The Limits and Pitfalls of Google’s Search Engine

Protest-outside-Google-HQ_07.11New Orleans      It’s true that none of us seem to be able to live without Google.  There are other search engines, and for one reason or another many of us dip our toe in and still find later, despite our misgivings, that we are still using Google mail even knowing they keep everything forever and share with the NSA. We depend on Google’s calendar, we keep buying phones with Android, and generally we’re chained to their engine.  For all of the publicity about Google being a kinder and gentler conglomerate with its motto of “don’t be evil,” when you think about it, that’s really a very low bar.  There really aren’t many people or corporations who go out in the world determined to “just be evil.”

My worry is that we all depend on Google, and Google is not doing enough “to be good.” We are seduced into believing by them and our own self-delusion and perhaps laziness that our simple searches are bringing us real knowledge and truth, rather than a mish-mash of illusion. We depend on Google and the internet, we just can’t trust them to deliver for us.

I stumbled onto a case where a locksmith, Mark Baldino, in northern Virginia had sued Google for racketeering.  I reached him and interviewed him on “Wade’s World” on KABF.  His beef, shared by many businesses, is that Google doesn’t screen out the scammers from their listings, which encourages companies to create false listings so that when you scroll you might pick a fly-by-night operation claiming to be near you that is actually just a number connected to a call center dispatch on the hustle.  The other side of the Google scam is that for a legitimate business, like Baldino’s, he has to pay Google for key words and listings to “move up” on the list of searches ahead of the scammer.  They have lost $8 million in business over the last 7 years by their count, while also having to spend thousands in on-line advertisements with Google and others to try to recapture the traffic.  Google has essentially tried to make Baldino police the scammers, rather than deciding not to do “evil” itself, so if he sends them a spreadsheet with scammers, they’ll vet the sheet and block the bad boys.  Is that lame or what?  No wonder Baldino sued.

Someone the other day in conversation asked if people ever Google searched themselves.  I used to do so once a year during my Christmas vacation as a hoot just to have a sort of crazy out-of-body experience, though now I largely don’t bother because the searches and alerts are so spotty.  A free service called Newsle relies on Google and others and does a lot of it for me, equally poorly. With all of its money Google and its imitators don’t pay to get past the increasing number of pay walls.  For example this week I was quoted in a New York Times front page political story by Michael Barbaro on Iowa  from a 2008 Chief Organizer Blog, but no Google alerts found my name, ACORN, or anything else, while they and Newsle did find some random rightwing blog arguing that ACORN and I were effectively subverting the Affordable Care Act in the USA for our own nefarious and revolutionary purposes.  Same for the long 30th anniversary story on KABF…nada!  I can only believe that’s because the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette is also behind the paywall.

All of which means the whack rises to the top and ends up as pig fodder disguised as facts for those so inclined, and in the ways of the internet might be a source for a Wikipedia entry later down the line.  Yet, Google, Wikipedia, and others are now our “go to” for so much of our information, research, and, heaven forbid, knowledge.

It may or may not be racketeering, as Baldino Locksmiths’ claim, the courts will figure that out soon enough, but whatever it is, it’s bad business and a dangerous perversion of the public interest whether for commercial purposes or the general search for truth for all of us as regular people out in the wide world of work and life.

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