Think of it this way: suppose you’re a kid, who, with the help of your parents and friends, sets up the classic lemonade stand or hot chocolate table to make a little pocket money. Your going to want to figure out where to stand in the neighborhood to hold up a sign and tell people where they can get your great offerings, right? Well, suppose someone comes along and gives some potential buyers a cloaking device, so you can’t see where the people are coming from, let alone what they look like – all you know is some invisible person comes to your table and asks to buy what you have – that’s all you know. You have time and date info, but direction and demographic info you can’t collect because you can’t see them.
If that sounds never-racking to you, then you get what webmasters are increasingly going through with what Google’s doing.
I know that, on any given day, about 40 percent to 60 percent of the web visitor information that comes to me via the use of Clicky.com realtime search data reads Google.com (secure search). The first time I noticed this information, I thought the CIA or NSA was checking out my Zennie62.com blog. That as because it only occurred a few times; now it happens all the time.
Because, in 2011, Google made a change to its own accounts such that when you signed in to Google, you are automatically taken to a secure system such that a webmaster can’t see what keywords you used to find their website via search. According to a great blog post by Jonathan Allen over at Search Engine Watch, and dated October 19, 2011, information on keywords used will be hidden from you – unless you pay Google to use its Google AdWords product.
In other words, it’s another way for Google to make money, but it’s a sinister method. Google becomes the provider of the cloaking device for customers to my lemonade stand. So, you say why hasn’t the government stepped in and dome something about this? Well, because what Google is doing is not generally known of by the government. There’s no regulating body for the activities of search engines. Moreover, the government lacks a resource where Internet users can take their specialized complaints to them and expect meaningful action. And, on top of all of that, the government lacks the talent base directed to the task of monitoring the Internet with respect the laws of the land. We have a very ‘wild west’ situation, at the moment, and because Google holds a market share monopoly, and probably feels it has an intellectual advantage over government legislators and policy analysts, it’s getting away with murder.
In this case, murder of a webmasters ability to adjust his or her website to meet changing market demands as expressed by search behavior – you can’t know the market if you don’t know the keywords used to find you, or for that matter how the website visitor came to your site to begin with.
This may be a “big gain for user privacy,” as Google’s blog post on this change said in October of 2011, but that’s really a load of bull. It’s Google trying to kill off the business of search engine optimization – improving websites and directing web content to meet market demand.
Google has also tried to do this with respect to news gathering. It’s Google Trends system that records what you and I search for has been adjust repeatedly since 2007, and to the point of making it harder for bloggers to keep up with market demands for search content on Google. If you can’t find the right keywords to draw consumers of information, you have to, from Google’s perspective, pay to run a Google AdWords add – and then it shows you data on keywords, but only after you’ve paid into their system and to run and ad to get visitors to your website.
It’s Google’s form of Communism: as long as you’re in its account World, it’s trying to off the outside website market from seeing your activities and, with Google AdWords, getting you to pay them to drive traffic to your website, rather than use SEO to do it without paying Google. If Google believed in the maintenance of a free web commerce market, it would allow web masters to record the way its account holders found their websites via the use of The Google Search engine – or any search engine.
As long as you’re lurking around the Internet under Google’s protective account cloak, you can go anywhere and that website master would have zero idea how you found them, regardless of how big the website was.
Now, Google’s counter is they give webmasters using Google Webmaster Tools a bundled list of data, but you can’t see what individuals are doing to find you in terms of the keywords they use. If you don’t see this as dangerous to our society, let me give you another perspective to consider.
Google has effectively made it harder for anyone trying to research data on missing persons to learn what part of the nation may harbor that person who’s interested in search data on, say, Amanda Stokes.
Who’s Amanda Stokes?
Amanda Stokes was a 33-year-old blonde, white woman of 5-foot-four inches , and who worked as a barista at a business called Cafe De Bartolo at 3308 Grand Ave in Oakland, California, the location of what is now called the Boot And Shoe Restaurant.
On Sunday, November 25th, her Black 2001 Honda Accord was found at 5000 Park Blvd. Oakland Police conducted a search that turned up nothing. I found out about it because I lived, and live, not to far from that cafe and was a regular patron there. So, when I was given the flyer by people who were trying to find her, I got involved by posting a blog entry in my Oakland Focus blog (Oakland’s first blog) that she was missing.
I was then, and still am today, an obsessive collector of data on visitors to my websites. So, I monitored that blog post to try and determine who was searching for “Amanda Stokes” online. I found the expected sources in Oakland, one in Virginia, and then another in a weird location: a point outside Salt Lake City, Utah.
I shared that information with the friend who was leading the effort to find Amanda Stokes, and she was able to tell me who was who – except for the Utah location. We were never able to find the exact location – the pinpoint address – and we did share the information with Oakland Police at the time. But that’s as far as we got.
Sadly, Amanda Stokes, to this writing, is still missing, and its 2013.
The point is, we were at least able to form a pattern of possible kidnap suspects under the theory that the person holding Amanda or responsible for her disappearance may be searching for information about her missing status online.
The point is, Google renders that kind of research almost impossible to conduct, today. A person could visit that blog entry and we could know their location, but without the keyword data to prove that person was actually interested in the subject of the blog post “Amanda Stokes”, it’s harder to prove we have a right to question them.
That’s the World Google’s setting up.
Look, I know there are people concerned about the NSA spying on their Internet actions, but that’s not what I’m blogging about. I’m blogging about the right of website owners to know how and why a person found their web content. That ability is not just good for Internet commerce and news reporting, but for social justice and criminal research too.
Google’s actions should be illegal, if they’re not already.
And from all indications, the law is so murky, and there’s no specific legislation or case to point to, that what Google’s doing isn’t illegal.
But it should be.
Google’s actions must be subject to legislative consideration in the form of proposed law. Right now, this wild-west situation is giving too much power to giant search engines like Google. Google’s search engine has become a public good that anyone can use, just as anyone can use – in other words, “individuals cannot be effectively excluded from use” of it.
But, in cutting off data from website masters who are visited by Google account holders in a common Internet search process, Google is trying to make itself a private good that you have to pay to use. The argument I make is that Google has become so large it can’t be allowed to escape its status as a public good. It’s not good for society or for Internet commerce, or for the maintenance of a free market economy.