This week music track lyrics-centric company Genius showed the press how their data was published to Google without their consent over the past several years. To prove that their site was being scraped for data, Genius used specific formatting in lyric lines – commas, and the like, that wouldn’t normally be in a set of lyrics – and there they were, published in Google Search, in “infoboxes” they say were sourced from 3rd-party partners.
Earlier today we discussed this lifting of lyrics with details on the Genius-specific situation at length. Our modern world is a dangerous place when it comes to the non-stop news cycle, short attention spans, and the breaking of rules. How, for example, can a platform that sources information from an always-changing internet, enforce rules on sourced content?
They could put humans to work on seeking out offenders to their rules for content listing, right? They could use software algorithms to seek out and flag offending content – companies use auto-seek algorithms on platforms like YouTube and Instagram already.
Google Search and Assistant
Google has a system with which they’re attempting to provide information to users as fast and efficiently as possible, wherever possible. One way they’re doing this is with Google Assistant, a voice assistant that can source information from Google’s trusted partner companies to answer questions and provide up-to-date news, facts, and data in general.
Google uses information from these same partners to augment their Google Search system. Google has implemented special sorts of search results for several different types of search query. If you ask for the lyrics of a song, and Google’s partner “LyricFind” has said lyrics, they’ll be displayed before any related search results.
In summoning these bits of information quickly, above other search terms, Google provides a curated experience for users. Google search also has an always-changing system with which it augments search results (and advertisements everywhere, while we’re at it), based on users’ tracked actions and previous searches.
In addition to nudging the user toward one source for quick answers to basic questions, Google allows users’ everyday search and click activities to shape their unique experience.
Is there a problem here?
Google does not have an immediate problem. Google acts within the law in providing the search results it desires to show in its internet search engine. The issue is not limited to Google, Facebook, Amazon, etcetera. It’s a matter of low-effort, high-speed lifestyles lived by everyday citizens and the extreme ways in which our society is changing with little regard for the future.
Each time a search engine pushes a user toward a specific answer and/or source based on their previous activity in said search engine, they lower the chance of survival and growth of new, independent, or otherwise non-massive companies and individual voices.
Every time a company – any company – is used by the vast majority of our society on a daily basis for vital everyday activities, that company has a power only otherwise given to governing bodies. When we allow companies to hold influence over our society, we play with fire, because we live in a mostly capitalistic society.
When we put our trust in a company, we put our trust in an entity whose own best interests are to grow and to eliminate competition. History shows that as companies grow in size and success, they grow more difficult to govern and hold accountable.
What about brain drain?
Usually Brain Drain is a term that’s applied to intelligent, skilled individuals leaving a country to a country they see as more pleasing (or more safe) to live. With a company like Amazon, that means a group that might bring their product to a local store to sell will instead sell exclusively with the online retailer. This situation drains the resources from the community in which the creator group or individual lives, and makes Amazon grow.
What’s going to happen?
It is in our nature to seek out the biggest tribe. This is why ad-serving, person-tracking Facebook absolutely dominates all other social networks in overall users. As major companies are given free reign in growth and are not held accountable for anything but their most simple-to-enforce consequences for law-breaking actions.
When companies become massive enough that no government body can penalize actions that degrade the societies in which they operate, we head toward disaster. When we live in a society with a 24-hour news cycle, non-stop entertainment, and the shortest national attention span in the history of the world, it’s difficult to see how this impending doom might be avoided.