When they first appeared as a part of the early internet, search engines were a tool that allowed the user to find websites around a certain topic. In a time where websites were not the household names they are today, they were the most practical option to find information scattered across various websites. From those humble roots, the search engine has come a long way. Today, across the world, the colloquial verb for looking up information comes from the largest search engine in the world. To google something is almost universally accepted as a phrase. This is a testament to how far it has come. As a brand and a service offering, it is almost irreplaceable from peoples every day life.
Over the years, the role a search engine plays in our lives has evolved as well. What was once just a directory of websites is arguably the most accurate representation of a collective human consciousness. Each individual’s search data allows for the engine to create a detailed profile of the user. The profile allowing for the search engine itself to curate the information the user consumes. Large data processing systems are in place to aggregate individual user data to compile trends and models that can accurately predict how a user might react.
The traditional business model that supports these massive corporations is the ability to accurately profile each user based on their search trends and allow advertisers to advertise to them. Businesses commit marketing dollars to search engines that help them find customers relevant to their field. Businesses can asses buying intention, consumer needs and habits from the data these search engines offer, allowing them to profile and target their customers efficiently.
Apart from the direct spends, businesses might choose to invest in their SEO or a Search Engine Optimization strategy. This allows their websites to rank higher than their competitors when a user is searching for a product. A good SEO agency uses a variety of tricks to help websites rank better. Each search engine has an ever evolving algorithm that it uses to select which sites are displayed more prominently. It is essential to keep up with this process as trends change often.
As search engines grow, they find themselves sitting on ever growing fields of data. With their business, it is clear that the millions of users availing of their free search services are not their consumers, they are in fact the product offering. Businesses that pay for access to these users are their end consumers.
Recently, with more and more individual data available to these large organizations, their approach to protecting each users privacy has become a more pressing concern. Users are weighing the pros and cons. The debate as to the value the free services provide against the potential loss of privacy continues to rage on. Along with large social networks, that work on very similar principles, there is a growing fear about these organizations wielding too much power. Already people and organizations re looking for ways to reign it back.
As society, there are a few big picture issues that should be of concern. Firstly, it is the questionable actions these companies seem to be getting away. With their size and the leverage, they hold, legal frameworks are easily manipulated to suit their needs. The individual user will rarely have the will or resources to deter the organization from such practices.
The other concern is the search engines ability to affect public opinion. It can display sites that portray information a certain way influencing opinion, ideologies and even affect impactful political decisions. The concentration of all this power shared by just a few companies should raise multiple concerns.
Alphabet, the parent organization that controls the largest search engine in the world, finds itself competing for the title of the most valuable organization in the world. The Google brand is comfortably one of the most easily recognizable in the world. For an organization less than two decades old, Google has come a long way.
Still it is not the only search engine around. A new wave of search engines are just starting to make an appearance. A lot of them are positioning themselves as the alternate to Google and its questionable privacy policies.
Over the years, only time will tell how successful they might be. Whether or not they manage to fulfil their ambitious goals of providing a real alternative is yet to be seen. What is heartening is the fact that there is an alternative. For those genuinely concerned about their privacy data, this is only the first step in a considerable battle. Whichever way it swings in the long run, large search engines have already established the fact that they will, for a long time to come, remain gatekeepers of the vast world of the internet.