Interview for AdBuster magazine (Canada) about Google and "GWEI
AdBuster: In particular, they blame Google for the commercialization of knowledge that began in earnest with Google's introduction of ads on its search results in 2000 and reached its peak with the recent purchase of DoubleClick which gives Google control over ad-space on the majority of Internet websites. Leaving aside privacy arguments or Google's monopoly, these critics point to the existential and philosophical consequences of Google's success because it results in the commodification and flattening of culture. One well-known futurist and tech thinkers recently told us that "making advertising into the central business model for human communications and collaboration really creeps me out."
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AdBuster: Do you think these arguments have validity?
Paolo Cirio: Advertising has become a parasite on human communication, always putting itself in the middle of human interactions, activities and recently, even social relations.
It's terrible to see idiotic banners in private communications, when you are just researching a topic, reading a book, or watching a movie. A law in France of 1979 codifed the notion of "visual pollution", which it suggests may be caused by the position, dimensions, density and flickering of bill board advertising in public spaces. What about internet web space? Is the widespread introduction of banners into our contemporary means of expression not a form of pollution? Nobody can avoid the advertising served by Google, not only from its search engine, but also through DoubleClick networks, Google-owned platforms like YouTube and cannot escape in the blog-sphere, which is rife with the Adsense service. There is just no way to escape its empire.
Google is reproducing the same old Corporatism model of analogue media monopoly, where one has ownership of several networks, channels and media. Most of Chomsky's analyses in his book "Manufactering Consent", about the controlling of broadcasted content and the forces that regulate political power, social controls, advertising markets and slavish publishers are still valid in the internet era. Google plays one of the biggest role in creating these conditions.
In an even worse scenario, Google will digitalise all human cultural heritage. Should we expect that all of it will be sponsored? It already happens in Google Book Service, where you can read a book with advertising included in the pages - this is horrible.
People must have the right and the freedom to choose to see or not see advertising on the main media used for communication and the expansion of knowledge. Isn't it about liberty?
AdBuster: Are you concerned about the consequences of Google's interjection of advertising into the world's knowledge?
PC: Advertising just sterilises and deviates all meaning and sense of human knowledge.
I appreciate the low income that Google provides to citizen-journalists whose blogs improve the info-scape, however the real point is that Google should be an independent public organization which pays back the production and the sharing of knowledge. We must have a system that redistributes rewards from these cultural activities, which give social benefits to the entire human race.
AdBuster: What do you think of the idea that targeting Google is a productive strategy for activists in the 21st century?
PC: A great idea, absolutely. Google is the contemporary evil mass media, as TV and Newspapers were for decades. Just look at the unfair indexing of alternative, independent and counter-information. Providing citizens with the means to inform themselves should be a primary goal of a well-functioning society. Google is filtering content, selling visibility and commodifying knowledge. Media must have an educational role, more so than simply churning out entertainment and facilitating social control.
I don't believe that the internet provided by Google is a democratic entity, because most of the time content is managed in terms of economic exploitation, social obedience or vacuous gossip. As an example: it doesn't really matter if China removes access to some of the websites of the capitalistic world through Google censorship – more important is that her citizens can know about the consequences of a consumer society, information that is obscured even in democratic countries. The real point is not really the censorship anymore, but the context and how information is displayed. So to fight Google nowadays is about freedom of press, autonomy of expression and the educational role of mass media, and of course about the invasive advertising which always debilitates our mental health.
AdBuster: Please entertain for a moment the notion that Google ought to be the next target for hacktivists. Can you imagine a way that undermining or crashing Google could ever be accomplished by Internet citizens? How would you do it? Does Google have an Achilles heel, or are they invulnerable?
PC: Google is much more than Hercules, and any actions against it will just be symbolic. The goal of such attempts could only really be to raise awareness of the extent of its monopoly. At this time I think we should be constructing alternatives. The Achilles heel could only be the introduction of a smart and open algorithm for indexing and for searching for information over the internet. Google will probably remain the leader in advertising and other services, but if a better search engine arrives, the natural evolution of internet platforms will erode its power. Moreover to fight to transform Google into a public service is a worthy and potentially beneficial project.