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Google and Facebook both represent the dominant leaders in their respective fields. So complete is their dominance in fact, that people have begun audibly questioning whether they are in fact a force for good, or evil.
The prime fear where both are concerned is with regards to data. Google has indexed billions of website pages, making it privy to a lot of information; all of which could, in theory at least, be used for dangerous profiling purposes. Google Earth has also caused uproar with claims that it is helping criminals pick targets and is another major invasion of privacy.
Facebook, of course, thrives on information. Users are encouraged to share their most personal of details, thoughts and – shamefully – pictures. It harvests your email address to find potential friends and can be accessed by anyone. With all this at one company’s disposal, could Facebook one day abuse its power and expose its users to the world.
Some may see the theories as fanciful, others as a very real Orwellian nightmare made possible by governments and corporations around the world. The fundamental truth in all this though is that both companies do wield a great deal of power and both have access to private elements of many peoples’ lives.
From a search marketing point of view, Google’s omnipotent near monopolisation of the search market, ensures that theirs is the drum that we all march to. Whilst Bing and Yahoo are still hugely popular, it is the guidelines passed down by Google – often by way of Webspam team leader Matt Cutts – that needs to be heeded with the greatest urgency.
There have been numerous tales of woe from those who have been stricken from Google’s pages and suffered a steep drop in visitors as a result. There are cases where this is inexplicable and can’t be explained; however, most are usually as the result of long-outlawed blackhat techniques like buying links or creating numerous domains to push traffic towards a single main site.
A good example of a company falling foul of Google is the case of Foundem. The UK based price comparison site had its ‘plight’, highlighted last month after they kicked up a fuss over their exclusion from the Google rankings for the past three years.
But is this exclusion as a result of Google using its power to punish or simply down to a lack of content and originality on the site? It would be churlish of me to suggest that Google haven’t played their part, but the simple truth is that Foundem are in a competitive industry and just don’t abide by the clearly defined rules of Google – thus they were forced to pay the penalty. For those in any doubt, the comments on both their own blog and the Econsultancy story offers some interesting reading, particularly with regard to where it may be failing.
The passing of information is dangerous. But whether you’re a victim of Facebook or a clumsy junior civil servant leaving a USB full of personal details, the more we open up, the more open we are to intrusion. Google and Facebook have gained their power through providing a service that the public wants. The reason that they are the first and fourth most popular websites in the world is purely down to their success at being the best (at least, the perceived best) at what they do.
Could our information be passed on and misused, yes. Is this the sole intention of Google or Facebook, most probably not. Thieves will steal lead from church roofs regardless of Google Earth. Industrious hackers can obtain personal information about you through any site that you’ve entered details, not just Facebook.
You can’t assume security, just as you can’t assume that you’ll get to the top of the search engine rankings. Understanding the dangers rather than fearing the consequences is by far the most important aspect of any online usage. So are Google and Facebook really evil? In short, no; but even if they are, we are the ones who have given them the power and the information, so can we really pass blame? There are alternative sites, plenty of them, but we have actively decided to follow the well-trodden path regardless of the dangers that may lurk down the other end.
Samantha Noble is well known within in the search industry, she even won the UK Search Personality 2016 at the UK Search Awards in November. This year, she continues to make an impact on the industry by judging not only one, but three, prestigious industry awards.