Google Is Your Friend. Or Not?

Henry Porter writing in the Observer attempts to make the “Or Not” case. Read the full column here. I suggest you do, because it presages the arguments of those who would strangle technology to preserve walled gardens.

An excerpt:

    presents a far greater threat to the livelihood of individuals and the future of commercial institutions important to the community. One case emerged last week when a letter from Billy Bragg, Robin Gibb and other songwriters was published in the Times explaining that was playing very rough with those who appeared on its subsidiary, . When the Performing Rights Society demanded more money for music videos streamed from the website, Google reacted by refusing to pay the requested 0.22p per play and took down the videos of the artists concerned.

    It does this with impunity because it is dominant worldwide and knows the songwriters have nowhere else to go. Google is the portal to a massive audience: you comply with its terms or feel the weight of its boot on your windpipe.

The writer goes on to try to equate Google with classic monopolistic trusts of the past, such as John D. Rockerfeller’s Standard Oil.

Frankly, I think there are fundamental flaws in his argument.

He starts out by asserting that Google produces nothing. That’s kind of like saying that you could easily use the Library of Congress without consulting the card catalog, whether the card catalog is electronic or physical. Google and other search engines are the card catalogs of the internet.

He goes on the imply that Google is partially responsible for the problems of the newspaper industry (though not for the debt that many papers have saddled themselves with) and this and that and the other. (Aside: The proximate cause, as the lawyers say, of the problems many American newspapers face is their borrowing large sums of money to buy other newspapers. It was debt, not declining revenues, that brought down the Chicago Tribune, for example.)

No one is forced to use Google. Persons use it because it works; it delivers on its promises. Google also so far has lived up to its motto: “Don’t be evil” and does not appear to be preparing to turn evil overnight.

Persons can just as easily click on something else.

And they will when and if something better comes along. The customers of Standard Oil did not have that choice.

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