While the world is shocked – shocked I tells ya! – to learn that not all the countless people who have been datamining Facebook for the last decade have been using it for good, Google have once more turned their screw on ownership of the ‘open, free internet.’
As is usual with Google, it is presented as a benign, friendly move designed to help others. Nothing Google ever does is anything else, right? This time it is the “Google News Initiative.”
It begins as all these things do, with a reminder of just how positive Google has been for the news industry:
AMP (which I loathed on instinct) was always a move to force proprietary markup onto publishers for Google’s own purpose. In fact, it purposefully stripped the methods used by publishers to generate revenue or gain insight – ostensibly for ‘speed’, but really just to hack competitor networks off at the knees. It didn’t take long, in fact, for Google just to start hosting AMP pages altogether – making a trip to the publisher’s own website completely redundant.
YouTube? Well, we don’t need to delve too deeply into the horror that is YouTube, but even just taken as a news delivery platform it ties organisations to a Google property, and thus at the mercy of Google policies and processes and the secret methods they deploy in their decision about what to surface and what to bury.
Having forced people onto platforms it owns, Google is now looking to control the purchase funnel.
Again: to engage with this ecosphere is to put yourself at the mercy of Google’s terms and conditions. There can be little doubt that “Subscribe with Google” buttons will start to appear alongside titles which join the service, and thus they will get a little extra juice in the rankings, probably improved clickthrough rates (weird that anything with an extra visual clue would do better than plain text huh? See: AdWords’ ever-increasing feature set).
So when you’re effectively publishing on Google rather than the free internet, what is the next logical step? To capture the data, and provide it to you as a ‘service’ without ever mentioning that all this data must necessarily flow through Google’s own infrastructure and therefore give them industry-wide insight that they can use to whatever means they see fit (better monetising their display network, selling insight directly, or gaining intelligence to make acquisition decisions).
So there you are: Google’s offer is to host your content. To monetise it for you. To give you loads of tools that make you feel that you’re in control. And all they ask in return is your soul.
Meanwhile in the background, Google relentlessly lobbies Governments and supranational bodies for its own commercial benefit (which, of course, it is completely free to do) while getting ever closer to the seats of power.
In that environment, with all the control that Google has, and with Google’s own interests at stake, do you really believe that they would not interfere with the free flow of information if it conflicted with their own aims? Given the relentless nature with which they have pursued the destruction of business models they happen not to like (link building, affiliate sites, competing products, browers etc etc etc) then I wouldn’t count on it, personally.
Is it really 7 years since I wrote this?
20 years ago, Bill Gates thought the world wide web was too open and free and beyond his control. That his vision of an alternative, closed-system “Microsoft web” failed still rises alternative chuckles at his naivety and contempt for his anti-competitive ideas. And yet here we are, supine to Google as they blithely buy the internet – blinded by the whole “do no evil” thing, which is about as deep as the copywriting on Innocent smoothies, when you think about it.
7 years might have passed, but there is still no answer to the riddle of what to do with Google, and how the world responds to the increasing threat it poses to the internet as envisaged.