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So it’s the morning after a quiet night in with The Big Lebowski, and I’m firing up the laptop to hunt down a Creedence playlist on youtube when my stupid touchpad sticks and I find myself staring at Google’s hilariously earnest “mission statement!” Before I give you the quotes in question, just remember that to enjoy the full effect it’s important that you remove any trace of irony from your reading voice and serve up the lines like they belong to one of those 2am infomercials for vegetable dicers – a sort of manic self-confidence tempered with the zealous dogmatism of a cult leader:

Google’s mission is to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

Google’s Mission? Why are they even on a mission in the first place? It makes them sound like they’re about to head off into the wilderness with a suitcase full of bibles… and forgive my ignorance but I always labored under the false assumption that companies existed to make profits for the shareholders. Still, it’s nice to know that at least one of the world’s transnational’s is a non-profit organization working selflessly for the betterment of mankind. Oh, hang on a minute…

#1: Focus on the user and all else will follow.

“If you book them, they will come…” and I love the fact that we’re all known as “users” like some sort of squalid Junkies shooting up Google in a basement somewhere! And what the b’jesus do they mean by “all else” exactly? Could they possibly be referring to profits, growth and market domination perhaps? What happened to all that grandiose philanthropy they opened up with?!


Since the beginning, we’ve focused on providing the best user experience possible. Whether we’re designing a new Internet browser or a new tweak to the look of the homepage, we take great care to ensure that they will ultimately serve you, rather than our own internal goal or bottom line.

“Since THE BEGINNING!!!” What’s with this whole pseudo biblical thing, man? The beginning of what exactly? Time? Space? Creation? Still, at least they admit that they do in fact have an “internal goal…” and a “bottom line”… if only we had some idea what that “Internal goal” might actually be? And who exactly is this “you” that Google so adamantly claim to be serving? In my head, the “you” in question is someone young and pretty and dim and white and affluent… call me cynical but it really doesn’t feel as though they’re talking to a Somalian kid at an internet café in Darfur or an Afghan housewife… funny that.

Semantic nit-picking aside though, there really is something fishy about all of this corporate PR flim flam. The idea that Google are seriously interested in spreading Information in a universally accessible and useful format seriously starts to creak the second you type your very first letter into the Google search bar and check out the autocomplete predictions it throws up.

Here in the UK, if you type in the letter “a” for example, Google’s only suggestions are “Amazon, Argos, Asda and Autotrader”. Four gigantic multi million pound companies! No mention whatsoever of “Africa” or “Asia” or “Apples” or “Anteaters”. A nice smooth ride for anybody wanting to part with a few of their hard earned pennies of course… but doesn’t it feel more like some sort of product placement racket than a genuine attempt to serve the world its collective stockpile of knowledge and wisdom? If Google are serious about wanting to organise the world’s information, then the autocomplete function offers us a disturbing window into the corporation’s views of what we do and don’t need to know about.

At first I thought maybe I was doing Google a disservice – it’s all just algorithms right? Perhaps the people of Britain really are more interested in cars than in continents… but would the failing chain of camera shops “Jessops” really get more hits than “Jesus”? And is it really possible that “American Express” and “American Apparel” (two more corporate giants) get autosuggested before America itself? I begin to wonder if Google use shorter spikes in phrase popularity to generate their suggestions and (repressing a shiver) start to type out the letters for “Kate Middleton” – whose current pregnancy seems to have left a depressingly large slice of the nation drooling in bovine excitement – but the first “K” I come across is “KFC”! As the hunt for an unpolluted and meaningful autosuggest list continues I feel myself getting increasingly frustrated. It’s as though I’ve just opened up the world’s biggest encyclopaedia only to discover that it’s filled with nothing but adverts for hairdryers and slimming pills.

Perplexed, I dig around for a while and find myself reading an article aptly entitled “How Google Instant’s Autocomplete Suggestions work”. The following quote in particular catches my attention:

How are the suggestions shown ranked? Are the more popular searches listed above others? No.

Popularity is a factor, but some less popular searches might be shown above more popular ones, if Google deems them more relevant, the company says.

So there we are then! Problem solved. It really is just a question of what Google does and doesn’t deem relevant! As a cold sweat brakes out on my brow, I quickly head back to Google’s homepage to find out whether or not information on marginal little issues like “poverty” might be deemed in anyway “useful” to the world’s online population… only to find myself staring at “adverts” for “paypal” and fucking “poundland!” If you take the time to try it out for yourself, you’ll find that this catalogue of horrors and atrocities to the organisation of the world’s information goes on pretty much indefinitely. In Google’s fucked up consumer culture view of the world, “Famine” is less relevant than “Facebook”, “Family Guy” or “First Choice Holidays” (perhaps they’d argue that there are over a billion active facebook accounts and only a billion hungry people in the world?), “Genocide” is less relevant than Asda’s supermarket clothing line “George”, and “domestic violence” is something you might want to worry about after you’ve bought yourself a pizza from “Domino’s” or browsed the “Debenhams” website for a new blender or a fucking lampshade.

And if you were hoping that Google might use their monumental sway to quietly guide people towards good causes like Oxfam – rather than away from them, into the grey wilderness of mindless over consumption, you’d be disappointed to discover that the suggestions for “o” neglect to include a charity that helps 15 million of the world’s most criminally impoverished human beings a year… in favour of the cinema chain “Odeon” and the telecommunication giants “O2” and “Orange”. For an organisation that claims its informal corporate motto to read “don’t be evil”, I can’t help thinking that Google have got a hell of a lot of work to do. As things stand at present, the phrase “callously indifferent” seems more appropriate… and no amount of corporate responsibility posturing or pseudo-minimalist web design can hide the fact that if they really did give a shit about the stuff that matters, Google’s “universally accessible” and “useful” catalogue of the world’s information would be organised in a damned sight more compassionate and socially conscientious manner than it is right now.

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