Google Birthday 15.0: mapping the world and its breakfast
Whether we like it or not, the tech giant influences every aspect of our online lives – and it can sell ads that prove it
The company’s next step is to become a broadband provider: it is building an infrastructure, Google Fiber, in the US, first in Kansas City and next in Austin. Android phones have become the devices of choice for tech-savvy consumers, who prefer their more open development model to Apple’s rigid App Store.
But ads are where the fast money is. Google’s text-based ads, which began in 2000, now generate more money than all US newspaper and magazine advertising combined. By scanning your email and identifying your searches, Google has been able to target ads more effectively than ever.
Mapping the world was Google’s next project, becoming a 21st-century cartographer thanks to a small start-up called Keyhole, which had developed a piece of software that allowed you to view Earth in 3D. This type of satellite imagery captivated millions, as the users of what became Google Earth trawled the planet, zooming in on the roofs of their houses, building galleries of weird and wonderful spots, and then going right down to eye level with Street View.
Google Analytics allowed people with websites and blogs to better understand who was landing on their page.
The acquisition of YouTube stretched Google’s dominance even further in 2006. It bought the online video company, which has transformed personal broadcasting, for $1.65 billion in stock.
But perhaps the most interesting aspect of Google is its pet projects offline. Aside from its six gigantic data centres in the US and two in Europe – three more are on the way in Asia – its real-world impact is increasing. In 2010 it invested about €30 million in wind energy, specifically wind farms in North Dakota.
Driverless cars are another hobby. Last March they became legal in Nevada. A month later Florida authorised their testing. California legalised them last September.
So far these vehicles are Toyotas, but reports surfaced last month that Google may be building its own car. That’s the way Google tends to do things with hardware: it tests out market leaders, then builds its own, or just buys them.
And there’s the fluffy, friendly, helpful Google. Google.org provides solutions to global challenges with technology: there’s Google Giving, Google Ideas, Google in Education, Google Green. That’s aside from other philanthropy and the private philanthropic funds of its management.
Google creates startup hubs for new ventures, gives money to cultural institutions, gets the wallet out for gay marriage.
But those nasty privacy issues are still there, eroding the Don’t Be Evil philosophy. Users have been complicit in handing over their privacy, snatching free email services in exchange for personal information.
The hullabaloo about the US National Security Agency’s Prism electronic-surveillance programme won’t go away. Google’s lawyers are on record as saying, “All users of email must necessarily expect that their emails will be subject to automated processing.”
So deal with it. Google knows you, and its knowledge is only going to increase.