Google and Trust

Posting to NGC4LIB

Here is an interesting article that is relevant to the discussion about the importance of library ethics, from the NY Times, titled: “Sure, It’s Big. But Is That Bad?”
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/23/technology/23goog.html?ref=companies

A few excerpts:

“Google says its mission is to give users the information they’re looking for even if that means giving its own content priority and de-emphasizing sites it believes offer poor experiences. “Telling a search engine that it cannot innovate and show results in a way that benefits users would undermine the very goals of our competition laws,” says Matthew Bye, a Google lawyer.”

“Google also says that linking prominently to its own services over those of rivals is good for consumers and not malicious. Its famous search algorithm, conceived by one of the founders, Larry Page, at Stanford in the 1990s, uses a series of complex and opaque formulas to rank the sites within a set of search results. The algorithm is responsible for what Google calls the “organic” listings that appear on a search results page.”

“Mr. Erickson said that Google executives thought they were doing the right thing for consumers and the Internet, and that simply by educating lawmakers on Google’s good intensions, they would ultimately win the day.”

These attitudes throw into very sharp contrast the differences between library ethics and business ethics. The idea of giving “users the information they’re looking for” i.e. in essence, doing the users’ thinking for them, vs. the idea of showing people what is the range of information available to them within a specified collection becomes somewhat clearer here. Certainly, the library injunction that we cannot profit at our patrons’ expense is shown is especially pertinent. While Google may be very sincere that it is in the public’s interest to give “its own content priority and de-emphasiz[e] sites it believes offer poor experiences,” it does ring rather hollow since they are emphasizing their own products, which they naturally consider to be “better”.

The idea that it is important to “educate” lawmakers into believing that Google’s “intentions” are “good” demands a great deal of blind trust on the part of the public. But it has been shown that many people really do trust Google, for some examples, see: http://cornellsun.com/node/23886 and http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/08/070821153921.htm, or even http://www.bizjournals.com/triangle/stories/2010/05/17/daily10.html. These results mirror my own experience working with the public where I have discovered how deeply they trust Google.

Of course, you can never know someone else’s intentions, and especially so if that other “someone” is a corporate entity, which must, by law, be focused on maximizing profit for their stockholders. How they do that can be achieved in different ways, and of course, one way is to convince the public that “We do it all for you,” “Don’t be evil” and so on.

But from this NY Times article it appears as if at least some members of the public are concerned about trusting Google too much. Perhaps it’s time for libraries to make a statement that we respect people’s privacy, cannot make money on someone’s information needs, and we cannot emphasize our own personal political and moral agendas? The general public does not know this.

A few thoughts.

-524

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