Opinion: Internet privacy is more important than Google’s shiny facade – Daily Bruin

This post was updated on October 29 at 7:48 p.m

I love Google. I love the sleek, minimalist and colorful aesthetic of its products and the convenience of a centralized and easily accessible cloud. When I get a new computer, I immediately set Google Chrome as my default browser, and thanks to an agreement between Google and Apple, it’s automatically the default on my iPhone.

In September, the US Department of Justice launched an antitrust case against Google, alleging that the company entered into illegal agreements with Apple, LG Electronics, Samsung and other tech giants to make Chrome the default search engine on their respective devices. convert The Justice Department argues that these agreements allowed Google to monopolize the search engine market, eliminate competition, stifle new product innovation and reduce the quality of public search services.

In addition to the Federal Trade Commission’s case against Amazon last month, United States v. Google represents government efforts to regulate technology markets and undermine their expanding market power. But even if there is evidence that Google’s business model abuses user data and harms consumers, lawmakers and regulators must come to terms with the fact that people still trust Google and enjoy its services.

Dina Srinivasan, a fellow at the Thurman Arnold Project at Yale University and a researcher on technology markets and antitrust law, said the Justice Department needs to prove two things. One, Google has monopoly status, and two, it was illegal for them to make default deals with other tech companies.

Google’s relentless analysis of user data strengthens its ability to maintain market dominance.

While the Company’s services are technically free, users are charged a fee by agreeing to terms and conditions that allow the collection of phone numbers, IP addresses, browsing history, interaction with content and advertisements, and activity on third-party sites. they pay This data is then used to train AI algorithms and models to improve the effectiveness of search results, targeted ads, and video recommendations.

The scale of data can be greatly increased through network effects, the more people use a product, the more willing others are to join it, especially in social settings. Network effects play an important role in training AI systems, providing a strong incentive for tech companies to continue collecting user data, even if it is often seen as invasive.

Through this model, Google has approximately 4.3 billion users worldwide, with approximately 90% of all public search engine queries in the United States coming from distribution channels owned or controlled by Google. The company is valued at around $1.5 trillion and generates more than $279.8 billion in annual revenue.

As of 2023, consumers rated Google 80 out of 100 on the American Customer Satisfaction Index. A 2021 Verge Tech survey of attitudes toward big tech found that 90% of Americans had a favorable opinion of Google, and 69% said they trusted the company with their personal information.

A major contradiction lies in Google’s lack of data privacy and consumers’ strong satisfaction with their products. People enjoy Google, which threatens the Justice Department’s burden to prove that the company’s market power significantly harms consumers.

Consumers mostly prefer Google search. “When they have a choice, they choose Google search,” said Herbert Hovenkamp, ​​a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Saying the fact that it’s just bad from a Google search won’t get you very far.

Despite Google’s popularity and glossy reputation, consumers still value their privacy. According to a 2019 Pew Research Center survey, 79 percent of American adults are very or somewhat concerned about how companies use their data, and 81 percent of respondents say the risks of collecting data from these companies outweigh the benefits.

How do regulators measure consumer satisfaction with Google services and the concomitant desire for privacy? The truth is that consumer privacy priorities cannot be realized in a world of complicated and lengthy terms of service agreements that the general public rarely reads or understands.

In an article in the New York Times, Srinivasan said there is a direct trade-off between companies grabbing markets and protecting data privacy. He added that the more market power a company has, the more freedom it has to exploit user data to buy and sell more profitable ads.

Social theory tells us that consumers want privacy when communicating. Srinivasan said this creates a safer environment for them to talk and talk, so they communicate more.

Google’s recent changes to their terms of service allow them to remove publicly posted data from users, indicating a continued erosion of privacy standards. While some may argue that this data scraping is a necessary evil for innovating better services for users, the fact that consumers say they value their privacy suggests that the Department of Justice should address this concern for protection. Use a different technology ecosystem.

Imagine the Justice Department revealing that Google engaged in illegal behavior that harmed consumers along the way. What strategies might reintroduce competition in the market while maintaining product quality?

Hovenkamp said the courts could overturn default search regulations and require each device manufacturer to offer its users multiple search engine choices when setting up their device. He added that the government could force Google to share its database with rivals, where it competes for advertisers and users, and that device makers like Apple and Samsung could choose their default engines without paying. do

While breaking up Google is a plausible option, opponents of the idea argue that the search engine market is a natural monopoly due to the sheer scale of the data and its fixed costs. If Judge Amit Mehta orders this solution, the quality of the product may decrease because there will be fewer users and thus less data available to improve Google’s algorithms and AI models. There is a compelling argument that consumers would be worse off in a market with more firms and less centralized data.

Tim Wu, professor of law, science and technology at Columbia Law School and former special assistant to President Biden on technology and competition policy, disagrees.

“If AI behaves like other technologies or like other markets, at some point there will be diminishing returns, and the advantage of maintaining scale for a company will primarily be to avoid competition,” Wu said in an emailed statement. The issue of quality then becomes one that balances incremental improvements due to scale against the loss of innovation and other benefits, such as strong product differentiation, due to competition.

Although we haven’t seen a long-term, competitive, multi-company search engine ecosystem, we may take the risk of facing threats from a single company that owns the information of billions of people.

It is impossible to protect user privacy or understand the demand for it in a market where consumers are forced to accept inconsistent service contracts. Researchers who match consumer behavior with their expressed preferences for privacy are wrong to believe that they often have no choice but to give in in the first place.

Promoting privacy on technology platforms is fundamental to consumer autonomy.

When users have the right to choose whichever platform they want, they have the opportunity to deepen their privacy preferences and send a legitimate signal to tech companies. In the age of the Internet, we also need to build a culture of education and awareness around digital privacy issues, whether at school, on social media, or at work. It is imperative that we commit to enacting smart policy that meaningfully regulates tech companies’ use of user data while promoting competition and innovation.

Google’s rosy fantasy of headquarters nap pods makes detecting harmful corporate behavior a chore. The same goes for Facebook, Apple and Microsoft. But in an era of big tech awareness, debates over solutions to address data privacy, disinformation, media echo chambers, declining adolescent mental health and other threats will continue, especially on the antitrust front.

Srinivasan said the trend of flexing antitrust law to take into account qualitative harms is likely to continue, and the economy will be a larger area to focus on.

While the birth of the Internet sparked the fantasy of a decentralized, democratic utopia through the spread of ideas and global exchange, we might go back to square one. It’s time to reimagine the Internet where human freedom is prioritized and preserved through respect for consumer preferences and protection against coercive and monopolistic business models.

Only then can I decide that my privacy and independence outweighs Google’s beautiful, infinite search bar.

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