Once again, Google is in the news, and the spotlight is on yet another way that the company plays a role in governing the net. This New York Times article uses J. C. Penny as a case study to detail the way that companies are able to use search engine optimization to essentially game Google’s search results and artificially inflate their results. When Google catches a company engaged in this kind of behavior, it imposes sanctions, sometimes even giving the Google death penalty (removes them from Google’s results).
It is pretty fascinating stuff. What amazes me the most is Google has literally turned into its own legal system in the web world. It has laws and a justice system to enforce those laws and penalize wrongdoers, and, as an outsider, it appears that they’ve done a pretty great job of staying true to their “don’t be evil” ethos and applying punishments uniformly and fairly across the board, although this article suggests that perhaps they treat their big money-making clients slightly more leniently (“manual adjustment” instead of the “death penalty”). Of course, that’s no different from the U.S. justice system treating partner nations and powerful citizens with a degree of unofficial flexibility not available to the average law breaker.
It seems pretty clear at this point that Google is becoming more than your average company, and gaining a level of control of information unlike anything I’m aware of. So the question is, as their international important rises in our globalized world, do we continue to let Google’s internal justice system work independently? Anti-trust suits are already pushing toward involvement of various nations’ legal systems poking their nose into Google, but I’m curious where this will go. At some point, maybe Google’s control over information will cross over into a more “public good” category and function more like a utility than a dot-com. And at that point, how will the government react?
These are pretty half-formed thoughts at the moment, but I’ve had a ton of reading to do this week so I can’t afford to spend any more time on this post, sadly. But hopefully I’ll have some more thought out ideas next time!