Google: The Internet’s Organized Crime Family

Google: The Internet’s Organized Crime Family

Google: The Internet’s Organized Crime Family

Late last week I found myself watching a documentary on organized crime in New York City. Focused on the Gambino crime family, this documentary illustrated how the mafia (which included the Gambino and other families that made up the Cosa Nostra) had their hands in on nearly every facet of city life. From restaurants and delivery trucks to corrupting the law enforcement and legal systems – the organization was in control.

Less than an even a decade ago Google was simply a search engine. A player in the growing Internet that consumers and the public were excited to use and would eagerly embrace in their everyday lives. In the years following their cult like launch however, a blend of strategy and brute force has catapulted them to become what I now see as the Internet’s first organized crime family.

I must admit that drawing a comparison like this is a bit of a reach without conducting any research. So that’s what I started to do… And in the past few days I’ve learned that while not quite “criminal” in their everyday actions, Google’s dominance and reach has resulted in their becoming a monolithic organization. Precisely, I’m sure, as planned.

The Foundations of Activity
For the mafia to operate to its full potential there needs to be structure and reach that allows all activity to be seen, heard, felt and eventually capitalized on. Most of what the public knows about true organized crime is that these organization penetrated into labor unions, law enforcement agencies and massive commercial organizations. Unbeknownst to them, the public ends up living life feeding these organizations. Whether it be through paying higher prices or casting favorable public opinion behind devious characters – much of what organized crime controls is done so with a level of transparency that can never be rivaled.

Having worked in the search engine marketing industry, I’m more aware of what Google sees than most others would. Most of my blog’s readers know as much or more about Google’s reach than I do – but the public still remains unaware.

Google’s Bread and Butter
Let’s take a deeper look at the types of information that Google has access to, starting with their core competency – a simple search query on Google.com.

Google Account holders and Google Toolbar users are enrolled in something called Web History. Web History allows Google to track what you search for, and more importantly – what you click through to. Google’s willingness to track what you’re searching for and viewing online is masked at a usability feature. In fact, you can log into Web History and see any of the following types of Google Search results that you’ve clicked through to, including:

• Web
• Images
• News
• Products
• Sponsored Links
• Video
• Maps
• Blogs
• Books

Now, let’s be clear about a few things. Google Account holders have an ability to view their Web History and look at some of the information that Google is recording. Should we be naive and believe that Google’s being completely transparent here?

I vote no. And I hope with some more careful consideration – you may agree.

Google’s Penetrating Reach
Google is no longer simply a search engine. They may have started that way, but have since penetrated deep into the everyday lives of billions of people worldwide… They’ve done that not by forcing themselves on you – but acquiring or fueling the sites, services and networks the public relies on most frequently.

While I don’t like relying on Wikipedia for too much, I’d ask that you take a look of the List of acquisitions by Google article that can be found there. Having acquired more than 50 companies, Google now has the ability to control, monitor and view user activities across an overwhelming portfolio of products and services.

Here’s a comprehensive list I’ve built of known product and service sites. While I’m sure that I’m missing some from my list, the key here is the massive scale and reach that Google now has.

Google: The Internet’s Organized Crime FamilyGoogle’s Standalone Applications
• AdWords Editor
• Chrome
• Desktop
• Earth
• Gmail/Google Notifier
• GoogleTalk
• Pack
• Photos Screensaver
• Picasa
• Picasa Web Albums Uploader
• Secure Access
• SketchUp
• Visigami
• Web Accelerator

Google Application & Desktop Extensions
• Blogger Web Comments
• Dashboard Widgets for Mac OS X
• Google Gears
• Send to Mobile
• Google Toolbar

Google’s Mobile Products & Services
• Blogger Mobile
• Calendar
• Gmail
• News
• Google Mobilizer
• iGoogle
• Maps
• Mobile Updater
• Mobile Search
• Product Search
• Reader
• Sync
• YouTube
• Picasa Web Albums
• Google Latitude

Google’s Web Based Products
• AdSense
• AdWords
• AdWords Website Optimizer
• Audio Ads
• Click-to-Call
• DoubleClick
• Grants
• TV Ads

Google’s Communication and Publishing Tools
• 3D Warehouse
• Apps
• Blogger
• Calendar
• Docs
• FeedBurner
• Friend Connect
• Gadgets
• Gmail
• iGoogle
• Notebook
• Knol
• Marratech e-Meeting
• Orkut
• Page Creator
• Picasa Web Albums
• Reader
• Sites
• Voice
• YouTube

Google’s Developer Tools
• Android
• App Engine
• Code
• Mashup Editor
• OpenSocial
• Subscribed Links
• Webmaster Tools
• Web Toolkit

Google’s Geographical and Mapping Tools
• Maps
• Map Maker
• Mars
• Moon
• Sky
• Ride Finder
• Transit

Google’s Search Based Products
• Accessible Search
• Alerts
• Base
• Blog search
• Book Search (Previously Google Print)
• Checkout
• Code Search
• Directory
• Directory (Google China)
• Experimental Search
• Finance
• Groups
• Image Labeler
• Image Search
• Language Tools
• Movies
• News
• News Archive Search
• Patent Search
• Product Search (Previously Froogle)
• Scholar
• Sets
• SMS
• Squared
• Suggest
• University Search
• U.S. Government Search
• Video
• Voice Local Search
• Web History
• Web Search

Google’s Statistical Tools
• Analytics
• Gapminder
• Trends
• Zeitgeist

Google Hardware
• Google Search Appliance
• Google Mini

Other / Miscellaneous Products
• GOOG-411
• Health

Google’s Key Players are Products and Services
Through decades of research conducted by prying journalists and investigative organizations like the FBI, we know that organized crime families have a strong hierarchy in place. This hierarchy puts the most influential and powerful people in a position to orchastrate specialists beneath them. This differs for Google in the sense that products and services take the place of people. What I mean by saying this is that Google’s brand and services represent leaders and shot callers that monitor and profit from all of our Internet based activity.

I am by no means an expert on organized crime, or Google for that matter. My years of being an Internet professional though suggest that the following products and services are the key players underneath the Google family:

• Search
• Analytics
• AdWords & AdSense
• GMail
• YouTube

These five players have market reach and dominance that is unrivaled by any other non-Google organization. The majority of Internet users rely on these five core services – and as a result, Google stands to profit.

The Profitability of Internet Dominance
What I find most disturbing about this trend though is that like criminal organizations in the past, Google is driving up the price for advertisers and consumers with the incredible control they have over all of the market variables. If you’re a web site owner, you’re likely providing Google access and permission to analyze what your visitors are doing on your site. If you have a GMail account, they’re able to parse the content of your emails and tailor advertising accordingly. If you’re an AdSense advertiser, you’re paying a premium through a veiled cost per click system that Google developed in a proprietary way to maximize their profit with. And if you’re relying on AdSense, or “Webmaster welfare” as Sugarrae has termed the program – you’re simply fueling Google’s greed further while minimizing your own profitability.

When Google first went public, their IPO priced each share of the organization’s stock at $85. At one point in late 2007, GOOG shares traded at $711.25 – an increase of more than 736% over the IPO’s value.

This cult like following, both in technology sectors as well as in public appeal forced Google to not only become a household name, but even a verb. To this day you can go practically anywhere and overhear someone having “Googled” something, or even worse, be willing to “GMail” you something. Which leads me to…

The Public Appeal and Fascination
Any staunch Google supporter already thinks I’m both crazy and stupid for suggesting that Google’s operation mirrors that of a criminal organization. Keeping with the comparison of Google’s brands mirroring various mafioso of the past, I’m now going to go out on a limb and state that to me, Google is the modern day Teflon Don – John Gotti.

John Gotti’s following came through two methods. First, he struck fear in the eyes of the opposition and second, he served as public figure for people and the media to fall in love with.

CNN once wrote that Gotti murdered his way to the top of the Gambino crime family. I think Google did the same exact thing – and here’s why.

Back in the days before the “big three” search engines, Google results were so accurate that they were shown to anyone conducting searches on major online properties like Yahoo!, AOL and dozens of others. While most simply appreciated the accuracy of clean and relevant search results, Google was deviating from their “do no evil” mantra that many foolishly believe exists today.

One by one, Google effectively sniped the competition either by becoming a provider of materials essential for business (as was the case with the search results I referenced above) or, by simply buying out entire organizations and overhauling or eliminating them. Since their creation, Google has acquired more than fifty leading Internet based organizations… These acquisitions were entirely strategic and have gone on to help feed the Google family of operations. Some of the properties simply stood in their way and were later shut down. Others, often commanding billion dollar buyouts like YouTube and DoubleClick primed Google to reach the majority of Internet users across all demographics and gain insight into every little nuance of their online behavior.

While Google was either eliminating the competition or forcing them to rely on Google’s materials to survive, they placed an emphasis on winning public opinion. John Gotti was famous and untouchable in his Queens neighborhood because he often threw parties, picnics and gave handouts to those that surrounded him. Google is no different, and as an example of that – I’d simply point to GMail being the leading free email service or AdSense and Google Analytics as both free and market leading tools for webmasters to run an online business.

Comparing Google’s Services to Criminal Activities
It was suggested to me that Google’s services actually mirror a number of ways in which a criminal family or organization would work. Google’s AdSense program for example was compared to prostitution, their free applications likened to the distribution of drugs, and Google AdWords being similar to Google’s offering of “protection” for web site owners. I can certainly see and understand these comparisons but am interested too in how readers of this post will react to those comparisons being drawn… So please do leave comments to further the discussion.

Thoughts from Other Search Marketers
I tend to be anti-Google when it comes to my opinion, so I asked a few contacts from the search marketing industry for their thoughts and opinions on my comparing Google to an organized crime family. Here’s some of the feedback I got that was worth sharing:

David Wallace (Twitter: @davidwallace) offered the following:

“It’s apparent that Google wants to get into everything, at least wherever they can stick AdWords. For the company that has made statements to the fact that “search is core to them” they have gone a long way from search… Google Docs, GMail, Calendar, Talk… Shall I go on? http://www.google.com/intl/en/options/ clearly shows that although the Google Search page remains simple, the company is involved in tons of stuff and upsetting many business models…In fact I’m just waiting for the day that we will hear the announcement, “Google acquires Wal-Mart.”

Ben Cook (Twitter: @Skitzzo) had this to say:

“Follow their rules or else, they pay you but can up their take without notice and you get away with more if you produce for them… That’s Google for you. Mobsters have to stay under the radar & deal with cops & other families. Google answers to no one.”

Greg Boser (@GregBoser), while not offering any direct comments commended the comparison and said he looked forward to reading the post when it was completed. Social media specialist Brent Csutoras (@BrentCsutoras) and optimization expert Andrew Gerhart (@andrewgerhart) both thought that Google is more like a government than a crime family.

Chris Hooley (@ChrisHooley) later added:

“Well, a crime family works under the law. Google works above the law. If you are going to compare them to a corrupt organization I would compare them to a corrupt government who puts the koolaid in the water supply.”

Michelle Robbins (@MichelleRobbins) provided a lot of assistance in creating this article. She offered up an editorial review and some recommendations, as well as this quote:

“Even though, in effect, Google has a stranglehold on internet advertising and marketing options – much like a crime syndicate can control and dictate how businesses operate and do or do not succeed in a given location or market – there is one key difference. The mob is self aware. They don’t pretend to be anything other than what they are.”

Please Help Further The Conversation…
Anytime someone takes interest in making such a harsh comparison, strong opinions will be formed. I am not saying that I am right or wrong for drawing or writing of the comparisons made. The above is simply my opinion – and I want to hear more from you, the reader. Please help the discussion continue through the commenting feature below.

Photo Credits: Header Image “Anybody There” by mooranguinho, licensed for use through Creative Commons. In Post image “Yes? Hello?” by rossinabossio also licensed for use through Creative Commons.

42 thoughts on “Google: The Internet’s Organized Crime Family

  1. This is a very interesting topic and most definitely enlightening to those of us that aren’t exposed to the “inner workings” of Google or more specifically the plethora of information they have their hands on without the majority of the public fully aware. If nothing else, this is a great awareness piece that shares with the public just about everything Google has their hands in, which, to my surprise, is a lot more then I thought before reading this article. It is interesting to think of Google as an organized crime family. I mean what does that make Matt Cutts? Introduced to me as the “Sheriff of the Internet”, is he the equivalent of a “dirty cop”? The whole comparison is interesting and should be explored more. I want to see the Google Crime Family Tree!

  2. I’d say that the reach of Google and their products is something that I have thought about as I’ve gotten further and further entrenched into their products. I think the comparison is interesting, and I think I’ve always been aware of what exactly is happening on some level. Their free products are pretty impressive…they must be getting something out of them…they are one of the largest companies in the world. That was always my thought, but their products are so good (and free) that I consider it a fair trade off. They give me what I want and I give them what they want.

  3. Why is it every time some company gets really, really big someone immediately compares them to something evil?

    Guess what, dude–companies? They get big. If they’re really, really successful, they’ll get *really* big. And then what do you do? Because simply coming up with a competing product or service is not always going to be a realistic option. For example, if you come up with a really nifty new hand tool to use in tightening or loosening bolts, you’re not going to bankrupt Craftsman. No, instead they’ll copy your idea for a tool and sell it with their name. *IF* you had the foresight, time, and money to seek and obtain a patent, Craftsman will be nice enough to pay you money before they take your idea, but don’t think for a moment that you’re going to stop them from taking your idea.

    The last time I checked, in the world of computers, Microsoft was still the Evil Empire, not Google. Why is that? Well it’s simple really. Google is generally nice about their World Domination whereas M$ is not. Google gives away the smack for free (so to speak) whereas M$ has traditionally forced you to either pay or become a pirate.

    There is nothing new under the sun. IMHO, there is nothing of meaningful substance in this article. There is nothing to see here, move along.

    So it goes.


    Furry cows moo and decompress.

  4. Nice article. I’ve thought this for quite a while; the way Google seemingly takes over every thing popular in the Web industry… which begs the question: what’s next?

  5. It seems to be that the point of this article is the subject of some debate. I’m not making a slanderous claim that Google is simply corrupt and criminal. As I discussed in the beginning of the post, and later at the end – my goal was to make a comparison between the two types of organizations and invite others to comment and post their thoughts.

    I don’t expect (or want) everyone to agree. My blog is an opportunity to share my opinion on various topics. Today that happened to be Google. Please don’t overlook the opportunity to share your opinions here too. It’s important to me that anyone coming back to this post sees not only my words, but the words of others who are willing to share.

    WyrdestGeek – your comment above is an excellent example of what I’m looking for. I thank you for stopping by and sharing with others.

  6. Thanks for the post! Though comparing Google with the mafia is a reach, I like how it makes people think. Indeed, I think most people simply assume that Microsoft is evil (with the help of Apple!) and that Google is hip and benevolent. They don’t stop to think about how much more information Google has on us than Microsoft ever did. Google’s stranglehold on the internet is probably just as, if not more, dominant than Microsoft’s hold on PCs. Sure, Microsoft may be the evil empire now, but it wasn’t so long ago when it was the cool upstart versus the evil IBM.

    And no, charging for things doesn’t make you evil, and giving stuff away for doesn’t automatically make you good. Microsoft essentially gave away Internet Explorer for free, but no one ever called them good for that. Microsoft was “evil” because it mercilessly stomped out the competition. And Google is stomping out the competition, but the manner by which it does so is up for debate, I guess.

  7. Having been born in Brooklyn and growing up in NY, I think I am qualified to make a minor correction:

    Google’s Capo di tutti capi:

    • Search
    • Analytics
    • AdWords & AdSense
    • GMail
    • YouTube

    Other than that, you’re DEAD on. Watch your back Lander.

  8. Good article. I’ve never quite thought of Google in that way although I’ve been concerned about their monopolistic practices for some time now.

    Still, I’m a Google junkie and continue to deposit client money into their AdSense program and SEO sites to fit their definition of “how to do it the Google way” (and avoid sleepless nights).

  9. This is some great research and you make a very compelling case. Whenever a single entity effectively revolutionizes a central aspect of daily life they usually dominate in the beginning phase of that revolution simply because they executed their business model faster and more efficiently than their competitors. Microsoft’s dominance in desktop computing was not so much a result of innovation as it was fitting their model to meet market demand. Apple had the superior product (in fact we now know the same product) but their refusal to license the OS to other manufacturers left them eating Window’s dust. Google is creating the operating system of the future and will dominate web based computing for some time to come. While that dominance can become counterproductive as did Microsoft’s eventually, they have, like Microsoft, provided immeasurable benefits to the consumer. Microsoft made desktop computing affordable for the masses. Google is making web based computing affordable for the masses. Google apps have replace almost every other desktop productivity app I was using. Their platform has allowed me to consolidate much of my online activities into an extremely powerful and efficient information processing system. I haven’t even found something that I could pay for that would do a better job of managing my email, contacts, RSS feeds and docs. If I do I will gladly pay for it. Microsoft couldn’t put ads in its software so it charged for it. Google gives its software away for free and gets paid through the ads. It’s a great model and they deliver a great service and a great value for the small/independent business person. So for the time being I will be content with the world of Google although I can’t ignore the old saying that “Absolute power corrupts, …” well you know the rest.

  10. I saw an interview with Google’s Ceo Eric Schmidt recently on Charlie Rose who stated quite plainly that Google started out as a search engine but now is pointedly an Advertising company. That interview can be found here, http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/10131.

    Google the Advertising company would most certainly have a totally different agenda at hand than simply providing visitors with piddly search results.

    Perhaps, this explains why they have to dig so deep into every aspect of our lives.

  11. BTW, does anyone know how Microsoft makes money by giving away free browsers (IE)? They put a lot of money into it, but I don’t see any revenue for them. Prefer FireFox myself and don’t expect them to profit since it’s open source.

  12. Great article all around! From the harsh reality to the entertaining comparisons, it should at least make people take a breath between chugs of the Google KoolAid.

    I actually have another ‘Google is Evil’ post on the way specific to their lack of transparency in the bidding process on Adwords. The industry of search engine marketing is so new that many people don’t even realize that you used to be able to know what all of you competitors were bidding. Now they make us think we are getting something great by giving us access to a ‘Bid Simulator Tool’ based on past data… =/

  13. I’ve been using Google since its earliest days…way before “Googled” was a term used in everyday life. Why? Because it was a great product. I wanted a good search engine to locate what I was looking for on the internet, not a spam site like Yahoo! with 500 ads and stories surrounding the search button.

    Apparently, that’s what everyone else was looking for too. Google is the poster child for capitalism. Make a superior product and reap the benefits. They continue to offer things the public wants and offer most of them for free to end users. They deserve to charge advertisers a premium price for a seat at the table in my opinion, and that doesn’t make them evil. It makes them smarter than the competition.

  14. Your analysis is spot on. What’s important to realize is that structural parallels (and you’ve outlined plenty of them to make just about anyone think, provided they’re not restricting the use of their head to visiting the haidressers…) are quite sufficient to establish identities: of purpose, of operational demeanor, of societal impact.
    No, Google may not have worked its way to the top via murder and extortion, illegal prostitution and gambling, bookmaking, drug trafficking or bootlegging – no obvious felonies you could plausibly accuse them of. (Copyright infringements, trademark violations, monopolist behavior etc. may well be deemed illegal activities in their own right, but those are generally pretty moot which typical mob biz usually isn’t.)
    But rather than challenge your comparison, that’s about where the dissimilarity ends.
    Add to that Michelle Robbins’s brilliant observation that the mob is self-aware whereas the Google crowd doesn’t give any indication of being given to undue reflectiveness, and it all adds up very nicely – or, rather, horribly.

  15. Totally agree with you, i had same feelings that Google is capturing and controlling our life…. but couldnt find an article about it back then…

    Good on you :)

  16. I have such a love/hate relationship with Google. To me, they’re more like a benevolent dictator. I resent the lack of freedom, and I don’t believe their decisions are always in my best interests. But at the same time, I happily use their services and tools every day.

    I guess if I had to choose a benevolent dictator, I’d pick Google any day over Yahoo and Microsoft.

  17. I would compare them more to the ARM of Larry Niven’s “Known Space” universe.
    Or the illuminati.
    By the way – In order not to anger our Googlian Overlords, you’re dead to me now.

  18. Eric, AWESOME! I read your post word-for-word and sooooo enjoyed it!

    I’ve been pulling away from Google Apps for a while. As Mike Elliot mentioned above, finding other solutions is difficult. The process has been VERY time-consuming. I’m not Google-free but am now weighing use of each app as a tradeoff.

    A few SEMs did some testing last year of how much personal information appears/influences natural and paid search results. Our findings were enough to put a little “fear of Google” into us. It’s not really a fear, but I started packing my online bags.

    Challenge: Google is so beautiful and attractive. No wonder we run to Big G and lay open our lives and our data at their feet.

    One small way to slow the Google data flow is to use the Firefox plugin Google quietly provided when they formally announced behavioral targeting. Permanently opt out of the Google cookie while browsing: http://www.google.com/ads/preferences/plugin/

    As Sean Maguire said, “Watch your back!”

  19. Oh my. I’ve been anti-google since the late ’90’s when I had learned they were seeking venture. (They were down the street from the little start up I was working in.) Sure I use them to search and to some extent, I use web statistics, but it took me a long time before I decided to use those apps. I would NEVER use gmail or any of their other apps. Their health app is the biggest privacy violation of all. It’s Another Really Bad Idea

  20. I agree with your analysis but for additional reasons. With all the information Google can collect on signed-in guest, one could build a very accurate profile of an individuals psychology with no trouble whatsoever. Give me 200-300 worth of web surfing sites and emails and I could accurately tell you a lot about an individual. Whats to say that Google, a profit corp, would not sell or give this info away to any government entity that threatens theirr profit. Hell, we’ve already seen Google cave to China several times. That is the real danger.

  21. You can better compare google with the film “Resident Evil” there a company “Umbrella Corporation” seeks to grab and rule all in the country.. like the same thing google is doing. am i correct??

  22. Title of post is a killer topic and I couldn’t stop myself to read the topic. One of link in your post “acquisitions of Google” is really. Stats there show that how big Google has grown up now and what is its capacity to purchase anything they need or want. In fact there are many trademark which still are awaiting to be purchased by Google(Take digg as an example). Like you said organized crime, I think we are partner in that with Google. Of course Google can\t record all the history unless we would be logged in. For analysis purposes, I think there is nothing wrong with it.

  23. Hey

    I saw your site from diythemes.com and this is my first visit here. Honestly, you provide tons of tips and useful informations which is simply awesome..

    Will take me sometime to digest your posting.

    Thanks.

  24. You seem to have been de-twitted (de-twittered? detweeted?). Can’t find you or (several of) your references on twitter

  25. I don’t that’s exactly accurate to say that google is an organized crime family or whatnot. It’s just a business.

    While they are increasing their reach and dominance and all that, but what is it all based on? Google? Not really. It’s mostly about relevance, content and… guess who… us.

    I think you can call it a sinful operation once it stops just syndicating/organizing our own behaviors, trends, tendencies and creations. I think it’s just like that analogy – guns don’t kill people, people do. So is google, it’s just a bunch of tools/structures, it’s up to you whether you use them and how you use them.

  26. It’s easy to get caught up in the sensationalism provoked by the illegal activities of organized crime – and that’s the part of this analogy that doesn’t work for Google.

    But… organized crime grew by providing goods and services that people wanted and couldn’t easily find otherwise, and the same is true with Google. Anyone remember how frustrating search was in the 90s? We really craved something like what Google offered. And even though they didn’t invent PPC, the power of their search accuracy quickly elped Adwords to trump GoTo-Overture-Yahoo.

    The next factor I look at is how each organization handled their new-found big-ness. That’s where many people have a growing mistrust of Google, even when Google has not done anything overtly coercive. Most really big organizations start to hurt the little guy, often without being aware of it. they have power, and power for its own sake often tends to replace the original core competence.

    Forget about any moral-ethical-lega angles. The challenge for today’s online business is this – can you succeed without depending on Google? If you find a way, then Google provides some excellent icing for your cake. But if Google services have become your drug of choice, then you will always have a love-hate relationshiip with your pusher.

  27. Very interesting analogy!
    Furthermore, I would extend the parallel to the way GG behaves towards webmasters/SEO. Take a peak at the Game Theory concept. It is widely used by maffia to power on domination.

  28. I think comparing Google to organized crime is a bit harsh, but I see your point. Google is the master of online search and advertising and although they are a part of my marketing strategy (via SEO) I still prefer to stick with the less competitive ad networks like Adwido.

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