We can't just use Google

Written by David Banham

Google is an amazing company. They create incredible technology, often in a very open way. They are not only creating great tools now, but they’re pushing the frontiers of humanity. Self driving cars, for example, are a transormative technology that will completely change our cities and how we think about transportation.

They also have the best search engine product on the market. It makes it trivial to find the information you need immediately. You can outsource a surprising amount of your mental faculties to Google.

We can’t just do that, though.

I had a realisation the other day. I wanted information on a medical condition. So, as naturally as breathing, I pulled out my Nexus 6 and hit the search bar at the top of the screen. Then I froze.

Google has become so powerful, so ubiquitious, that they hold an awful lot of data. That data is valuable to lots of companies, like health insurers. Google earns the revenue to pay for autonomous car research by selling this data to the companies that are interested in it. There’s speculation that Google may enter the industry directly

So, if I google for information on a medical condition, what then? It’s very likely that, at some point, my Google profile will be used as an input when deciding how much of a risk I am for health insurance. Looking for information today could cost me more, or cause me to be refused insurance, tomorrow. That’s scary.

As it happens, this got really poignant only a few days later. Google launched their new functionality that senses when you’re searching for medical information and gives you specific results. That is simultaneously useful and worrying.

I’m not saying boycott Google. I honestly believe they are doing the best they can to balance the needs of their revenue model with data privacy concerns. They have excellent tooling to allow you to extract and delete your identifiable information from their services. They’re trying.

We have to make sure we have credible alternatives to Google.

We can’t put all of our eggs in the one basket.

Personally, I’m switching to Firefox and DuckDuckGo as my defaults for a while.

In many ways, they’re not quite as good as Google and Chrome. They’re close, though. And the only way they’re going to get better is if we start voting with our feet and giving them the traffic they need to live.