Forget your spouse, your best friend, or your mom: there’s a good chance that Google knows you best of all. They know your deepest, burning questions, or at least whatever you search for when you’re awake at 3 a.m. Google has the draft of that email you never sent to your ex. They know how many times you’ve had to reset the password to every account you have on the internet – and what you’ve changed it to. They know if you’re the type to arrive at the airport early or if you like to cut it close – because they can see the receipt from your rideshare drop off and what time your flight leaves. Google knows you can never remember how many ounces are in a cup or how to get to your in-laws’ house.
Most of that may seem pretty innocuous – until you realize that Google is constantly working to extend its reach into your life. Google makes money off advertising – over 80% of the revenue of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, comes from Google ads. In 2020, that equated to $147 billion. The further Google can creep into consumers’ lives and extract data, the bigger the payoff.
From across the political spectrum, the outcry over privacy concerns has been steadily increasing, but it hasn’t slowed Google from aggressively finding new ways to collect information. Worse, they are often doing so under the banner of altruism. They’ve attempted to launch fiber-optic lines to bring internet to unreached parts of the country and partnered with some of the largest health care systems to help improve patient outcomes. The pandemic gave Google the perfect opening to become even more entrenched in schools, as districts switched to online learning and purchased thousands of Chromebooks for students. In reality, all of this has just given Google a larger peek behind the curtain of our lives.
Take Google Fiber, a project first pioneered in 2010 that aimed to build high-speed, fiber-optic networks to get more Americans online. By 2016, Google had paused the project, after realizing just how expensive it was to build these networks in hard-to-reach areas. Not to be deterred, Google is now urging local governments to build fiber networks, on the taxpayers’ dime, that it will then use to sell its own internet service.
This will give Google access to the networks, meaning they can profit from the data they extract from the taxpayers who paid for the networks in the first place. Municipal governments turning their taxpayer-funded broadband infrastructure over to Google would be a massive government handout to a company under multiple federal and state investigations for privacy and antitrust violations.
Then there’s their foray into health care, a natural decision given that it’s a multi-billion-dollar industry. Google has partnered with some of the largest health care systems around the country, allowing them to collect and analyze the health data of millions of Americans. There has been bipartisan pushback from Congress about privacy concerns, including the fact that certain deals have allowed Google to access patient information, including personally identifiable data. Most recently, Google announced a partnership with the Hospital Corporation of America, which has 2,000 locations in 21 states. Again, Google claims to be doing this strictly for the benefit of patients, but as an executive whose company decided to go in a different direction said, “We could never pin down Google on what their true business model was.”
It’s a similar story in education. If you have a school age child, there’s a 50-50 chance their teacher is using Google Classrooms to take attendance, mark down bad behavior, or grade assignments. Since the early 2010’s, Google has been offering services like email and document sharing at no-cost – other companies can’t compete with free. At the same time, Google began pitching their Chromebooks to schools. The laptops are cheaper than traditional laptops – making them attractive to schools – because they, rather conveniently, can only run the Google suite of software.
The New York Times has called this “the Googlification of the classroom.” Google has been evasive about how much data it collects from its school-related services and what it does with that information. This begs the question, if Google really is just putting this out as a service, what does it have to gain?
Google is a digital gatekeeper unprecedented in size, power and influence that has repeatedly violated their users’ privacy. Giving Google control over more of our lives will further entrench their dominance and enable them to exploit their position far into the future. Data is big money and Google is determined to creep into every nook and cranny.
Mike Davis is founder and president of the Internet Accountability Project (IAP), a conservative grassroots advocacy organization that opposes Big Tech and seeks to hold them accountable for their bad acts.