is not certain if the account revocations actually were on the grounds of anti-religious content, however the cases have raised questions about Google's terms in regards to AdSense/AdWords. The Adsense policy defines that "Sites displaying Google ads may not include [...] advocacy against any individual, group, or organization", which allows Google to revoke the above mentioned AdSense accounts.
In May 2011, Google cancelled the AdWord advertisement purchased by a Dublin sex worker rights group named "Turn Off the Blue Light" (TOBL), claiming that it represented an "egregious violation" of company ad policy by "selling adult sexual services". However, TOBL is a nonprofit campaign for sex worker rights and is not advertising or selling adult sexual services. In July, after TOBL members held a protest outside Google's European headquarters in Dublin and wrote to complain, Google relented, reviewed the group's website, found its content to be advocating a political position, and restored the AdWord advertisement.
YouTube has been criticized by national governments for failing to police content. In 2006, Thailand blocked access to YouTube for users with Thai IP addresses. Thai authorities identified 20 offensive videos and demanded that YouTube remove them before it would unblock any YouTube content. In 2007 a Turkish judge ordered access to YouTube blocked because of content that insulted Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, a crime under Turkish law. On February 22, 2008, Pakistan Telecommunications attempted to block regional access to YouTube following a government order. The attempt subsequently caused a worldwide YouTube blackout that took 2 hours to correct. Four days later, Pakistan Telecom lifted the ban after YouTube removed controversial religious comments made by a Dutch government official concerning Islam.
YouTube has also been criticized by its users for attempting to censor content. In November 2007, the account of Wael Abbas, a well known Egyptian activist who posted videos of police brutality, voting irregularities and anti-government demonstrations, was blocked for three days.
In February 2008, a video produced by the American Life League that accused a Planned Parenthood television commercial of promoting recreational sex was removed, then reinstated two days later. In October, a video by stand-up comic Pat Condell criticizing the British government for officially sanctioning sharia law courts in Britain was removed, then reinstated two days later. In response, his fans uploaded copies of the video themselves, and the National Secular Society wrote to YouTube in protest.
YouTube also pulled a video of columnist Michelle Malkin showing violence by Muslim extremists.  Siva Vaidhyanathan, a professor of Media Studies at the University of Virginia, commented that while, in his opinion, Michelle Malkin disseminates bigotry in her blog, "that does not mean that this particular video is bigoted; it's not. But because it's by Malkin, it's a target." 
Monopoly, restraint of trade, and antitrust
According to Joe Wilcox of Microsoft-Watch Google has increased its dominance of search, becoming an information gatekeeper despite the conflict of interest between information gathering and the advertising surrounding that information. His colleagues do not share the same view. 
In the case of the now-defunct Google-Yahoo! deal of 2008 — a pact for Google to sell advertising on Yahoo! search pages — the U.S. Department of Justice found that the deal would be "materially reducing important competitive rivalry between the two companies" and would violate the Sherman Antitrust Act.
Alternatives to Google and monopoly power
In testimony before a U.S. Senate antitrust panel in September 2011, Eric Schmidt, Google's chairman, said that “the Internet is the ultimate level playing field" where users were "one click away" from competitors. Beyond the existence of alternatives, Google's large market share was another aspect of the debate, as this exchange between Senator Herb Kohl and Mr. Schmidt at the September Senate hearing illustrates:
- Senator Kohl asked: "But you do recognize that in the words that are used and antitrust kind of oversight, your market share constitutes monopoly, dominant -- special power dominant for a monopoly firm. You recognize you're in that area?"
- Mr. Schmidt replied: "I would agree, sir, that we’re in that area.... I'm not a lawyer, but my understanding of monopoly findings is this is a judicial process."
Google has been criticized for the high amount of energy used to maintain its servers. Google has pledged to spend millions of dollars to investigate cheap, clean, renewable energy, and has installed solar panels on the roofs at its Mountain View facilities. In 2010, Google also invested $39 million in wind power.
Google was criticized by U.S conservatives in 2007 for not featuring versions of the Google logo (known as "Doodles") for American patriotic holidays such as Memorial Day and Veterans Day. That year, Google featured a logo commemorating Veterans Day.
On August 15, 2007 Google discontinued its Download-to-own/Download-to-rent (DTO/DTR) program. Some videos previously purchased for ownership under that program were no longer viewable when the embedded Digital Rights Management (DRM) licenses were revoked. Google gave refunds for the full amount spent on videos using "gift certificates" (or "bonuses") to their customers' "Google Checkout Account". After a public uproar, Google issued full refunds to the credit cards of the Google Video users without revoking the gift certificates.
Search within search
For some search results, Google provides a secondary search box that can be used to search within a website identified from the first search. Although this is an innovative search tool for users, it sparked controversy among some online publishers and retailers. When performing a second search within a specific website, advertisements from competing and rival companies often showed up together with the results from the website being searched. This has the potential to draw users away from the website they were originally searching. "While the service could help increase traffic, some users could be siphoned away as Google uses the prominence of the brands to sell ads, typically to competing companies." In order to combat this controversy, Google has offered to turn off this feature for companies who request to have it removed.
According to software engineer Ben Lee and Product Manager Jack Menzel, the idea for search within search originated from the way users were searching. It appeared that users were often not finding exactly what they needed while trying to explore within a company site. "Teleporting" on the web, where users need only type part of the name of a website into Google (no need to remember the entire URL) in order to find the correct site, is what helps Google users complete their search. Google took this concept a step further and instead of just "teleporting", users could type in keywords to search within the website of their choice.
Naming of Go programming language
Potential security threats
Google has been criticised for providing information that could potentially be useful to terrorists. In the UK during March 2010, Liberal Democrats MP Paul Keetch and unnamed military officers criticised Google for including pictures of the outside of the headquarters of the SAS at RAF Base Hereford, stating that terrorists might use this information to plan attacks, rather than having to drive past it themselves. Google responded that there was no appreciable security risk and that it had no intention of removing the pictures.
On Google Maps, street view and 360 degree images of military bases were removed at the Pentagon's request.
Google has been criticized[who?] for using legal, but aggressive tax avoidance strategies to minimize its corporate tax bill. Google cut its taxes by $3.1 billion in the period of 2007 to 2009 using a technique that moves most of its foreign profits through Ireland and The Netherlands to Bermuda. Google’s income shifting — involving strategies known to lawyers as the “Double Irish” and the “Dutch Sandwich” – helped reduce its overseas tax rate to 2.4 percent, the lowest of the top five U.S. technology companies by market capitalization, according to regulatory filings in six countries.
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- "The Evil Side of Google", in 5 parts, Chelu.eu, 12-17 December 2010
- Google Watch, a website by Daniel Brandt critical of Google
- Google Watch Watch, a website by Chris Beasley critical of Daniel Brandt's Google Watch website
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