Sunday, December 20, 2009

My Problem With Google

In general I love Google. They put together some brilliant software and I wish they'd hire me. Outside of their products, I'm generally rooting for them in their battles in the phone industry and with copyright law.

That said, I am not entirely at ease. The problem is that, at its core, Google is an ad company and that makes me more than a bit distrustful. Money has to come from somewhere, but it's an industry I'm opposed to. Myself, I try to avoid exposure to ads, using Adblocker and the like on my computer, and skipping TV commercials thanks to Tivo. I have a great deal of sympathy for the characters in The Monkey Wrench Gang who burned down billboards. Advertisements are unaesthetic, annoying and a waste.

Beyond simple personal preference, I dislike the function of advertisements and have a problem with consumerism in general. I am hardly unique for that, Adbusters and countless other hippies have spent far more time than I driving that point home. At the risk of repeating those folks, ads are not fulfilling any desire, their purpose is to create more desire, and therefore I feel they are somewhat harmful to society. I suppose ads used to function to inform people, but that's hardly the case these days. When one is looking for a given product, a simple Google search can tell them where they can find it. If I were in a position of power, I would certainly consider a large tax on advertising. Admittedly that runs into the same problems as campaign finance reform and trying to disentangle money from speech, but I would like to try.

I'd like to one day live in a world where advertising is largely absent, where people decide what products they'd like to buy primarily on the basis of reviews and reputations thanks to things such as Yelp and Consumer Reports or's recommendation system. Of course, Google just tried to buy Yelp, so it's certainly not an either/or condition. Which reminds me, I should think some more about about my plans to create a more universal recommendation/reputation system that would function as a sort of whuffie for everything. However, even with systems like that in place, advertisements still work and will continue to be used. The more attempts there are like my own to try to censor advertisements, the more advertisers will devise new ways to get through to people. As long as advertisements continue to work, this will simply be one of life's annoyances, much like the trying to stay one step ahead of bacteria evolving resistance to antibiotics. It's just a shame that one of my otherwise favorite companies is in league with the opposing side.

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