There is simply no escaping Google. Sure, you might head to some remote village northern in Waziristan — but Project Loon might not be far behind. Many companies are actively pursuing global online omniscience, but only Google could make a credible claim to actually have it.
Don’t think that’s true? Check out the following list, and ask yourself how possible it would be to truly stay hidden from the world’s first and still foremost digital mega-corp.
13. Cloud Platform Is Everywhere
Google’s Cloud Platform has been hugely successful. When was the last time you interacted online with the likes of Best Buy, Evernote, or Spotify? Whether you know it or not, you’re accessing Google services even outside of Google-owned sites. As we’ll see below, that can have big implications.
12. Search Can Rank the Whole World
RankBrain is Google’s advanced A.I. approach to its bread and butter service: Search. Google’s ability to literally rank the importance of businesses and indeed information itself is powerful almost beyond description. You should know how this important A.I. construct is influencing not just your perceptions (perhaps you’re a DuckDuckGo user!), but those of a huge number of people around you.
11. Google’s A.I. Try to Offer an Experience as Unique as You Are
Google doesn’t just rank the world — it conforms it to your personality. The ability of Search to give people what they want is unparalleled. That’s not only because Google throws far more money into the problem than anyone else, but because its platforms are so widely used. Microsoft might want to tailor Bing results as closely as Google’s, but it simply doesn’t have the same level of insight into precisely how to do so.
10. Cookies That Grant Long Term Omniscience
Chances are, you’re “using” this one as you read these words. Google’s tracking cookies are incredibly advanced in their ability to tell Google exactly what it needs to know about you, often for quite a long time after leaving your last explicitly branded Google site. It is possible to tailor how much these cookies know about you and your online behavior.
9. Literally Listening to Users
Voice recognition is more popular than ever, and there is one very simple reason for that: voice recognition works better than ever. Google is a big part of why, having invested heavily in its speech processing algorithms. Google continues to add to this body of research on an ongoing basis. You don’t need to use Android Assistant to make use of that research, either, since Google’s Speech API is one of the most widely used by developers.
8. The Yellow Box
Search Appliance is on its way out — but it’s not dead just yet. This is a majorly important business hardware/software combo-tool that has allowed all manner of business databases to function at all. “GSA” sped the online revolution by letting non-technology companies run more speedily internally and for their own customers. It has declined in use, hence the sunsetting, but it will always be a fundamentally important part of the internet’s maturation.
7. Gmail’s Spam Dominance
Gmail’s spam filter is a monster, and its evolution has really driven the overall spam war. This published exchange lays out the general shape of the story, but the takeaway is that even if you don’t use Gmail, Google’s efforts in combatting the spam-lords have affected you mightily.
6. Video Analytics: a Matter of Time
Think of it as Nielsen ratings 2.0, based on more complex variables than a simple search. When analyzing user behavior in Search, there’s a very simple piece of useful feedback in the form of a click, but not all clicks on video represent the same amount of interest and value. YouTube’s switch to prioritizing “Watch Time” over sheer clickability is a huge conceptual shift, and it’s one Google hopes will help make it even harder to break from marathon free-association YouTube sessions.
5. A Bid to Own the Machine Learning Future
Tensorflow is a development platform for machine learning — and since machine learning is quickly becoming the basis for much of the rest of the world, that means TensorFlow has touched some aspect of your online experience. Being open-source, and thusly free, it is widely used by academics, but TensorFlow is also powerful enough for commercial data-crunching. When Google releases its Tensor Processing Units, the importance of TensorFlow will only expand.
4. Answer Boxes (aka: The Bet Settler)
Another big shift for Google in recent years has been its decision to mine certain sites for information and display that information on the main Search page. This would seem to defeat the whole purpose of Google — to drive clicks — but the answer boxes help Google gain nuanced insight into its users. It also lets Google do something Google loves to do: create yet another situation in which the entire internet has to cater to Google’s standards for coding and design.
3. SafeSearch Is More Than a Digital Prude
Google has been a pioneer in image analysis, since well before its much-publicized cat-finding A.I. Not only do its naughtiness-finding algorithms save our children’s innocent minds (a bit), but the resulting Google Vision product is available to anyone using the above-mentioned Google Cloud Platform.
2. reCAPTCHA Knows What it Means to Be Human
CAPTCHA’s saved the internet — but Google made them far, far better. reCAPTCHA is an attempt to make online robot-spotting far less demanding of people’s time by reducing the text-transcription process to a simple click. The only problem is, to achieve that, Google had to make them more demanding of people’s privacy. The newest form of Google CAPTCHA only presents itself at all if it suspects you of being a robot — it’s always watching, but so long as you act like a real person it won’t even issue a click-challenge. Bit creepy, no?
1. Physical Search Spiders
One phenomenally powerful tool developed by Google has the somewhat ominous name of GroundTruth, which is a program designed to extract info from the world directly. Combined with Google’s Street View cars, this is basically a physical incarnation of Google’s Search spiders, going out into the world to learn the information Google can then package and sell. And since Maps has become a de facto resource even for governments in many cases, that means GroundTruth can have wide-ranging effects on your awareness of the urban world.Photos via Getty Images / Stephen Lam, Getty Images / Joe Raedle, Flickr / Plutor, Getty Images / David McNew, Getty Images / Chris Jackson, Flickr / danja., Flickr / orinoko42, Getty Images / Mark Wilson