A household name, synonymous with the internet and just about everything we don’t know. No longer a meagre search engine, it now provides us with a means of communication, navigation, news, shopping and low rate international telephony.
For many, Google is the answer to a lot of things. Further aided by the addition of many Google search bars to web browsers on both PC’s and smartphones/tablets. However, there’s something sly afoot with our colourful and multi-faceted internet companion.
A mate of mine from uni showed me a video on Monday, a TED Talk by Eli Pariser.
This video discusses the pro’s and cons of the ‘personalisation’ of the internet.
Put simply, what one person sees in one set of Google search results will be entirely different from another; even if the same search term is entered!
To some, this is advantageous. In fact, it is for most people. Based on: your browsing history; location; time of day; the browser you’re using and 53 other factors, Google will return a list of results which you will find the most useful.
Now, this is great. Imagine, a tailored list of Google search results which are designed to help you get that university assignment written with 10 minutes to spare. However, thinking this is entirely aimed at the user would be foolish. Google, like most other things on the internet, is a profitable organisation. Not that it’s charging you for every search you make (but if it did, you can guarantee it would be the most valuable company in the world – sorry Apple). No, Google makes its money selling advertising space down the side of the search results pages.
What it’s actually doing with the information it gathers from these 57 points, 57 points each user is unaware they possess, is deciding which advertisements are best to present you with. That way, they can charge the companies extortionate amounts by ‘guaranteeing’ exposure to the companies target audience.
This is why, whenever I Google something, I’m presented with ads for cheap iPhone deals from strange places. I should really learn to stop spending so much time on the Apple website, it’s not like I haven’t read it ‘t all already…
However, it’s not all bad. You can stick the word ‘restaurant’ into Google Maps and be bombarded with pins indicating where one might be able to go for a little sustenance. (That came in handy, first night in Rome with my Dad in an area I didn’t know, when at 10PM at night neither of us had eaten and were understandably famished.) This is, of course, based on your location. Something the iPhone provides the application through it’s built in GPS tracker.
Some of you may not be content with your location being sent out like that. In fact, every cynic on the planet will have a reason for why they feel this is a ploy by Apple to send out private information without your knowledge. However, bear in mind that YOU as the user have to grant permission to each application to use your location, and the use of your location is indicated by the arrow in the top right hand corner. (Handy to know this, as it’s always obvious to me when someone is using that ‘Find My Friends’ app they released with iCloud last October.)
This is unfortunately the way that the internet is going, and like many others I agree: the reign of the desktop PC is over. Steve Jobs said, in the iPad 2 keynote a year ago, that Apple were now a ‘mobile device’ company, having sold more iPads, iPhones and MacBooks than desktop machines in the quarter prior to the iPad 2’s release. With the iPad 2’s popularity, I can only see that number increasing exponentially.
We can’t look at this as a negative. Progress is progress, and you can’t stand in the way of it. Apple will always progress things in a way which makes them the most profit; even I’ll admit that this is through duplicate spending by their (rapidly growing) cluster of loyal users.
With the increasing number of mobile devices being used to access the web, the importance of your location becomes paramount to providing you with relevant information. Every time you open the notification centre on your iPhone, you’ll notice the location icon appear in the bar across the top. This is so your iPhone can provide you with the weather in your local area at a glance, if you’ve got the weather widget there.
We cannot ignore the usefulness of tailoring internet content to suit the eyes of the user. I think it’s great that Facebook automatically filters the folk you don’t interact with very often out of your news feed, in favour of the ones you do. (Yeah, Facebook does it as well.) However, I agree with Eli: the internet was developed as a means of connecting us all together and providing an un-filtered, un-regulated forum for freedom of speech and information. How am I meant to go out and research my thesis if Google is only going to return me stuff to make me want to spend money or speak to people – because that’s all I use the internet for. By using this information, we do exactly as he says and reduce the internet to a user base of one.