Google’s famous motto, disarmingly simple and forthright, is “Don’t be evil.” It has mostly managed to stick to this dictum, despite a few poorly worded end-user agreements, the annoying push toward Google+, and this tendency toward “sunsetting” beloved services like Reader
Through Fiber, the company is trying to force the telecom industry into lowering prices and increasing service quality, and through its very existence it is trying to make all sorts of important data cheaper and more accessible to all. Overall, Google is a power, if not for good, then at least not not for good. So why does the company still seem to give so many people the willies?
Because, when it comes the internet, there’s Google, and then there’s nobody else. Even Facebook, with its lidless, all-seeing eye into our personal lives, can’t boast Google’s total dominance of the infrastructure of the internet. It’s not just Search, which in many people’s minds is almost a part of the internet itself, rather than a website. Google owns and operates some of the highest-bandwidth content sites, like YouTube and Blogger. It also runs some of the net’s most fundamental support structures, notably Analytics and the all but ubiquitous Google Ads. As of last year, Google and Google-owned properties accounted for almost a quarter of the 100 most visited sites on the net.
The internet analysts at DeepField have released an updated report on Google’s progression from being King of the Internet to basically being the internet. Their analysis in 2010 pegged Google’s share of all traffic at about 6%. Today, they estimate it at 25%. Perhaps even more impressive, more than 60% of all internet-capable devices, from PCs to phones to gaming consoles, interact with a Google server somehow in an average day. The only service that pushes more data is Netflix, and that obviously represents a less dominant position overall.
There are a number of probable reasons for the increase. For one, over the last few years YouTube has begun hosting longer and larger video files, hosting in HD, and generally pushing far more data per visit than ever before. Google Docs has also enjoyed a renaissance since 2010, with a greater number of people using it as their de-facto word processing solution. In addition, Analytics is now dominant in both private and corporate hosting, meaning that even the most popular websites now farm out a few bits of information to Google with every page view. This probably accounts for the 60% number, bringing Google into the loop even when they haven’t been directly queried. Owning the most prevalent smartphone OSprobably doesn’t hurt, either.
Additionally, Google Global Cache has made the company’s operations much more efficient. The program was first tried in places like Asia and Africa (apparently with great success) and reduces the load on the internet “backbone” while improving response times for users. Google has been installing servers at major ISPs all over North America which store a copy of most data for local delivery. So, without changing its rankings in analyses like this one, Google can host all kinds of information physically nearer to those who are most likely to access it. In the case of Gangnam Style, this isn’t very useful — but for Maps data and certain search results, it’s revolutionary.
In general, distrust of Google seems to have more to do with the potential for misuse of its power than actual misuses of it. It’s been on the popular side of several major political issues lately (CISPA, for one), and it has even managed to mostly quiet (or at least outlast) accusations that it manipulates page rankings for its own benefit. Still, the potential is great, indeed. When one company controls how we find information and how we access it, how the owners of that information assess their own success, how we keep track of our own information and get at it again when we need it, there’s cause to worry.
For years, the assumption has been that Google dominance would reach some kind of asymptote — but even though its major acquisitions and service roll-outs have slowed, it’s the behind-the-scenes efforts that are having the greatest effect. Perhaps it’s a good thing Google+ has failed to offer a significant challenge to Facebook; with social media under its roof, the only major pillar left to replace would be Wikipedia. Then we would truly live in the Google-verse.