Image: Gustave Doré -The fourth Horseman, Death on the Pale Horse(1865) photoshopped by Derrob Hagy
“Come. I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name... Death.”
— Revelation 6:7-8
In this series I will be discussing the five tech giants, and looking at the power they hold in society, and how if left unchecked, they have the potential to bring significant harm. Each tech giant will be compared to one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse as follows:
At the end of 2016, Google's market cap hit a little over $528 billion. This is more than Disney, Comcast, Fox, and Directv combined. This makes it the third most profitable company in existence right behind Amazon and Apple. Currently, Google controls 34% of advertising (in a duopoly with Facebook at 17%). Stop and think about that. That means Google controls roughly one-third of what we see on a daily basis. Possessing that much power over what we see every day could be highly dangerous.Additionally, ads appearing on Google do not prescribe to the advertising industrial market of the olden days. Instead, ads on google and partner apps are built and sold using your specific data.
To be clear, Google (to the public's knowledge) does not sell users personal information, only all of the data that they gather on their users. However, I'm sure all of us are painfully aware we have googled some weird stuff. They may not be selling it off, but that data is under lock and key somewhere. As creepy as all of that has the potential to be, the real danger of Google is something very few of us have probably considered: Rank Manipulation.
Google's ranking algorithm is a tool they use to rank what their customers see from first result to last. This can be used in funny ways. For example, googling, “out of touch executives”, leads you to Google’s page on its own corporate managers. Yet, it does have its own more nefarious uses as well. Critics have pointed out that it prioritizes established websites while drowning newer ones.
Their most dangerous use is when it comes to manipulation based on political motivations. In a sense, whoever is able to dole out the most money is the one who can control search results. When used in political races, the side with the bigger pockets can buy influence. For example, they could make searches about themselves, rise to the top when positive terms are used in the search bar, and negative search terms appear alongside their opponents.
The principle of Rank Manipulation is also harmful in practice to small businesses. They may be able to offer a better good or service for a cheaper price than a larger company, but are unable to reach consumers because they cannot afford Rank Manipulation like large corporations. Rank Manipulation could bring death to small businesses in an age of new media.