Bioethics Blogs

What to do with Google—break it up, nationalise it, turn it into a public utility, or treat it as a public space?

Google has become a service that one cannot go without if one wants to be a well-adapted participant in society. For many, Google is the single most important source of information. Yet people do not have any understanding of the way Google individually curates contents for its users. Its algorithms are secret. For the past year, and as a result of the European Court of Justice’s ruling on the right to be forgotten, Google has been deciding which URLs to delist from its search results on the basis of personal information being “inaccurate, inadequate or no longer relevant.” The search engine has reported that it has received over 250,000 individual requests concerning 1 million URLs in the past year, and that it has delisted around 40% of the URLs that it has reviewed. As was made apparent in a recent open letter from 80 academics urging Google for more transparency, the criteria being used to make these decisions are also secret. We have no idea about what sort of information typically gets delisted, and in what countries. The academics signing the letter point out how Google has been charged with the task of balancing privacy and access to information, thereby shaping public discourse, without facing any kind of public scrutiny. Google rules over us but we have no knowledge of what the rules are.

One might think that, if the problem is that Google has become too powerful, the solution might be to break it up as a monopoly so that instead of having one dominant search engine, we end up with multiple smaller search engines.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.