Peer to Peer Magazine

June 2011

The quarterly publication of the International Legal Technology Association

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Page 118 of 143

BOOK review The World Through L Google’s Lens egal themes parallel issues of information technology like a second set of tracks in Siva Vaidhyanathan’s provocative book “The Googlization of Everything (And Why We Should Worry),” published in March of this year by University of California Press. Vaidhyanathan, professor of media studies and law at the University of Virginia, systematically examines the ways in which Google is becoming “the chief lens through which we see the world” and considers the questions of what kind of governance the Internet requires and whether Google is the entity to provide it. Google Earns a Place at the Top Google dominates the World Wide Web, bringing order out of chaos through its comprehensive indexing system, its brilliant PageRank algorithms and its vast trove of archived data. Our faith in Google as a business fulfilling a bold and audacious mission — “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible” — is earned by its incomparable performance in the still untamed frontier that is the Internet. All too easily this translates into faith in Google as a benign force whose informal motto, “Don’t be evil,” seems to assure us that in fact it won’t be, can’t be evil. But this presumed beneficence is not beyond question. Indeed, in view of the influence that Google exerts over our lives and our world, it must be questioned, and not with alarmist rhetoric but with a level, fact-based analysis. This is the thrust of Vaidhyanathan’s study of this corporate Titan and its place in a 21st century experience of the information ecosystem. A “Googlized” Culture By “Googlization” Vaidhyanathan means the permeation of global culture by the workings of a single profit-making 120 Peer to Peer enterprise whose chief allegiance is to its shareholders. Like any other company, Google is susceptible to the tidal effects of commerce, the vision of its leadership, the skill of the human hands that chart its course and execute its initiatives, and the constraints that are or could be placed upon it by governments in the many national spheres in which it operates. A scant thirteen years old, this one-of-a-kind organization has not been tested over the long haul, and yet we have placed greater faith in Google’s permanence and essential beneficence than we typically accord to our most enduring institutions. “Google,” says Vaidhyanathan, “rules by the power of convenience, comfort, and trust.” Dispensing Information Google-Style What does it mean to give over to one business united under one CEO the power to amass and dispense the world’s knowledge? Not only content created for the Web and content scanned for digital storage and retrieval, but monumental quantities of data about the users themselves — ourselves? In successive chapters, Vaidhyanathan explores the means, the consequences and the implications of Googlization in relation to three major categories of human activity and concern: • Us. While we are using its search function, Google is capturing information about our interests, our behavior, our opinions and our lives in time and space. Although we may be pleased to find our customized and localized results increasingly “relevant,” the real value of our consumer profiles is to make us ever more profitable targets of advertising through sponsored links. And this, not search, is Google’s

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