Thursday, August 18, 2005

GoogleNet, Echoes of Orwell

Is Google building Googlenet, a free national Wi-Fi network, in an effort to leapfrog the telcos and cable companies? If so, what would it mean?

Could Be
There are rumors about them building such a network. They recently said they want to raise about $4 billion, and the domain name returns a server error instead of a “server not found”, meaning it is a placeholder.

This is consistent with prior moves by Google. They want to be your start page. They did a deal with T-Mobile to be the start page on mobile phones, and they pay to be the start page and default search engine on the Firefox browser. They are taking a page right out of Microsoft’s playbook: own the user interface.

Besides, Google is only an innovation or two away from being surpassed in search by someone else. Their best barrier to entry is to become the entry point, or access point, to the network.

What Could It All Mean?
Well, like anything, this development could have some very nice advantages and some very scary disadvantages.

The Good:
• Free broadband for all (helps education, the poor, commerce, etc.)
• Mobile broadband…anywhere (enables killer mobile applications like VOIP)
• They can triangulate your location enabling them to instantly provide more relevant location-based information

The Bad:
• Google locks itself in as the start page stifling innovation by others (echoes of Microsoft)
• Google could leverage this into domination of developing areas (e.g. VOIP, TV over IP, etc.) where innovation is stifled again

The Ugly:
By owning the access points, through which all data flows, Google would be in a position to analyze huge amounts of data about you. They could learn where you go physically and what sites you visit on the Internet, what you do, what you buy, from whom, when, how you pay, everything. Some people are concerned about the massive databases assembled by credit card companies or the carnivore project, well this would make them look like child’s play!

You might say, oh, they wouldn’t do that. Well, if you use Gmail, they are already analyzing your email. They are already analyzing what you search for. So what’s to stop them from analyzing your every move on the Internet? It sounds pretty Orwellian, but hey they would need to recoup their multi-billion dollar investment in building this huge network. By collecting and using, or selling, information about your every move on the Internet they could make a fortune. I guess your perspective on this all depends on whether you believe Google’s credo “don’t be evil”.

p.s. If Google announces a free Googlenet, short the telcos and cable companies they would be roadkill, especially the telcos.

tags: google, googlenet, carnivore, wifi