Criticism of Google

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Google is a corporation that compiles information and makes it searchable via the Internet. Google's stated mission is "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful," [1] but this mission, and the means used to accomplish it, have raised concerns among the company's critics. The policies and practices for which Google has been criticized include its use of others' intellectual property, concerns that its compilation of data may violate people's privacy, censorship of search results, and the energy consumption of its servers. Much of the criticism of Google pertains to issues that have not yet been addressed by cyber law.


Copyright issues

Kazaa and the Church of Scientology have used the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to demand that Google remove references to allegedly copyrighted material on their sites.[2][3] While Google potentially faces lawsuits when not removing such links,[4] critics argue that Google has an obligation to direct users to intended content and not censor results based on copyright.

The New York Times has complained that the caching of their content during a web crawl, a feature utilized by search engines including Google Web Search, violates copyright.[5] Google observes Internet standard mechanisms for requesting that caching be disabled via the robots.txt file, which is another mechanism that allows operators of a website to request that part or all of their site not be included in search engine results, or via META tags, which allow a content editor to specify whether a document can be crawled or archived, or whether the links on the document can be followed. The U.S. District Court of Nevada ruled that Google's caches do not constitute copyright infringement under American law in Field v. Google and Parker v. Google.[6][7]

On September 20, 2005, the Authors Guild, a group that represents 8,000 U.S. authors, filed a class action suit in federal court in Manhattan against Google over its unauthorized scanning and copying of books through its Google Library program. Google states that it is in compliance with all existing and historical applications of copyright laws regarding books.[8] The publicized contract between Google and the University of Michigan makes it clear that Google will provide only excerpts of copyright text in a search. The contract says[citation needed] that it will comply with "fair use", an exemption in copyright law that allows people to reproduce portions of text of copyrighted material for research purposes.

On July 14, 2008, Viacom compromised to protect YouTube users' personal data in their $1 billion copyright lawsuit. Google agreed it will anonymize user information and internet protocol addresses from its YouTube subsidiary before handing the data over to Viacom. The privacy deal also applied to other litigants including the FA Premier League, the Rodgers & Hammerstein organization and the Scottish Premier League.[9][10] The deal however did not extend the anonymity to employees, since Viacom would prove that Google staff are aware of the uploading of illegal material to the site. The parties therefore will further meet on the matter lest the data be made available to the court.[11]


On December 2009, Google's CEO, Eric Schmidt, declared after privacy concerns: "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place."[12]

Privacy International has raised concerns regarding the dangers and privacy implications of having a centrally-located, widely popular data warehouse of millions of Internet users' searches, and how under controversial existing U.S. law, Google can be forced to hand over all such information to the U.S. government.[13]

In its 2007 Consultation Report, Privacy International ranked Google as "Hostile to Privacy", its lowest rating on their report, making Google the only company in the list to receive that ranking.[14][15]

Carl Hewitt noted that intimate personal information is a "toxic asset" in Google datacenters because it will lead to government regulation "analogous to medical and legal practioners." Consequently, he recommended that Google should perform semantic integration in equipment controlled by a client so that client information in Google datacenters could be decrypted only by using a client's private key.[16][17]

In 2002, the non-profit group Public Information Research launched a website known as Google Watch[18], which advertised itself as "a look at Google's monopoly, algorithms, and privacy issues."[19] [20]The site raised questions relating to Google's storage of cookies, which in 2007 had a life span of more than 32 years and incorporated a unique ID that enabled creation of a user data log.[21] Google Watch has also criticized Google's PageRank algorithms, saying that they discriminate against new websites and favor established sites,[22] and has made allegations about connections between Google and the NSA and the CIA.[23] In February 2003, Google Watch nominated Google for a Big Brother Award, describing Google as a "privacy time bomb."[19] Google now anonymizes its IP data after 9 months and its cookies after 18 months, according to Google's privacy FAQ.[24]

Potential for Data Disclosure

In early 2005, the United States Department of Justice filed a motion in federal court to force Google to comply with a subpoena for, "the text of each search string entered onto Google's search engine over a two-month period (absent any information identifying the person who entered such query)."[25] Google fought the subpoena, due to concerns about users' privacy.[26] In March 2006, the court ruled partially in Google's favor, recognizing the privacy implications of turning over search terms and refusing to grant access.[27]


Google originally placed a cookie on each registered user's computer, which can be used to track that person's search history, and that cookie was not set to expire until 2038.[21] As of 2007, Google's cookie now expires in two years but renews itself when a Google service is used.[21] There is no evidence that Google turns over information to the FBI or the NSA, though some users remain anxious about the possibility.[21] In response, Google claims cookies are necessary to maintain user preferences between sessions and offer other search features. Other popular search engines, such as Yahoo! Search and Microsoft's Bing, use cookies with distant expiration dates as well.


Steve Ballmer (Microsoft's CEO)[28], Liz Figueroa[29], Mark Rasch[30], and the editors of Google Watch[31] believe the processing of email message content by Google's Gmail service goes beyond proper use. Google claims that mail sent to or from Gmail is never read by a human being beyond the account holder, and is only used to improve relevance of advertisements.[32] Whether Google is the only email provider that reviews the contents of users' mail, or simply the only one that publicly admits it is unknown. The privacy policies of other popular email services, like Hotmail and Yahoo, allow users' personal information to be collected and utilized for advertising purposes, but do not specify precisely what information and which services[33][34].

Street View

Google's online map service, "Street View" has been accused of taking pictures and coming too close inside people's private homes and/or people who walk down the street not knowing they are being watched on Google's service.[35][36] Aaron and Christine Boring, a Pittsburgh couple, sued Google for "invasion of privacy". They claimed that Street View made a photo of their home available online, and it diminished the value of their house, which was purchased for its privacy.[37] They lost their case in a Pennsylvania court. "While it is easy to imagine that many whose property appears on Google's virtual maps resent the privacy implications, it is hard to believe that any – other than the most exquisitely sensitive – would suffer shame or humiliation," Judge Hay ruled.[38]

European Union

European Union (EU) data protection officials (the Article 29 working party who advise the EU on privacy policy) have written to Google asking the company to justify its policy of keeping information on individuals’ internet searches for up to two years. The letter questioned whether Google has “fulfilled all the necessary requirements” on the EU laws concerning data protection.[39] The probe by the EU into the data protection issue, As of 24 May 2007 (2007 -05-24) is continuing. On 1 June Google agreed that its privacy policy is vague, and that they are constantly working at making it clearer to users.[40] The resulting modifications to its privacy policies have been met with praise[41].


The Data Inspectorate of Norway (Norway is not a member of the EU) has investigated Google (and others) and has stated that the 18- to 24-month period for retaining data proposed by Google was too long.[42]

Free Software

Google makes money on free software, but does not open the source of modified products it uses to power its servers, since even the most popular GNU GPL license does not require to open the source of remotely accessed software. Google Code does not allow the GNU Affero GPL license, which closes this loophole[43], for hosted projects.


Google has been criticized for various instances of censoring its search results, most notably in cooperation with the government of China. Google has acted to remove certain types of hate websites such as and the neo-Fascist newspaper[44]. However many white power sites such as the American Nazi Party still appear in Google searches. During the last week of November 2009, a racist image of First Lady Michelle Obama surfaced as one of the top searches on the Search engine. Google responded by placing an advertisement stating they apologize for any offensive content, and partially scrubbing the image.[45]


In August 2008, Google closed the AdSense account of a site that carried a negative view of Scientology and this was the second closing of such a site within 3 months.[46] It is not certain if the account revocations actually were on the grounds of anti-religious content, however the cases have raised questions about Google's terms in regards to AdSense/AdWords. The Adsense policy defines that "Sites displaying Google ads may not include" ... "advocacy against any individual, group, or organization",[47] which allows Google to revoke the above mentioned AdSense accounts. Also, Google's AdWords policy defines that "Advertising is not permitted for the promotion of religious content."[48]

Google reserves the right to close AdSense accounts for unproven reasons, such as alleged click fraud, without giving the publishers any tangible alleged facts to disprove.[citation needed] In such instances Google withholds all payment from the publisher.[citation needed] In addition, people claiming to be Google employees have approached AdSense users with closed accounts and offered to re-open them for a fee.

Search within search

For some search results, Google provides a secondary search box within search page that enables the user to find what they are looking for within a particular website. This idea originated from the way users were searching. According to software engineer Ben Lee and Product Manager Jack Menzel, “teleporting” on the web is what helps Google users to complete their search. Google took this concept a step further and instead of just “teleporting”, which means users need only to type part of the name of a website into Google (no need to remember the entire URL) in order to find the correct site, users could type in keywords to search within the website of their choice.[49] It appeared that users were often not finding exactly what they needed while trying to explore within a company site.

Although this is an innovative search tool for users, it sparked some controversy among some online publishers and retailers. Google result pages display pay per click ads from rival companies sell ads against brands.[50] “While the service could help increase traffic, some users could be siphoned away as Google uses the prominence of the brands to sell ads, typically to competing companies.”[51] In order to combat this controversy, Google has offered to turn off this feature for companies who request to have it removed.[51]

Digital rights management

Announced on January 6, 2006 at the CES in Las Vegas, Nevada, the Google Video store began selling copyrighted content at the Google Video website. Initially, this service was restricted to the United States and certain other countries. To protect copyright of some video programming, Google created a Google DRM (Digital Rights Management) lock for certain paid content.[52]

On 2007-08-15 Google discontinued its DTO/DTR (download-to-own/rent) program. Videos which had been previously purchased under that program, as a result of the embedded DRM licenses being revoked, are no longer viewable despite being purchased for ownership. Google chose to refund all its customers by issuing "gift certificates" (or "bonuses") to their "Google Checkout Account" accounting for the full amount spent on videos.[53][54]

Google bombing

The page ranking algorithm of Google can and has been manipulated for political and humorous reasons. To illustrate the view that Google's search engine could be subjected to manipulation, Google Watch implemented a Google bomb by linking the phrase "out-of-touch executives" to Google's own page on its corporate management. The attempt was mistakenly attributed to disgruntled Google employees by The New York Times, which later printed a correction.[55][56]

Energy consumption

Google has been criticized for the high amount of energy used to maintain its servers.[57] Google has pledged to spend millions of dollars to investigate cheap, clean, renewable energy, and has installed solar panels on the roofs at its Mountain View facilities.[58][59]


Google was criticized in 2007 for not featuring versions of the Google logo (known as "Doodles") for American patriotic holidays such as Memorial Day and Veterans Day.[60] That year, Google featured a logo commemorating Veterans Day.[61]


Google is criticized for providing links to pornographic content in countries where such content is illegal.[62]

Go Programming Language

Google is criticized for naming their programming language "Go" while there is already an existing programming language called "Go!".[63][64][65]

See also


  1. Google Corporate Page
  2. Technology News: News: Google Pulls P2P Links Over Kazaa Copyright Claims
  3. New Economy; A copyright dispute with the Church of Scientology is forcing Google to do some creative linking. - New York Times
  4. "Linking to infringing content is probably illegal in the US". WebTVWire. 2006-09-12. Retrieved 2006-10-12. 
  5. Google cache raises copyright concerns - CNET
  6. Case No. CV-S-04-0413-RCJ-LRL. United States District Court (District of Nevada). Filed on January 19, 2006. Retrieved on July 7, 2006.
  7. Case No. 04-CV-3918. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania). March 10, 2006. Retrieved on July 7, 2006.
  8. Martin, China (2007-11-26). "Google hit with second lawsuit over Library project". InfoWorld. 
  9., Lawyers in YouTube lawsuit reach user privacy deal
  10., Google and Viacom reach deal over YouTube user data
  11., Viacom backs down over YouTube lawsuit
  12. Cade, Metz (7 December 2009). "Google chief: Only miscreants worry about net privacy". The Register. Retrieved 5 January 2010. 
  13. BBC NEWS | Technology | Google ranked 'worst' on privacy
  14. Privacy International 2007 Consulation Report
  15. Google ranked 'worst' on privacy BBC News, June 2007
  16. Is intimate personal information a toxic asset in cloud datacenters? August 17, 2009
  17. Intimate personal information in client-cloud aggregator datacenters is headed for strong government regulation Retrieved on January 19, 2010.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Sherman, Chris. Google power: unleash the full potential of Google. p. 415.;+Unleash+the+Full+Potential+of+Google&q=Daniel+Brandt#v=snippet&q=Daniel%20Brandt&f=false. 
  20. Varghese, Sam (2005-01-12). "Google critic releases source code for proxy". The Age. Retrieved 2008-10-11. 
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 21.3 Agger, Michael (2007-10-10). "Google's Evil Eye: Does the Big G know too much about us?". Slate. Retrieved 2007-10-23. 
  22. Farhad Manjoo (August 30, 2002). "Conspiracy Researcher Says Google's No Good". AlterNet. Retrieved 2009-12-12. 
  23. Dave Gussow (April 14, 2003). "Despite popularly, Google under fire for privacy issues". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved 2008-10-11. 
  25. "ACLU v. Alberto R. Gonzales." United States District Court (Northern District of California). August 25, 2005. Retrieved on April 13, 2007.
  26. Wong, Nicole. "Response to the DOJ Motion." Google. [[{February 17]], 2006. Retrieved on April 13, 2007.
  27. Broache, Anne. "Judge: Google must give feds limited access to records." CNET. March 17, 2006. Retrieved on April 13, 2007.
  28. Microsoft's Ballmer: Google Reads Your Mail ChannelWeb, October 2007
  29. Google's Gmail could be blocked BBC News, April 2004
  30. The Register - Google Gmail: Spook Heaven
  31. Gmail is too creepy Google-Watch
  32. Google Privacy Center - Privacy Policy
  33. Yahoo Privacy Policy
  34. Microsoft Privacy Policy
  35. EFF lawyer is smokin' on Google Street View The Register, June 2007
  36. All-seeing Google Street View prompts privacy fears Times Online, June 2007
  37. "Couple Sues Google Over "Street View".". The Smoking Gun. Retrieved 2008-04-04. 
  38. "Google wins Street View privacy case". The Guardian. 19 February 2009. Retrieved 2009-02-19. "An American couple who attempted to sue Google over what they claimed was its "privacy invading" Street View technology have lost their case in a Pennsylvania court." 
  39. "EU probes Google grip on data" (Accessed 26-May-2007)
  40. "Google admits privacy policy is vague with EU Probe looming" (Accessed 01-June-2007) [1]
  41. Earth Times - Google's data Limiting Initiative Gets EU Praise
  42. "Google Data on Users May Break EU Law, Watchdog Says" (Accessed 26-May-2007) [2]
  43. several authors. "AGPL license (thread at google-code-hosting)". Google Groups. 
  44. Piper, P. "Google and Privacy". Internet Reference Services Quarterly, 10:3, p.201
  45. "Racist Obama image shines light on web searching" (in English). CNN. Retrieved 02 December 2009. 
  46. Google murders second Anonymous AdSense account
  47. AdSense Help Center - Google AdSense Program Policies
  48. AdWords Help Center - Religion
  49. Regan, Keith (2008-03-24). ""Google's Search-Within-Search Draws Scutiny"". E-Commerce Times. 
  50. Stamoulis, Nick (2008-03-24). ""Why Companies Are Upset With Google's Search-Within-Search"". Search Engine Optimization Journal. 
  51. 51.0 51.1 Tedeschi, Bob (2008-03-24). "A New Tool From Google Alarms Sites". New York Times. 
  52. Is Google DRM crippling culture as great as it seems? The Register, Jan 2006
  53. Cory Doctorow, "Google Video robs customers of the videos they "own"." 2007-08-10.
  54. John C. Dvorak, "Google Pulls Plug, Everyone Misses Point". PC Magazine (online). 2007-08-14.
  55. Hansell, Saul; John Markoff (2004-06-22). "Google Edits Its Prospectus to Highlight Risk of Loss". The New York Times. 
  56. "Corrections". The New York Times. 2004-06-25. 
  57. Keyword: Evil Harpers Magazine, March 2008
  58. Google to enter clean-energy business CNET News, November 2007
  59. Google’s Next Frontier: Renewable Energy New York Times, November 2007
  60. Tweaks send Google critics into orbit - Los Angeles Times
  61. More Google: Holiday Logos
  62. China's Google Porn Crackdown
  63. Francis McCabe (fmccabe) (2009-11-10). "Issue 9 - go -I have already used the name for *MY* programming language". 
  64. Thomas Claburn (2009-11-11). "Google 'Go' Name Brings Accusations Of 'Evil'". InformationWeek. 
  65. John Brownlee (2009-11-13). "Google didn't google "Go" before naming their programming language". 

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