A research team led by Professor Hermann Maurer, chairperson of Graz University's Institute for Information Systems and Computer Media, argue that Google is turning into a new version of George Orwell's "Big Brother" – creating unacceptable monopolies in many areas of the worldwide web.
According to his research, around 61 billion internet searches are conducted each month. In the United States, on average 57% of searches are conducted with Google, and up to 95% of internet users used Google at least sometimes.
It is dangerous enough that single entity such as Google is dominant as a search engine, Maurer and his co-writers say, but the fact that Google is operating many other services and is probably colluding with still further players was "unacceptable".
"Google is massively invading privacy," the study said with the company knowing more than any other organisation about individuals and companies, but not bound by national data protection laws. Google was amassing data by using data mining tools in its applications like Google Earth or Gmail in connection with being its search engine function.
Thus, the search engine could potentially turn into the world's largest detective agency, the Austrian researchers warned, using the data it was collecting from its users via its applications. Even if Google did not use that potential now, it might have to do so in the future in the interest of its shareholders.
The study further argues that Google is influencing economies in the way advertisements and documents are ranked. "The more a company pays, the more often will the ad be visible." The study believes influence may be increased by also ranking results from queries, and that Google could, for business reasons, in the future rank paying customers higher in search results.
Moreover, Maurer was worried that Google could use its "almost universal" knowledge of what was happening in the world to play global stockmarkets to its advantage.
Google, Wikipedia co-operation?
The danger of a distorted "googling" reality loomed ever closer, the report said. "Google has become the main interface of our reality," the study authors said.
Most material written today was in some way based on Google and Wikipedia – and if those did not reflect reality, a distortion was possible, the researchers said, recalling biased contributions frequently placed on Wikipedia.
Furthermore there is some indication of co-operation between Google and Wikipedia. Sample statistics showed that random selected Wiki entries consistently ranked higher on Google than on other search engines, the Graz team said.
Maurer also criticised journalists who increasingly started researching their stories by googling them, as well as students copying significant amounts of their work from the internet.
"Google's open aim is to know everything there is to know on Earth," the researchers concluded. "It cannot be tolerated that a private company has that much power: it can extort, control, and dominate the world at will."
Stopping the insidious aspects of Google was however not possible by a head-on strategy, as the company was too powerful, the Austrian researchers warn.
Rather, they say, the "Google effect" can be minimised by the introduction of special-purpose search engines that are better in their areas of application than the larger company is.