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Why we fear Google

Why we fear Google

Pirate Praveen
2014-04-24 @ 11:33
[with apologies for cross posting]

It is quite long, but very important to our future, the future of
humanity. It is extremely satisfying that I'm not using a google service
to share this, neither did I find it using a google service (no not
facebook either, I found it on diaspora

Form today, I will actively migrate all user group subscriptions from gmail.

An open letter to Eric Schmidt
Why we fear Google

17.04.2014 · Here for the first time, a German manager confesses his
company’s total dependence on Google. What publishers are experiencing
today is a sign of things to come: We will soon all belong to Google. An
open letter to Eric Schmidt. Von Mathias Döpfner

Dear Eric Schmidt,

In your text “Die Chancen des Wachstums” (English Version: “A Chance for
Growth”) in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, you reply to an article
which this newspaper had published a few days earlier under the title
“Angst vor Google” (“Fear of Google”). You repeatedly mention the Axel
Springer publishing house. In the spirit of transparency I would like to
reply with an open letter to highlight a couple of things from our point
of view.

(Deutsche Fassung: „Warum wir Google fürchten“ - Mathias Döpfners
offener Brief an Eric Schmidt)

We have known each other for many years, and have, as you state, had
lengthy and frequent discussions on the relationship between European
publishers and Google. As you know, I am a great admirer of Google’s
entrepreneurial success. In just a few short years, starting in 1998,
this company has grown to employ almost 50,000 people worldwide,
generated sixty billion dollars in revenue last year, and has a current
market capitalization of more than 350 billion dollars. Google is not
only the biggest search engine in the world, but along with Youtube (the
second biggest search engine in the world) it also has the largest video
platform, with Chrome the biggest browser, with Gmail the most widely
used e-mail provider, and with Android the biggest operating system for
mobile devices. Your article rightly points out what fabulous impetus
Google has given to growth of the digital economy. In 2013, Google made
a profit of fourteen billion dollars. I take my hat off to this
outstanding entrepreneurial performance. Google doesn’t need us. But we
need Google

In your text you refer to the marketing cooperation between Google and
Axel Springer. We were also happy with it. But some of our readers have
now interpreted this to mean that Axel Springer is evidently
schizophrenic. On the one hand, Axel Springer is part of a European
antitrust action against Google, and is in dispute with them regarding
the issue of enforcement of German ancillary copyright prohibiting the
stealing of content; on the other hand, Axel Springer not only benefits
from the traffic it receives via Google but from Google’s algorithm for
marketing the remaining space in its online advertising. You can call it
schizophrenic – or liberal. Or, to use one of our Federal Chancellor’s
favorite phrases: there is no alternative.

We know of no alternative which could offer even partially comparable
technological prerequisites for the automated marketing of advertising.
And we cannot afford to give up this source of revenue because we
desperately need the money for technological investments in the future.
Which is why other publishers are increasingly doing the same. We also
know of no alternative search engine which could maintain or increase
our online reach. A large proportion of high quality journalistic media
receives its traffic primarily via Google. In other areas, especially of
a non-journalistic nature, customers find their way to suppliers almost
exclusively though Google. This means, in plain language, that we – and
many others – are dependent on Google. At the moment Google has a 91.2
percent search-engine market share in Germany. In this case, the
statement “if you don’t like Google, you can remove yourself from their
listings and go elsewhere” is about as realistic as recommending to an
opponent of nuclear power that he just stop using electricity. He simply
cannot do this in real life – unless he wants to join the Amish.

Google’s employees are always extremely friendly to us and to other
publishing houses, but we are not communicating with each other on equal
terms. How could we? Google doesn’t need us. But we need Google. And we
are also worlds apart economically. At fourteen billion dollars,
Google’s annual profit is about twenty times that of Axel Springer. The
one generates more profit per quarter than the revenues of the other in
a whole year. Our business relationship is that of the Goliath of Google
to the David of Axel Springer. When Google changed an algorithm, one of
our subsidiaries lost 70 percent of its traffic within a few days. The
fact that this subsidiary is a competitor of Google’s is certainly a
coincidence. Not only economic, but also political

We are afraid of Google. I must state this very clearly and frankly,
because few of my colleagues dare do so publicly. And as the biggest
among the small, perhaps it is also up to us to be the first to speak
out in this debate. You wrote it yourself in your book: “We believe that
modern technology platforms, such as Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple,
are even more powerful than most people realize (...), and what gives
them power is their ability to grow – specifically, their speed to
scale. Almost nothing, short of a biological virus, can scale as
quickly, efficiently or aggressively as these technology platforms and
this makes the people who build, control, and use them powerful too.”

The discussion about Google’s power is therefore not a conspiracy theory
propagated by old-school diehards. You yourself speak of the new power
of the creators, owners, and users. In the long term I’m not so sure
about the users. Power is soon followed by powerlessness. And this is
precisely the reason why we now need to have this discussion in the
interests of the long-term integrity of the digital economy’s ecosystem.
This applies to competition, not only economic, but also political. It
concerns our values, our understanding of the nature of humanity, our
worldwide social order and, from our own perspective, the future of
Europe. The greatest opportunity in the last few decades

As the situation stands, your company will play a leading role in the
various areas of our professional and private lives – in the house, in
the car, in healthcare, in robotronics. This is a huge opportunity and a
no less serious threat. I am afraid that it is simply not enough to
state, as you do, that you want to make the world a “better place.” The
Internet critic Evgeny Morozov has clearly described the position that
modern societies need to take here: This is not a debate about
technology and the fascinating opportunities it presents. This is a
political debate. Android devices and Google algorithms are not a
government program. Or at least they shouldn’t be. It is we the people
who have to decide whether or not we want what you are asking of us –
and what price we are willing to pay for it.

Publishers gained their experience here early – as the vanguard for
other sectors and industries. But as long as it was simply a question of
the expropriation of content (which search engines and aggregators use
but don’t want to pay for), only a few were interested. But that changes
when the same thing applies to people’s personal data. The question of
who this data belongs to will be one of the key policy issues of the future.

You say in your article that those who criticize Google are “ultimately
criticizing the Internet as such and the opportunity for everyone to be
able to access information from wherever they happen to be.” The
opposite is true. Those who criticize Google are not criticizing the
Internet. Those who are interested in having an intact Internet – these
are the ones who need to criticize Google. From the perspective of a
publishing house, the Internet is not a threat, but rather the greatest
opportunity in the last few decades. 62 percent of our corporate profit
today comes from our digital business. This means that we are not
talking about the Internet here, but only about the role that Google
plays within it. The „fair criteria“ are not in place

It is in this context that of the utmost importance are competition
complaints submitted four years ago by various European publishers’
associations and Internet companies against Google at the European
Commission in Brussels. Google is a prime example of a market-dominating
company. With a seventy-percent global market share, Google defines the
infrastructure on the Internet. The next largest search engine is Baidu
in China with 16.4 per cent – and that’s because China is a dictatorship
which prohibits free access to Google. Then there are search engines
with market shares of up to 6 percent. These are pseudo-competitors. The
market belongs to a single company. Google’s share of the
online-advertising market in Germany is increasing from year to year and
is currently around 60 percent. For comparison: The Bild newspaper,
which has been considered as market-dominating by the German Federal
Cartel Office for decades (which is why Axel Springer was not allowed to
buy the TV company Pro Sieben Sat.1 or regional newspapers), has a 9
percent market share of printed advertisements in Germany. By comparison
Google is not only market-dominating but super market-dominating.

Google is to the Internet what the Deutsche Post was to mail delivery or
Deutsche Telekom to telephone calls. In those days there were national
state monopolies. Today there is a global network monopoly. This is why
it is of paramount importance that there be transparent and fair
criteria for Google’s search results.

However, these fair criteria are not in place. Google lists its own
products, from e-commerce to pages from its own Google+ network, higher
than those of its competitors, even if these are sometimes of less value
for consumers and should not be displayed in accordance with the Google
algorithm. It is not even clearly pointed out to the user that these
search results are the result of self-advertising. Even when a Google
service has fewer visitors than that of a competitor, it appears higher
up the page until it eventually also receives more visitors. This is
called the abuse of a market-dominating position. And everyone expected
the European antitrust authorities to prohibit this practice. It does
not look like it will. The Commissioner has instead proposed a
“settlement” that has left anyone with any understanding of the issue
speechless. Eric, in your article you talk about a compromise which you
had attempted to reach with the EU Commission. What you have found, if
the Commission does decide on the present proposal, is an additional
model for Google of advertising revenue procurement. There will not be
any “painful concessions” but rather additional earnings. A betrayal of
the basic idea behind Google

The Commission is seriously proposing that the infrastructure-dominating
search engine Google be allowed to continue to discriminate against its
competitors in the placement of search results critical to success. As
“compensation,” however, a new advertising window will be set up at the
beginning of the search list, in which those companies who are
discriminated against will be able to buy a place on the list. This is
not a compromise. This is an officially EU-sanctioned introduction of
the business model that in less honorable circles is referred to as
protection money – i.e. if you don’t want me to kill you, you have to
pay me.

Dear Eric Schmidt, You know very well that this would result in
long-term discrimination against and weakening of any competition.

Meaning that Google would be able to develop its superior market
position still further. And that this would further weaken the European
digital economy in particular. I honestly cannot imagine that this is
what you meant by compromise. But I do not want to reproach you and
Google for this. You, as the representative of the company, can and must
look after its interests. My criticism is directed at the European
Competition Commission. Commissioner Almunia ought to reflect once again
on whether it is wise, as a kind of final official act, to create a
situation that will go down in history as a nail in the coffin of the
already sclerotic European Internet economy. But it would above all be a
betrayal of the consumer, who will no longer be able to find what is
most important and best for him but what is most profitable for Google –
at the end a betrayal of the basic idea behind Google. A remarkably
honest sentence

This also applies to the large and even more problematic set of issues
concerning data security and data utilization. Ever since Snowden
triggered the NSA affair, ever since the close relations between major
American online companies and the American secret services became
public, the social climate – at least in Europe – has fundamentally
changed. People have become more sensitive about what happens to their
user data. Nobody knows as much about its customers as Google. Even
private or business emails are read by Gmail and, if necessary, can be
evaluated. You yourself said in 2010: “We know where you are. We know
where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about.”
This is a remarkably honest sentence. The question is: Are users happy
with the fact that this information is used not only for commercial
purposes – which may have many advantages, yet a number of spooky
negative aspects as well – but could end up in the hands of the
intelligence services and to a certain extent already has?

In Patrick Tucker’s book The Naked Future: What Happens in a World that
Anticipates Your Every Move?, whose vision of the future was considered
to be “inescapable” by Google’s master thinker Vint Cerf, there is a
scene which sounds like science fiction, but isn’t. Just imagine, the
author writes, you wake up one morning and read the following on your
phone: “Good morning! Today, as you leave work, you will run into your
old girlfriend Vanessa (you dated her eleven years ago), and she is
going to tell you that she is getting married. Do try to act surprised!”
Because Vanessa has not told anyone yet. You of course are wondering
just how your phone knew that or whether it’s a joke, and so you ignore
the message. Then in the evening you actually pass Vanessa on the
sidewalk. Can competition generally still function in the digital age?

Vaguely remembering the text from the phone, you congratulate her on her
engagement. Vanessa is alarmed: “‘How did you know I was engaged?’ she
asks. You’re about to say, ‘My phone sent me the text,’ but you stop
yourself just in time. ‘Didn’t you post something to your Facebook
profile?’ you ask. ‘Not yet,’ she answers and walks hurriedly away. You
should have paid attention to your phone and just acted surprised.”

Google searches more than half a billion web addresses. Google knows
more about every digitally active citizen than George Orwell dared to
imagine in his wildest dreams in 1984. Google is sitting on the entire
current data trove of humanity like the giant Fafner in The Ring of the
Nibelung: “Here I lie and here I hold.” I hope you are aware of your
company’s special responsibility. If fossil fuels were the fuels of the
20th century, then those of the 21st century are surely data and user
profiles. We need to ask ourselves whether competition can generally
still function in the digital age if data are so extensively
concentrated in the hands of one party. There will be a winner

There is a quote from you in this context that concerns me. In 2009 you
said: “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe
you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” The only sentence that is
even more worrying comes from Mark Zuckerberg when he was on the podium
of a conference with you and I in the audience. Someone asked what
Facebook thinks of the storage of data and the protection of privacy.
And Zuckerberg said: “I don’t understand your question. If you have
nothing to hide you have nothing to fear.”

Ever since then I have thought about this sentence again and again. I
find it terrible. I know that it was certainly not meant that way.
Behind this statement there is a state of mind and an image of humanity
that is typically cultivated in totalitarian regimes – not in liberal
societies. Such a statement could also have come from the head of East
Germany’s Stasi or other secret police in service of a dictatorship. The
essence of freedom is precisely the fact that I am not obliged to
disclose everything that I am doing, that I have a right to
confidentiality and, yes, even to secrets; that I am able to determine
for myself what I wish to disclose about myself. The individual right to
this is what makes a democracy. Only dictatorships want transparent
citizens instead of a free press.

Officials in Brussels are now thinking about how the total transparency
of users can be avoided by restricting the setting and storage of
cookies on the Internet (with which it is still possible today to find
out which website you clicked on at 10.10 a.m. on 16. April 2006), in
order to strengthen consumer rights. We do not yet know exactly how this
regulation will turn out, any more than we know whether it will do more
good than bad. But one thing is already certain – if it comes to pass,
there will be a winner: Google. Because Google is considered by experts
to be the absolute leader in the development of technologies which
document the movements and habits of users without setting cookies.
Something the EU has so sorely missed in the past

Google has also made provisions as far as the antitrust proceedings in
Brussels on fair search are concerned. It is expected that the whole
procedure will be decided in Google’s favor. But if not, it would also
be safeguarded. Concessions and restrictions that have been wrung out in
lengthy proceedings, limited to Google’s European domains, would be
ineffective in an agreement because Google is able, using Android or
Chrome, to arbitrarily determine that the search will no longer be
carried out from a web address but by using an app. This means that
Google will be able to withdraw from all the commitments it has given,
which to this day are still bound to the Google domains such as

Will European politics cave in or wake up? The institutions in Brussels
have never been so important. An archaic question of power is to be
decided. Is there a chance for an autonomous European digital
infrastructure or not? It is a question of competitiveness and viability
for the future. Voluntary self-subjugation cannot be the last word from
the Old World. On the contrary, the desire of the European digital
economy to succeed could finally become something for European policy,
which the EU has so sorely missed in the past few decades: an emotional
narrative. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist

16 years of data storage and 16 years experience by tens of thousands of
IT developers has established a competitive edge which can no longer be
offset with economic resources alone. Since Google bought “Nest” it
knows in even more detail what people do within their own four walls.
And now Google is also planning driverless cars, in order to compete in
the long term with the car industry from Toyota to VW. Google will then
not only know where we drive our cars but how we are occupying ourselves
when we are in the car. Forget Big Brother – Google is better!

Against this background it greatly concerns me that Google – which has
just announced the acquisition of drone manufacturer “Titan Aerospace” –
has been seen for some time as being behind a number of planned enormous
ships and floating working environments that can cruise and operate in
the open ocean. What is the reason for this development? You don’t have
to be a conspiracy theorist to find this alarming, especially if you
listen to the words of Google founder and major shareholder Larry Page.
What impact does it have on our society?

He dreams of a place without data-protection laws and without democratic
accountability. „There’s many, many exciting and important things you
could do that you just can’t do because they’re illegal“, Page said back
in 2013, continuing „ ...we should have some safe places where we can
try out some new things and figure out what is the effect on society,
what’s the effect on people, without having to deploy kind of into the
normal world.“

Does this mean that Google is planning to operate in a legal vacuum,
without troublesome antitrust authorities and data protection? A kind of
superstate that can navigate its floating kingdom undisturbed by any and
all nation-states and their laws?

Until now the concerns were the following: What will happen if Google
continues to expand its absolutely dominant market power? Will there be
even less competition? Will the European digital economy be thrown back
even further compared to the few American super corporations? Will
consumers become even more transparent, more heteronomous and further
manipulated by third parties – be it for economic or political
interests? And what impact do these factors have on our society? It is
not the fear of old analog dinosaurs

After this disturbing news you need to ask yourself: Is Google in all
seriousness planning for the digital supra-state in which one
corporation is naturally only good to its citizens and of course “is not
evil”? Please, dear Eric, explain to us why our interpretation of what
Larry Page says and does is a misunderstanding.

I am aware that the problems which are caused by new digital
super-authorities such as Amazon and Facebook cannot be solved by Google
alone. But Google could – for its own long-term benefit – set a good
example. The company could create transparency, not only by providing
search results according to clear quantitative criteria, but also by
disclosing all the changes to algorithms. By not saving IP addresses,
automatically deleting cookies after each session, and only saving
customer behavior when specifically requested to do so by customers. And
by explaining and demonstrating what it intends to do with its floating
group headquarters and development labs.

Because the fear of growing heteronomy by the all-determining spider in
the web is not being driven by any old analog dinosaurs, who have not
understood the Internet and are therefore afraid of everything new. It
is rather the digital natives, and among them the most recent and
best-informed, who have a growing problem with the increasingly
comprehensive control by Google. Impressive and dangerous

This also includes the fiction of the culture of free services. On the
Internet, in the beautiful colorful Google world, so much seems to be
free of charge: from search services up to journalistic offerings. In
truth we are paying with our behavior – with the predictability and
commercial exploitation of our behavior. Anyone who has a car accident
today, and mentions it in an e-mail, can receive an offer for a new car
from a manufacturer on his mobile phone tomorrow. Terribly convenient.
Today, someone surfing high-blood-pressure web sites, who automatically
betrays his notorious sedentary lifestyle through his Jawbone fitness
wristband, can expect a higher health insurance premium the day after
tomorrow. Not at all convenient. Simply terrible. It is possible that it
will not take much longer before more and more people realize that the
currency of his or her own behavior exacts a high price: the freedom of
self-determination. And that is why it is better and cheaper to pay with
something very old fashioned – namely money.

Google is the world’s most powerful bank – but dealing only in
behavioral currency. Nobody capitalizes on their knowledge about us as
effectively as Google. This is impressive and dangerous. Is it really
smart to wait?

Dear Eric Schmidt, you do not need my advice, and of course I am writing
here from the perspective of those concerned. As a profiteer from
Google’s traffic. As a profiteer from Google’s automated marketing of
advertising. And as a potential victim of Google’s data and market
power. Nevertheless – less is sometimes more. And you can also win
yourself to death. Historically, monopolies have never survived in the
long term. Either they have failed as a result of their complacency,
which breeds its own success, or they have been weakened by competition
– both unlikely scenarios in Google’s case. Or they have been restricted
by political initiatives. IBM and Microsoft are the most recent examples.

Another way would be voluntary self-restraint on the part of the winner.
Is it really smart to wait until the first serious politician demands
the breakup of Google? Or even worse – until the people refuse to
follow? While they still can? We most definitely no longer can.

Sincerely Yours Mathias Döpfner