Google Church

What I have long pre­dict­ed is now com­ing to pass: Google believes it should assume con­trol.

Out of all the tech­nol­o­gy com­pa­nies that have made my knees knock and my voice hoarse and my Tweets man­ic as a tech­no­heretic in the past sev­er­al years, Jum­bo Google would eas­i­ly take home the win­ning tro­phy for Dystopi­an of the Mil­len­ni­um. I have been rehears­ing an espe­cial­ly dear pet prophe­cy of mine, unso­licit­ed, to fam­i­ly, friends, and pod­cast guests since 2011 in which I end up argu­ing quite con­vinc­ing­ly that Google is a dead ringer for the 16th-cen­tu­ry Vat­i­can: an inher­ent­ly self-iso­lat­ing orga­ni­za­tion with an absolute monop­oly yield­ing gar­gan­tu­an lev­els of essen­tial­ly pas­sive income from a ser­vice which near­ly every­body trans­acts with, but only Google under­stands (and is there­fore assumed to be its only pos­si­ble provider,) which inevitably devel­ops such a dis­tance from the rest of the pop­u­lace and their way of life (in tan­dem with total noto­ri­ety and celebri­ty among them all) not inten­tion­al­ly out of mal­ice, but from the delu­sion of myth­i­cal­ly-bestowed phil­an­thropic duty that is borned of and com­pound­ed by this eco­nom­ic and cul­tur­al iso­la­tion in a per­pet­u­al accu­mu­la­tion of pow­er and wealth that rad­i­cal­izes the monop­o­liz­ers — the major­i­ty already high­ly pre­dis­posed to zeal as they would’ve need­ed to be in order to find them­selves in this sin­gu­lar, uni­ver­sal­ly pow­er­ful posi­tion over every oth­er class — and leaves their ego­cen­tric minds to wan­der exempt from all crit­i­cism save for that of fel­low rad­i­cal­ized monop­o­liz­ers, who togeth­er begin to feel more and more com­fort­able won­der­ing aloud about them­selves in increas­ing­ly fan­tas­tic pre­sump­tions: what if all of this was bestowed upon us because we are supe­ri­or to them? What if it is our divine respon­si­bil­i­ty as supe­ri­or beings to take charge and shep­herd the com­mon peo­ple as our sheep — for they can­not pos­si­bly know as well as we what is tru­ly best for them?

You see it, right? And you can feel a very spe­cif­ic fla­vor of ter­ror that is both awed by the scale of the cir­cum­stances cre­at­ed by so few human minds and sin­cere­ly amused by the absolute­ness of your own inabil­i­ty to alter them in any way. Per­haps you even rec­og­nize this taste as one per­fect­ed by Christianity’s ancient adver­tis­ing busi­ness, but Google knows so much about you that it’s rumored to’ve been sell­ing user data to the Judeochris­t­ian God for some time now at a 10% dis­count, and so we extrap­o­late and antic­i­pate, yes?

Of course, it’s admit­ted­ly sat­is­fy­ing for me to deliv­er you to this god­fear­ing place in the most per­verse look what I saw first that you didn’t see because you’re just not as bright but lucky for you, I’m so fuck­ing gen­er­ous with my wis­dom sort of think­ing around which the entire per­sonas and liveli­hoods of fringe move­ment fanat­ics are built upon, but this is my one thing, okay? I’ve been wait­ing years for the right time to for­mal­ly argue this the­o­ry in depth, and — thanks to this year’s pub­lic spot­light final­ly piv­ot­ing on the giants who’ve been silent­ly swal­low­ing their com­pe­ti­tion and relent­less­ly forc­ing their already ridicu­lous mar­gins high­er and high­er in rel­a­tive obscu­ri­ty for decades, the time has come, indeed. The com­mon people’s trust in Google had a godaw­ful week.

Don’t Be Evil

On Mon­day, Giz­mo­do report­ed that twelve frus­trat­ed Google employ­ees were quit­ting the com­pa­ny in protest of their work assist­ing the Depart­ment of Defense to “imple­ment machine learn­ing to clas­si­fy images gath­ered by drones” for the detail fleet­ing Project Maven, despite some 4000 employ­ee sig­na­tures on a let­ter addressed to CEO Sun­dar Pichai request­ing (in full) that he “can­cel this project imme­di­ate­ly,” and “draft, pub­li­cize, and enforce a clear pol­i­cy stat­ing that nei­ther Google nor its con­trac­tors will ever build war­fare tech­nol­o­gy,” cit­ing the infa­mous “Don’t Be Evil” mot­to, which Google then pro­ceed­ed to remove from its code of con­duct for the first time in 18 years the day after the New York Times arti­cle went to press, on April 5th.


On ini­tial approach to the abstract of this sto­ry, from the ass to our thoughts arrives an easy nar­ra­tive of a Sil­i­con Val­ley mutiny com­prised of twelve brave, con­sci­en­tious souls who’ve been eat­en up inside by their com­plic­i­ty in the filthy deals made by their pow­er-obsessed CEO over scotch and cig­ars in a dark D.C. study — kept awake for months by the sound of his puff­ing cack­les at satel­lite images of dead tod­dlers in a bombed-out street.


Ah ha, we say. That man is no good, and he just wouldn’t lis­ten! They knew they didn’t have a choice… They only did what they had to do…


The real­i­ty of inter­nal dis­agree­ments at Google, though, man­ages to be even more the­atri­cal. The sheer vol­ume of cor­re­spon­dence must sure­ly be beyond any­thing capa­ble of the enduser’s imag­i­na­tion, so let’s phone a friend: my favorite peek into the day-to-days of inter-Google exis­tence is an old blog post by Ben­jamin Tilly on his first month at the com­pa­ny in which he was com­pelled almost imme­di­ate­ly to describe in great detail how best to “deal with a lot of email in gmail” at peak effi­cien­cy using short­cuts and labels.


As you get email, you need to be aggres­sive about decid­ing what you need to see, ver­sus what is con­text spe­cif­ic.”


Now we have a bit bet­ter idea of the aggres­sive email­ing that was a sure con­stant on a nor­mal work­day at Google in 2010, so it must’ve been deaf­en­ing after 8 years of Gmail devel­op­ment as 4000 employ­ees no doubt vent­ed, debat­ed, and decid­ed to orga­nize last month, though with­out mak­ing much head­way because the leadership’s response was appar­ent­ly “com­pli­cat­ed by the fact that Google claims it is only pro­vid­ing open-source soft­ware to Project Maven,” this new knowl­edge hav­ing sig­nif­i­cant effect on our mind’s image of Sun­dar Pichai’s activ­i­ties in Wash­ing­ton: he is now swap­ping seats with a frus­trat­ed Col­in Pow­ell in order to install OpenOf­fice onto his desk­top from a flash dri­ve, and we recall that Google’s Google­plex head­quar­ters resem­bles nowhere in mod­ern life more than a brand new play­ground built in a design lan­guage bor­row­ing heav­i­ly from Spy Kids. And though these Twelve dis­ci­ples are unnamed for the moment, a few of them could imme­di­ate­ly land book deals by going pub­lic, and every sin­gle one would always have by default not only the badge of “I land­ed a job at Google,” (which is real­ly to say I have hit Life’s max­i­mum lev­el cap,) but “I worked at Google for a while, but end­ed up quit­ting to do some­thing else,” which is guar­an­teed to make you the most inter­est­ing, intel­lec­tu­al­ly supe­ri­or per­son present in what­ev­er crowd for the rest of your life. The ultra-cool Sarah Coop­er quit Google to become a come­di­an and even got to talk to Kara Swish­er!


I won’t pre­tend to under­stand big tech’s diminu­tive bas­tardiza­tion of pres­tige, but “more than 90 aca­d­e­mics” jump­ing to pub­lish an open let­ter (adja­cent to a huge DONATE: Sup­port the Cam­paign to Stop Killer Robots but­ton) in which they “write in sol­i­dar­i­ty with the 3100+ Google employ­ees” who’s ter­ri­ble boss decid­ed to help some lack­eys in the Pen­ta­gon set up their email and didn’t text back for a whole hour doesn’t sound 100% sin­cere. Notably, I don’t know how or why the fuck 90 peo­ple would go about col­lab­o­rat­ing on a sin­gle doc­u­ment, but if it real­ly was man­aged, they def­i­nite­ly used Google Docs…


At one point, it was fun to think about the his­to­ry of the friend­ly side-scroller-play­ing garage ghouls and dorm dorks who gave cooky, wacko names to their dot com star­tups in par­o­dy and defi­ance of the lame-ass sur­name ana­grams on the build­ings of their estab­lished com­peti­tors, but those who’ve stuck around have only done so by becom­ing expert at SUCKING UP EVERYTHING around them, and it piss­es me off every day how wor­ried I am that my species will final­ly be done in by a com­pa­ny with a name like Yahoo! and be known only to a bunch of ado­les­cent inter­di­men­sion­al sil­i­con blobs 30 mil­lion years in the future as that bipedal race who remained dig­ni­fied until the last 0.01% of their reign on Earth, when in way less than a sin­gle gen­er­a­tion, they all just went FUCKING INSANE and blew them­selves up because they sud­den­ly hat­ed all sense.


Google” is per­haps the worst of these to have to shout in fear and/or anger in your last moments as it sounds in Amer­i­can Eng­lish like you’ve star­tled your sub­ject with a tick­lish pinch fol­lowed so imme­di­ate­ly by an esoph­a­gus-bust­ing choke­hold that the two events appear simul­ta­ne­ous, and in real Eng­lish Eng­lish, it almost always sounds like a par­ent speak­ing of a char­ac­ter on a pre-K children’s tele­vi­sion pro­gramme whom they find quite foul and upset­ting, but will man­age to refrain from express­ing so oth­er­wise because they know that Tele­tub­bies shit is the most quick­ly for­got­ten stage of tele­vi­sion view­er­ship. It’s fas­ci­nat­ing how exclu­sive the word “Google” is to Amer­i­can Eng­lish because in every­thing else it real­ly is com­plete non­sense, but lets halt all ety­mo­log­i­cal dis­cus­sions right now because we’ve only now just fin­ished with Mon­day.

The Soul Ledger

On Thurs­day, all of my Google expe­ri­ences, sup­po­si­tions, and soul-detach­ing screen­shots were usurped when a thor­ough­ly alarm­ing inter­nal com­pa­ny video called The Self­ish Ledger was leaked to The Verge, which I watched once then and do not want to watch again for the sake of this piece, but I will. Though the big V has been dis­ap­point­ing­ly timid for years about edi­to­ri­al­iz­ing — when tech jour­nal­ism des­per­ate­ly needs some con­fi­dent, informed opin­ion more than ever — Vlad Savov’s accom­pa­ny­ing arti­cle should be read in its entire­ty, to which I can add my own ter­ror where he per­haps could not.


The pro­duc­tion style is tech­ni­cal­ly iden­ti­cal to that of the very pop­u­lar think­piece-esque, motion-graph­ics-paired-with-oblig­a­tory-sharpie illus­trat­ed videos which you find play­ing at max vol­ume on your mom’s iPad from where she’s fall­en asleep on the couch at 9PM, but the repeat­ing stock string sound­track mul­ti­plies one’s dis­com­fort as such that we would all end up in the fetal posi­tion with­out remem­ber­ing the tran­si­tion were it not for the appear­ance of trusty old Dank Jenk­ins, who’s face I thank­ful­ly asso­ciate heav­i­ly enough with his infa­mous down-and-out Tweet to be a wel­come respite in atten­tion before the very scary hypoth­e­sis for which it’s been but­ter­ing me up, as best summed by Vlad:


The sys­tem would be able to “plug gaps in its knowl­edge and refine its mod­el of human behav­ior” — not just your par­tic­u­lar behav­ior or mine, but that of the entire human species. “By think­ing of user data as multi­gen­er­a­tional,” explains Fos­ter, “it becomes pos­si­ble for emerg­ing users to ben­e­fit from the pre­ced­ing generation’s behav­iors and deci­sions.” Fos­ter imag­ines min­ing the data­base of human behav­ior for pat­terns, “sequenc­ing” it like the human genome, and mak­ing “increas­ing­ly accu­rate pre­dic­tions about deci­sions and future behav­iors.”


The next time the what if they do some­thing scary ques­tion comes up in a casu­al con­ver­sa­tion about Google, you’ll have some­thing a lot more sub­stan­tial than just spec­u­la­tion. Or will you? The Verge reached out for com­ment and got an awful­ly con­ve­nient response.


This is a thought-exper­i­ment by the Design team from years ago that uses a tech­nique known as ‘spec­u­la­tive design’ to explore uncom­fort­able ideas and con­cepts in order to pro­voke dis­cus­sion and debate.”


Wow! Leave it up to grand ole Googe to reveal the ulti­mate excuse for just about any sug­ges­tion or behav­ior, though it does seem almost delib­er­ate­ly uncom­fort­able, doesn’t it? No mat­ter — whether or not this video was ever about a project or tan­gi­ble prod­uct devel­op­ment, or sim­ply to explore uncom­fort­able ideas because it is proof that the com­pa­ny has reached that crit­i­cal Vat­i­can stage — if you’ll remem­ber — where they now feel com­fort­able explor­ing Very Bad, but Very eas­i­ly made Real Ideas amongst them­selves about what would hap­pen if they allowed their sys­tem to nudge its users around a dif­fer­ent, slight­ly less opti­mal route to the bar, let’s say — with­out their knowl­edge — in order for the sys­tem to col­lect traf­fic data for the sake of its own inter­ests? Which would be, tech­ni­cal­ly, in the inter­est of all Ledger users now and in the future, so why not?


The ledger could be giv­en a focus, shift­ing it from a sys­tem which not only tracks our behav­ior, but offers direc­tion towards a desired result.”


This, my dear pri­va­cy-obsessed friends, is the real issue with data col­lec­tion — its pow­er over huge groups by way of their behav­ior and it is nev­er going to be reme­died in any sig­nif­i­cant way by ad-block­ers or VPNs because the EndUser shall always out num­ber you 50 to 1, even decades from now. EndUser does not under­stand — or, cru­cial­ly, have any desire to under­stand any­thing tech­ni­cal about what leads to the PewDiePie videos play­ing on his filthy screen. Here’s a great oppor­tu­ni­ty to escape Sil­i­con Valley’s tech­no­lib­er­tar­i­an­ism and resign your Dar­win­ian empa­thy in favor of mean­ing­ful and tru­ly-effec­tive action: if you want to avoid a future Google Church (or Google Gov­ern­ment, more wor­ry­ing­ly,) you should invest your time, effort, and knowl­edge into elect­ing offi­cials more capa­ble of under­stand­ing and reg­u­lat­ing Big Tech.

Google Gov­ern­ment

The inter­net as it stands is made pos­si­ble by Google as the goto resource for online adver­tis­ing. In 2016, “Google held 75.8 per­cent of the search ad mar­ket, bring­ing in $24.6 bil­lion in rev­enue from search ads,” accord­ing to Recode. By 2019, “that’s expect­ed to grow to $36.62 bil­lion in rev­enue, or 80.2 per­cent of the mar­ket.” Google’s edge in user behav­ior and tar­get­ed adver­tis­ing com­bined with their exten­sive resources avail­able devel­op­ers to inte­grate inde­pen­dent plat­forms with Google’s soft­ware ser­vices at var­i­ous lev­els makes it very dif­fi­cult for any adver­tis­ing-fund­ed indi­vid­ual or orga­ni­za­tion to com­pete online with­out dip­ping in to the Google uni­verse. YouTube — a Google prop­er­ty since 2006 — has active­ly invest­ed in and sup­port­ed a new career path entire­ly with­in their own plat­form that is rapid­ly becom­ing pop­u­lar­ly aspired-to by young chil­dren, while the real­i­ty of exis­tence as a full-time YouTu­ber is far less glam­orous than the imme­di­ate­ly-vis­i­ble sur­face would indi­cate, and the effort already expend­ed by my gen­er­a­tion in its pur­suit has already made us insane.


So, what would the inter­net look like if Google didn’t exist? We know they’ve been work­ing with the gov­ern­ment now on var­i­ous projects, but what if some ter­ri­ble exposed trans­gres­sion of theirs sud­den­ly war­rant­ed an imme­di­ate shut­down and seizure of all Google prop­er­ties? Well, we know from a post on Quo­ra by Googler Ashish Kedia that even 5 years ago, the sud­den absence of Google for “2–3 mins” set the inter­net into a bit of a pan­ic, reduc­ing over­all traf­fic by 40%. In the time since, we’ve all grown expo­nen­tial­ly more depen­dent on Google prop­er­ties: bil­lions of peo­ple rely on Google Maps for direc­tions and, thou­sands of com­pa­nies (includ­ing the Pen­ta­gon and oth­er gov­ern­ment insti­tu­tions) rely on Gmail and GSuites for inter­com­mu­ni­ca­tion, file shar­ing, task man­age­ment, etc., and more and more aca­d­e­m­ic insti­tu­tions rely on Chrome­book devices run­ning con­nec­tion-depen­dent oper­at­ing sys­tems. It’s not much of a stretch to argue that Google’s sud­den dis­ap­pear­ance would con­sti­tute a Civ­il Emer­gency in the Unit­ed States, which will only become a stronger and more seri­ous incen­tive for reg­u­la­to­ry bod­ies to look the oth­er way.


Though the tan­gi­ble results of adver­tis­ing have been quan­ti­fied sig­nif­i­cant­ly in the past 20 years, one can’t help but won­der after watch­ing YouTube ads for the new Mer­cedes-Benz S-Class on toy unbox­ing videos if the com­pa­nies who spend big bucks on Google adver­tis­ing under­stand where their mon­ey is going, but they know that if they don’t adver­tise there, their com­peti­tors will. This, of course, is a fun­da­men­tal prac­tice of a monop­oly, and it’s yield­ed Google so much fuck­ing mon­ey that they can­not pos­si­bly spend it fast enough, as evi­denced by their invest­ments in life exten­sion — so that, per­haps, they will have more time on Earth to fig­ure it out.


When you build a col­lec­tion of the world’s smartest peo­ple in a self-suf­fi­cient envi­ron­ment that dis­cour­ages explo­ration of oth­er lifestyles and ideas, and you sus­tain the soci­ety with a gar­gan­tu­an, rel­a­tive­ly low-main­te­nance rev­enue stream, you cre­ate a cul­ture which is not only well-primed for iso­la­tion­ism, but is also extreme­ly inef­fi­cient. In fact, with its vast col­lec­tion of aban­doned prod­ucts and prop­er­ties, Google must sure­ly be one of the most inef­fi­cient com­pa­nies in his­to­ry. Think­ing back on recent soft­ware releas­es along with its recent entries into the hard­ware space, Google is also one of the worst com­pet­ing tech com­pa­nies. Very lit­tle aside from Gmail, Google Pho­tos, Google Maps, and Chrome have found their place or gar­nered sig­nif­i­cant user­ship. Google Play Music is unin­tu­itive and impos­si­ble, Google Allo and Google+ are all but for­got­ten adden­dums to oth­er ser­vices, and Google Search — its core, orig­i­nal func­tion — has been out of con­trol for years, and all of them are designed bland­ly and excru­ci­at­ing­ly tir­ing to look at.

Google Shun

If this all has stirred noth­ing more in you than a desire to elim­i­nate Google from your own online life as much as pos­si­ble, there are alter­na­tives in almost every one of the sphere’s they dom­i­nate. As of late, Duck­Duck­Go has accu­mu­lat­ed a fair amount of buzz and cov­er­age as a pri­vate, more rel­e­vant alter­na­tive to Google’s plain old search engine. Though it is clever enough to list us as the first result for “extra­tone,” I’ve found it sim­ply insuf­fi­cient as a replace­ment in my own life because, essen­tial­ly, it rarely deliv­ers what I’m look­ing for. By con­trast, Drop­box Paper is such an ele­gant cloud note­tak­ing and word pro­cess­ing soft­ware that it makes Google Docs look sim­ply idi­ot­ic (and war­rants its own review very short­ly.) For get­ting around, know that MapQuest is not only still around — it’s now a very com­pet­i­tive mobile nav­i­ga­tion app.


I, myself, have allowed Google as com­plete of access to my infor­ma­tion and behav­ior as pos­si­ble because I believe “pri­va­cy” is a com­plete­ly futile endeav­or if one wish­es to be a part of soci­ety, though I do often use alter­na­tives to Google ser­vices sim­ply because I fuck­ing hate the way they look. If you want a more com­plete list of ser­vices and soft­ware that allow one to shun the Google God entire­ly, you’ll be forced to seek out less dig­ni­fied sources like Life­hack­er and Red­dit and decide if the addi­tion­al time you’ll spend using most of them to accom­plish the same tasks is real­ly worth your dig­i­tal angst.


If Google were to be more explic­it with its users and staff about its aspi­ra­tions to take over con­trol of our lives, there will be lit­tle to do but accept the future they intend to cre­ate because they’ve long been too pow­er­ful to con­trol. In the mean­time, I’d sug­gest you con­tin­ue to use what­ev­er soft­ware works best for you and refrain from wast­ing your time fret­ting on con­spir­a­to­r­i­al sup­po­si­tions of what the tech indus­try may be doing to “invade your pri­va­cy,” because there is no longer any such thing, nor will there be ever again. How­ev­er, I would also urge to you wor­ship your own Gods, whomev­er they may be, for Google will nev­er be wor­thy. I, for one, shall only pray to our Moth­er Sun.