Information overload is the least of Google’s problems in this intriguing exposé of the popular website.
Few readers need to be told that Google runs on advertising revenue rather than goodwill. But more interesting are the ways in which the so-called techno-fundamentalists have overestimated the layperson’s ability to keep up with technological progress and the rest of the world’s reluctance to accept its uncensored use. In this provocative book, Vaidhyanathan (Media Studies/Univ. of Virginia; The Anarchist in the Library: How the Clash Between Freedom and Control Is Hacking the Real World and Crashing the System, 2005) shows how Google’s methods of capturing, storing and filtering information are often elitist and increasingly invasive. With confusing and oft-changing privacy policies—and the tendency to implement first, apologize later—Google has kept tech-savvy users on guard and the enraptured masses blissfully unaware of how, and with whom, their personal information is being shared. With good intentions but few enforceable boundaries, the author calls for a legal infrastructure that would keep the corporate giant in check. Vaidhyanathan focuses tightly on Google, only mentioning other privacy violators like Facebook in passing. Citing some of the company’s most controversial headlines, from the toddler who was captured naked in his grandmother’s garden with Google Street View to the settlement between Google and the Author’s Guild over copyrights, the author unmasks the monster behind the friendly interface with the suspense of a horror novel.
An urgent reminder to look more closely at dangers that lurk in plain sight.