An open letter to Eric Schmidt : Why we fear Google

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It is not the fear of old analog dinosaurs

After this disturbing news you need to ask yourself: Is Google in all seriousness planning for the digital supra-state in which one corporation is naturally only good to its citizens and of course “is not evil”? Please, dear Eric, explain to us why our interpretation of what Larry Page says and does is a misunderstanding.

I am aware that the problems which are caused by new digital super-authorities such as Amazon and Facebook cannot be solved by Google alone. But Google could – for its own long-term benefit – set a good example. The company could create transparency, not only by providing search results according to clear quantitative criteria, but also by disclosing all the changes to algorithms. By not saving IP addresses, automatically deleting cookies after each session, and only saving customer behavior when specifically requested to do so by customers. And by explaining and demonstrating what it intends to do with its floating group headquarters and development labs.

Because the fear of growing heteronomy by the all-determining spider in the web is not being driven by any old analog dinosaurs, who have not understood the Internet and are therefore afraid of everything new. It is rather the digital natives, and among them the most recent and best-informed, who have a growing problem with the increasingly comprehensive control by Google.

Impressive and dangerous

This also includes the fiction of the culture of free services. On the Internet, in the beautiful colorful Google world, so much seems to be free of charge: from search services up to journalistic offerings. In truth we are paying with our behavior –  with the predictability and commercial exploitation of our behavior. Anyone who has a car accident today, and mentions it in an e-mail, can receive an offer for a new car from a manufacturer on his mobile phone tomorrow. Terribly convenient. Today, someone surfing high-blood-pressure web sites, who automatically betrays his notorious sedentary lifestyle through his Jawbone fitness wristband, can expect a higher health insurance premium the day after tomorrow. Not at all convenient. Simply terrible. It is possible that it will not take much longer before more and more people realize that the currency of his or her own behavior exacts a high price: the freedom of self-determination. And that is why it is better and cheaper to pay with something very old fashioned – namely  money.

Google is the world’s most powerful bank – but dealing only in behavioral currency. Nobody capitalizes on their knowledge about us as effectively as Google. This is impressive and dangerous.

Is it really smart to wait?

Dear Eric Schmidt, you do not need my advice, and of course I am writing here from the perspective of those concerned. As a profiteer from Google’s traffic. As a profiteer from Google’s automated marketing of advertising. And as a potential victim of Google’s data and market power. Nevertheless – less is sometimes more. And you can also win yourself to death.
Historically, monopolies have never survived in the long term. Either they have failed as a result of their complacency, which breeds its own success, or they have been weakened by competition – both unlikely scenarios in Google’s case. Or they have been restricted by political initiatives. IBM and Microsoft are the most recent examples.

Another way would be voluntary self-restraint on the part of the winner. Is it really smart to wait until the first serious politician demands the breakup of Google? Or even worse – until the people refuse to follow? While they still can? We most definitely no longer can.

Sincerely Yours
Mathias Döpfner

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