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The 800lb Googilla in the boardroom

Still doing no evil?

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Column Google, like the legendary 800lb gorilla which got elected to the board, has reached the sort of size and influence where it can sit where it likes in the boardroom.

Two questions:

1) should we do something to protect ourselves from this 800lb gorilla? and 2) if so, what?

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) was pretty lukewarm about a recent Google initiative - to help the search giant personalise searches and target adverts, it normally keeps a permanent log of all searches - and the IP addresses of the users who make them.

In March, Google announced that it would delete personal details within two years. Do you feel any safer?

"It's an important concession, but we hope it's just a first step," one report quoted Kevin Bankston from the EFF. What would be the second step? Would you feel any safer?

Let me amuse you with a brief story about two vets - animal doctors, not Vietnam ex-servicemen - and a dangerous dog. It goes back to when I had two very small children and discovered they were scared of dogs; I immediately got two pets. The bigger of the two had a sore eye, which turned out to need emergency surgery...the need for which was completely overlooked by the first vet because he was so scared of the animal.

"It's a chow-chow," he said, retreating to the other side of the room. "They give no warning. Never keep one in a home, especially not with small children." And he gave us ointment for its sore eye which, of course, didn't work. So we took it to another vet, who immediately gave it anaesthetic and fixed the problem. He thought the other vet was ignorant. Here's what he said:

"I'd far rather deal with a big company like Google," he said, "which looks big and dangerous, than with a small outfit which people think is cute and dynamic - but which can actually leave your finances in a ruin."

OK, he wasn't talking about Google, but you take the point.

If you see a Rottweiler in the park, and it's walking along with its owner, without a muzzle and without a lead, you can relax. You're pretty much certain that it's a well-behaved beast, because something that big, strong and deadly simply can't be let loose in public if it is in any way vicious.

But a tiny little Yorkshire terrier - while it may be too small to jump up and tear your throat open - can still cause permanent injuries. And the difference is that people ignore the cute little Yorkie. "Ah," they say, "what a brave little beast! Hasn't it got spirit! Such pluck...".

So take the 800lb Googilla. Googilla dominates the search engine business in a way that no monopoly authority would permit. It's even bigger in the advertising business - and frankly, if you think it's already too big for comfort, just come back in a decade and you won't believe your eyes.

Let me terrify you. As you may be aware, I run a small news site. Googilla is one of my larger advertisers, and about a year ago I became aware that my news stories weren't getting listed in Google News. So I did what anybody would do if they uncovered a bureaucratic bungle - I notified the appropriate department.

Back by return came a robot answer thanking me for my feedback.

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