Evil Google: A slave’s accusation?

On: October 14, 2007
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About Raoul Siepers
BA Media Studies - Universiteit Utrecht Student MA New Media - Universiteit van Amsterdam.

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http://www.raoulsiepers.nl/blog    

Recently we at Masters of Media have been creating a bit of a stir when it comes to the moderation of new Wikipedia entries, and the premises it builds upon. As we have seen, the existence or public relevance of a certain subject has in certain cases been contested by a simple Google search. Conclusions were drawn pretty much at the same moment: We can’t have Google decide whether or not our entry should be deleted. Apart from valid criticism, part of this reaction seems to be fueled by a general negative stance towards Google. Its slogan “Don’t Be Evil” has lately been questioned in the light of China’s censorship and the prolonged storage of user data. By combining Google’s alleged evilness with Nietzsche’s views on the slave-morality, I hope to provide a critical view on the subject.

Slave morality refers to the externalizing of the causes of ones (perceived) inferiority. This external other is regarded as “evil”, whereas those instances that make the oppressed feel less inferior or promote their position in society are regarded as “good”. Now how does this morality apply to an institution as Google, as soon as it receives the predicate ‘evil’?

It is safe to say that the common Google user probably does not think in terms of good and evil. He would perhaps complain about not finding the information he was looking for, or on the other hand praise the search engine for its efficiency. To criticize Google would mean having basic knowledge of its ideals, practices and internals: A black box makes an easy scapegoat, but at the same time shields itself from the educated critic. However, there is much to Google that is not out in the open. Far from being an open system, it represents an ideal; a promise for universal and instant data archival and retrieval, cast into a convenient interface. What lies beneath the surface is an invisible, pervasive force. In losing control over its presence, a fundamental sense of insecurity arises.

This insecurity works on a multitude of levels. First, we perceive Google’s pervasiveness as a breach of security. It not only intrudes our sense of privacy, it also threatens our identity. Why is this so frightening? By subscribing to all kinds of services as Gmail, YouTube and Hyves (Orkut, anyone?), we lent our identity to a second party, so to speak. At the time it seemed like the natural thing to do, perhaps even a safe act in all its naivety. Immersed in an environment which claimed to encourage decentralization and individualism, no-one really was to blame. Temporarily freed from the structures of everyday life we set back and relaxed, only to find out our borrowed identities were being gathered and reclaimed by centralized forces. As with Microsoft – the former Face of Evil – the irony reigns in our relationship to Google. We attach ourselves voluntarily to their strings. Searching for Evil in the womb of Evil itself, the dependency proves hard to shake off.

Now does criticizing Google equal subjecting to the masses of the weak? When we say: “Google is Evil”, do we admit to our suffering? There is no easy answer to this issue, primarily because it is a battleground where philosophy, psychology and technology collide. Before pursuing this path we should perhaps first ask ourselves:

Are we really oppressed?

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