Google Isn't a Public Library - and Other RemindersApr 14, 2023
Big Tech creates advertising algorithms, not information algorithms.
It's an important point to remember as we'll inevitably see more updates like Google's new Ad Transparency Center in the lead-up to the presidential election in 2024.
The motive for voluntary transparency from any Big Tech company will always have everything to do with its bottom line and whatever makes sense for its brand strategy, and very little to do with what's good for public trust, unless those factors overlap.
Having visibility into the paid investments that advertisers make in Google Search ads doesn't give us insight into the operational decisions that Google itself does or doesn't make as a result of those investments -- and how those decisions in turn influence what we see, share, and normalize when we use its services. The same is true for any other platform.
We tend to think of resources like search engines as educational resources, free from bias.
But as private companies make unchecked decisions about what qualifies as politics, free speech, and transparency, we need to keep in mind that these decisions are coming, in fact, from private companies who are not without their own interests.
Google is not a library. But the less we fund public information resources like libraries in favor of the ease we experience with private companies, the less control we have.
As the author Safiya Noble, Ph.D. reminds us: "We must look at how the outsourcing of information practices from the public sector facilitates privatization of what we previously thought of as the public domain and how corporate-controlled governments and companies subvert our ability to intervene in these practices."
These conversations have been quite some time coming. If you're interested in staying up on them, I recommend checking out these books to start, because they'll give you a good idea of why this is all so important.
- Algorithms of Oppression by Safiya Noble
- The Fight for Privacy: Protecting Dignity, Identity, and Love in the Digital Age by Danielle Keats Citron