Sunday, February 28, 2010

The World is Mine - Can you imagine the world without Google?

From a simple search engine, Google moved on to e-mail, mapping, web browser and now, mobile phones. Is Google set for world dominion, asks Ian Vella. 

 Published on the Sunday Times (TechSunday) 28th February 2010

Almost a decade-and-a-half ago, two Stanford PhD students set up Google as part of a research project. Since then, it has become one of the world's most powerful ICT companies, thanks to its crown jewel, the Google Search Engine. The latter changed the way we search for information, the way we study, and the way news is delivered to us. Then in 2000, Google introduced simple text advertisements alongside search results - the huge profits helped the company's top executives realise what real potential Google held. 

Four years later the company went public and started offering its shares at $85 each. In 2010 the stock is trading at around $630. Eventually, Google not only became the world's most utilised internet search engine but also started expanding its operations to offer other online services like Gmail and Google-Docs. This move put them in direct competition with other 1CT giants, especially Microsoft. Despite its widespread use, Google is harshly criticised by privacy advocates. Most of the attacks are directed against the fact that Google records unique IP addresses, the daily 200 million search queries from around the world, and all e-mails passing through its network.

This information is stored on Google's servers for an undefined period of time. Google defends this approach by stating that such information is later analysed in order to improve user experience. Google also insists that at no point does it sort its data based on a particular individual use of its services. This may put some minds at rest, that although it is theoretically possible for Google to see what you have been searching for in the last years and what e-mails you received, the Big G - the name many privacy activists use to refer to Google, with an obvious Orwellian reference - wouldn't do so.