Case Study: Google's increasing power and the need for reguation
Page Rank is a powerful algorithm for ranking pages and ensures that those sites most relevant to a person’s search appear first. Some have argued that Google is becoming too powerful and that its Page Rank algorithm determines what businesses will be successful and what businesses will fail (Maurer et al). Most of Europe is concerned that Google is, in fact, becoming too powerful and are afraid that Google will use its immense influence to invade the privacy of individuals. While Google’s unofficial motto “don’t be evil” and the general good rapport that they have in the bay area and the US lead most American’s to question European skepticism and write their concerns off as mere paranoia, it can’t be denied that this extreme consolidation of power could, in the wrong hands, be disastrous for our constitutional rights online.
In his book, Lessig warns against the consolidation of power, writing that commerce drives towards uniformity. He believes that under the current system a small number of large companies will eventually dominate the distribution of intellectual property and that users will be forced to obey rules defined by the code architecture of these institutions. Additionally, Lessig sees danger in this because companies are much easier for governments to control than individuals. The more architecture and rules—recall that one of Lessig’s mane theses was “Code is Law”—that get consolidated in the hands of a few powerful individuals, the more control the government will have over the laws governing constitutional rights online. Of course, if this is true, libertarians around the world should be alarmed by this statement and should be clamoring for the immediate dismantling of large companies like Google, which, as Lessig predicted, are amassing an immense amount of legal power in the form of influential code like Page Rank.
Page Rank determines what we see online and is one of the most influential architectures and “legal” systems in our lives. It affects our browsing, our shopping and our research and thus has an enormous impact on commerce and the dissemination of knowledge and intellectual property. If the government were to decide that Google should begin filtering information, how much power would Google have to resist? We would like to believe that Google’s moral values are strong enough that it would shut down before it allowed the government to impose something as unconstitutional as censorship; however, we can’t know for sure and this, I believe is Lessig’s fear. Lessig is concerned that large institutions like Google will succumb to an external influence and that this will impinge on our constitutional rights and ruin the freedom that we currently enjoy online.