Google's 'Be Evil' business transformation is complete: Time for the end game

I've read this stuff, says one dev. 'Either Google is screwed, or society is screwed'


Opinion Ten days ago, a New York judge revealed the full prosecution filings in a multi-state antitrust lawsuit against Google – one of many against the company, and of many more against the ad tech giants.

There's too much to digest in a handful of days, and early headlines have concentrated on the claims that Google and Facebook colluded in a cabal to deflect legislation, bypass privacy technology, and share the spoils. There are lots of specific allegations about other misdeeds; this is just the hors d'oeuvre.

Are these just allegations concocted by whistleblowers, and competitors tired of losing in a fair fight? The court will decide, but there is no shortage of claims that match real-world experience. Take AMP, a protocol that Google promoted as a way to speed up mobile content delivery and improve user experience. Free to use for everyone, it required some JS code from Google and a few rules to follow; in return you got a free CDN optimised for your mobile content. As a bonus, because your content was faster and Google prioritises speed, AMP content got pushed up the search rankings.

Look at the press around the launch of AMP in the mid 2010s, and that's the message you'll get. Most caveats were about the extra work for developers in following the rules.

Skip forward a year or so and people had noticed that AMP wasn't actually faster, and that by effectively hosting all third-party content within google.com it was short-circuiting the internet. And the court filing has claimed that AMP's primary purpose was indeed to create huge amounts of data for Google's internal use, while denying that data to other services. If true: insider trading, consumer capture, and competitor freeze-out.

Some of our own experiences back that claim. Developers, CIOs, advertisers, content providers felt they were had. Some of the press felt they were had. How much should any of us trust Google now when it claims innocence?

Looking through the lawsuit, the scope and shamelessness of Google's greed would appear to be stark. Project Bernanke, for example, is claimed to take data from publishers' ad servers to boost Google's own services. Project NERA, to create a "not owned but operated" walled garden for users if they used any Google service. "Project Jedi" was allegedly meant to freeze out independent ad exchanges by using insider knowledge, and in "Jedi Blue", Google is alleged to have conspired with Facebook to parcel out the goodies between themselves.

There are other charges in the 173-page unredacted filing, which you can and should read here [PDF]. If the allegations are true, the breadth and depth and sheer focused intent of Google's abuse of its position would be unique. The perversion of the ad market would be intense.

If you're a publisher, your content is like a portfolio of shares you give to a financial institution to handle by judicious trading on the Stock Exchange, with advertisers choosing to buy through their own banks. Only with Google, the financial institutions and the stock exchanges are either owned by the same cartel, or they're shut out of the market. This is hugely illegal in finance, for obvious reasons.

How much does this matter? "Online advertising promotes journalism," except journalism is dying. The money's gone. Where's it gone? Does Google have all the money? It takes up to 42 per cent of the cut from ad money that goes through it, alleges the filing, 42 per cent that can't be spent on content providers like journalists.

Without journalism, you get guaranteed corruption – fine for big companies that are keen to keep their dealings away from the public, and politicians and criminals who can entrench themselves in power and wealth, no questions asked. The big tech platforms don't care about journalism, they care about traffic, so fake news tastes just as good and if the funding comes from dark money, so much the better – they get to keep more of the ad revenue.

As one developer said on Twitter – having read the filing – either Google is screwed or society is. It's hard to argue with that. It's hard to argue that Facebook doesn't have its own equally damning and equally perilous culpabilities.

The deal we struck with Google for all that nice free stuff, the affordable mobile phone ecosystem, the entertaining videos etc. has proved a deal with the devil, and the other devils who infest the seven layers of Hell's own protocol stack. The damage is in plain sight, and these wide-ranging allegations are before the courts, and the decision isn't whether to do anything but what.

Data trading for ad revenue must be regulated like finance, aviation, medicine, and power. The giants who've cheated us must be broken up to their smallest viable constituent parts, and their future interactions be through a framework of radical accountability.

It's them or us, and it has to be us. ®

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