From the time you get up until you go to bed, you may not have 15 minutes without using a Google product or service. Do the test. Only with unlocking the mobile, you are already in your hands. Google controls your life, literally, even if it costs you to believe it.
Only 20 years ago, Google was reduced to a simple search engine that was becoming popular because it was looking for information and web pages quickly and accurately. Two decades later it tells you what restaurants you have to eat in, choose your music, label your photos associating them with each family member or friend that appears in them, pay for your purchases, suggest the movies you should see, and the apps that may interest you. And that’s just a brief summary … Google controls your life, even if you refuse to believe it.
It produces a bit of sadness that Marvin Lee Minsky , the father of artificial intelligence, is no longer among us just at the moment when his creature begins to take the first steps and the prophecies that he predicted 50 years ago, come true. Mathematician of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Minsky is one of the most eminent geniuses of the twentieth century, although few people know him.
Not only did he lay the foundations of artificial intelligence, he patented the first virtual reality helmets … in 1963! Or the confocal microscope, which has helped medicine so much. He was also the main advisor to the 2001 film : A Space Odyssey , giving life to HAL 9000 (he even almost died on the set, in an accident). And he gave the idea to Michael Crichton for his novel Jurassic Park .
Marvin Minsky invented most of the concepts of artificial intelligence , especially those related to neural networks . And although I was convinced that artificial intelligence would save the world, I was also afraid that this power would get out of hand. ” When computers take over, maybe we can not recover it again, we’ll survive as long as they tolerate us, if we’re lucky, maybe they’ll decide to keep us as their pets, ” he said in an interview with Life magazine in 1970. A whole prophecy, taking into account that at that time there were no domestic computers, nor Internet. Do Google, Facebook, Amazon and artificial intelligence control our lives?
We all assume that Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, spy our activity . What searches we do, what websites we visit, what products we look at, where are we, etc. But that data is collected anonymously, right? As long as they do not associate them with my name or my telephone number … Besides, I’m not an important person and I have nothing to hide, why would they look at me? Total, it’s not too annoying to show me some personalized ads while I’m browsing …
Let’s reflect a little on this line of thought. Google is a company that offers almost all its products for free, because the money is earned by selling the data it collects with those products, to advertisers and companies . The shield ” the data that is collected are anonymous ” has no value, because an advertiser is not interested in your name . You do not need to know who you are. It is enough to know what you consume, your habits, your tastes, and where you are, through the IP address, the GPS of the mobile, or your Google account. Your name, or your phone number, is not important to sell you things.
It is one of the concerns of the Internet (the collection of supposedly anonymous data), but it is no longer the only one.
Before that data was basically text, used to customize ads. In a second phase we went to the compilation of photos, and also of the voice, the fingerprints, the facial recognition … But the truly worrying thing starts now, when artificial intelligence comes into play . We penetrate unknown territory …
Your activity on Google
To quell the criticism of the alleged interference with privacy, Google recently created a special website called My Activity on Google . Here, everything Google knows about you is collected through your Google account. If you have never adjusted the privacy in My Activity , log in and sign in with your Google account (the one you use on your mobile, for example).
Here you will see your Google searches, Google Maps locations, YouTube searches, videos you’ve seen, apps you’ve used, your contact list, your calendars, the voice commands with the Google assistant … Even random audio fragments that the voice assistant records, ” as training .”
It’s a pretty direct way of realizing what Google knows about you . You can delete what you want or mark what you do not want Google to store, but that’s just part of your activity with Google. Other information is collected anonymously , without associating it with the account.
First phase: the search engine, the ads, and the web
As we said, Google started its journey with its famous search engine. In a short time, he ordered Yahoo !, Altavista and others to stop, until he became the universal search engine.
The Google search engine is available in 129 languages. It performs 92.7% of all searches on the Internet, and each day records 3.5 billion searches.
The information that Google captures with this tool is immense. Data on products that interest, songs that they like, famous people that fall well (or bad), the most wanted toys at Christmas, political trends, ideas, diseases that people suffer … All this information, when based on hundreds of millions of individuals, has immense value for advertisers and businesses. Not only when it comes to displaying personalized advertisements on the websites you visit, but at the time of designing the next product of a toy store, or a technology brand. Also, the films that are shot, the music you listen to or the books that are written.
Google influences your life through the leisure and consumer products you receive, many of them based on statistics of use and popularity of the Google search engine.
Google sells the information it collects in many different ways, although the most popular one is through Google Ads (former Google AdWords).
If a company contracts Google Ads, it has access to the immense information collected by Google. Know that your product will be seen by people interested in that type of product (personalized ads) and that it will appear on more websites than anyone, because countless websites show advertising through Google Ads, by charging a percentage if someone buys or visits the website. advertising through them.
Google also influences the success or failure of many companies . Its positioning in the ranking of Google (a ranking that decides an algorithm that only knows Google, and that changes often), decides that certain websites receive more or less publicity, since many advertising campaigns are carried out based on the popular that is a web or a product that appears in the top positions of the Google search engine.
To better manage the way in which it collects and organizes this information, in 2008 it launched its own browser, Chrome , which currently accounts for 61% of the market. 6 out of 10 devices that visit websites use Chome. It is not only a browser. It is a hub from which you can access almost all Google services, with a button: mail, Drive, Google Maps, Google Docs, etc.
That 92% of the Internet use your search engine already allows to collect an infinity of information. But a search engine is used from time to time. What if you could extract information from something you use more often? And that is not a simple search, but an interaction between people. That would provide new types of salable data.
Google launched its email service, Gmail , in 2004. It soon became the preferred mail manager for users. Creating an account was quick and easy, it worked well, and it offered a size of mailbox and attachments greater than the competition.
For years, Google used bots (algorithms, artificial intelligence) to anonymously track emails and extract keywords , such as brands, products, usage habits, to obtain more data, now also from personal and professional information, not only from searches .
To complement the mail manager, launched in 2012 Google Drive , an online store of files to store emails, but also their attachments, as well as our own documents, photos, videos, or whatever we want, in the 15 GB of space free available.
Both Gmail and Google Drive invite you to use Google’s office applications, the alternative to Microsoft Office: Google Docs and company. A word processor, a spreadsheet, presentations … You can contact your colleagues by Gmail, save your documents in Drive, and work in the cloud, and in groups, with Google Docs and derivatives. Google Calendar , the Google calendar, is perfect for coordinating and organizing teamwork.
With all these tools, Google collects data while you are at home or at work. How to link this content? Google Maps and Google Street allow you to create routes between two places, anywhere in the world. And, by the way, they recommend restaurants, stores, products on offer, interesting places to visit … Without noticing, Google influences where you go when you leave the house . It directs you by a certain route, you go to dinner at a restaurant that has an offer coupon, you go to the cinema to see the movie that Google has positive opinions, you stop at a certain town famous for its wines, because on the route of Google Maps It’s interesting to visit …
That influence is not bad in itself, if the recommendations are good. The problem is that influence occurs in all facets of our life, from when we get up until we go to bed.
Second phase: multimedia
Suddenly, almost without realizing it, the Google cloud keeps our searches, our activity on the webs, our emails, files, photos, videos, documents, location, places we go, shopping centers where we buy, cinemas that We visit, the days that we leave home, the weekends we make a break, when we travel abroad … Our life, in short.
Until recently, most came from text content. But there are important aspects of information that are not text. For example, the videos that we see, or the activity that our voice generates.
With YouTube , the most popular video service in the world, Google knows everything we see. It is the second most visited place on the Internet … after the Google search engine. Every minute 500 hours of video are uploaded, and every day a billion hours are watched.
Thanks to the recommended videos based on your accumulated data, or through an algorithm through searches, Google can make a movie, video game or song a success or a failure . Surely when you have finished watching a video, you click on a linked video that comes out at the end, or a recommended video on the side. And when you do a search, you keep the top 10 or 20 results, which YouTube has carefully selected . Without your thinking, Google controls your life making you watch the videos that she selects, and with it the movies, games or music that she is interested in.
Third phase: the mobile
Google has a large presence in computers, but its leadership in the collection of information was consolidated with the birth of the smartphone.
In a masterful move that has become its most profitable decision, Google developed the Android operating system to stand up to Steve Jobs’ iPhone . As he did in computers, his muscle , represented by leading services such as the Google search engine, Gmail, Chrome, Drive, etc., that little by little were ported to the mobile, soon became the preferred operating system, taking the way to companies that refused to use Android: Nokia, Blackberry, and Motorola.
Android is present in more than one billion devices : mobile phones, tablets, Smart TV, etc. To use it you have to use a Google account, and in addition to the company’s services there are new ones, such as Google Play . The store of apps, movies, books, and other content adds more than 4 million apps, which each year are downloaded about 90,000 million times.
Similar to YouTube, when so much information is handled by so many people, the recommendations of Google algorithms create trends in the movies that are seen, the ebooks that are purchased, or the apps and games that are downloaded. The most sold, most downloaded, most voted lists is the main way to find apps for many users.
Fourth phase: Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence
Until a few years ago, the collection of data from Google, Facebook, Amazon and other companies was a passive, silly collection , in the face of the new scenario in which artificial intelligence has submerged us .
Before a device collected data, but for a machine were just that, letters and numbers that a program had to order, or a data analyst, sociologist or statistician, should interpret. For a computer, a photo was just a list of ones and zeros, and there was no possibility of knowing what was in it … Until artificial intelligence arrived .
With machine learning and deep learning techniques , AI is trained by viewing millions of photos. Through trial and error he learns to identify that what is in the picture is a dog, a palm tree, a person, or a coat.
Maybe in the last few weeks, while you were trying to download a file on certain websites, you found a test that asks you to identify which grids there is a car, a traffic light, a shop window …
Maybe you thought it was a test to know if you are human. The reality is that you are helping to train an artificial intelligence , indicating where each element is inside a photo. Basically, working free for the owner of that AI.
Thanks to the training, now a program is able to see what is in a photo . They are no longer ones and zeros. They are people, landscapes, objects, monuments, places … Suddenly, a photo stops being a jumble of pixels and becomes a new source of information. The AI can see the photos you have in Google Photos and identify your family or friends, to tag them or create personalized albums. Identify what places you have gone and with whom, if you have a pet, if you ride a bike, the car you have … Extrapolating that data to billions of photos circulating on the Internet, the commercial and advertising value of this new information , It is immense.
Something similar has happened with the voice. Voice aids or text-to-speech converters are as old as computers. But no software was able to understand natural language, or speak naturally.
After years of training, both with Google own recordings and those captured by users, the Google Assistant is able to understand any voice order in dozens of languages, and speaks fluently, thanks to artificial intelligence.
Google has devoted so much effort and money to the Google Assistant (like Amazon to Alexa, or Apple to Siri), for a very simple reason. The mobile is a very useful tool, but it has a great limitation: to communicate we have to type with our fingers on a tiny screen. It is slow, heavy and boring.
We accept it with our relatives and acquaintances, but the technology companies know that we would get tired immediately if we had to communicate with a thermostat or a coffee machine, typing.
The virtual assistants are the key to communicate with the devices of the Internet of Things.
Suddenly, thanks to the Google Assistant, we can give voice orders to the mobile, the smart speaker, the air conditioning, the oven, etc., without having to use the keyboard.
Now it is the house that becomes a new source of information gathering. At what time we turn on and turn off the lights, what appliances we use, what temperature is nice and what is not, what time do we wash our clothes, when we go out and enter the house …
The intelligent speakers , in a way, are an improved version of the search engine Google, but also recommend us songs, seeking playlist, advise us that we catch umbrella because it will rain, we read the news (someone selected by us), it adjusts the agenda of the day, reminding us that today we can not go to the cinema because the app to optimize our time indicates that we must dedicate one hour to study, and another to exercise.
The next step, in the next few years, will be the autonomous car .
Everything makes sense
We have seen how Google has evolved over the years. But what are the causes of its success, beyond creating its own applications and services?
If I do not have it, I buy it
As all the big technology companies have done with billions in the bank, such as Apple, Microsoft, Amazon or Facebook, when Google has needed a very fast technology, instead of developing it, it has bought a company that already has it.
Key services such as YouTube, Android itself , or devices of the Internet of Things, such as Nest thermostats and alarms , were not developed by Google, but were purchased from other companies.
Google can afford to have, immediately, any new technology that interests you .
I am the best, and free
Another key to Google’s success is its ability to develop services and apps that, objectively, are the best in their field. This slows down users when they try to disengage from them. You can find alternative email accounts or browsers to Google, but it is impossible to find an alternative to YouTube, Google Play or Android, without having to change your device.
The Google account, the glue that makes the pieces fit
The dozens of Google services and tools fit together (and tie us even more), through the Google account . With a single account we can access all of them, which is very convenient, but it is also used to link together all that information from different sources.
We also use it to identify us in countless stores, websites and third-party services, with which Google accesses new data outside its ecosystem.
You can stop using the Google account (not always, not on the mobile, for example), but it will be like cutting your leg. Your emails, your contacts, messages, videos, will stop synchronizing between devices. Things will stop working, and you will realize that you can not live without your Google account.
Big Data is the key
We see how, over the years, and the popularity of their products, Google accumulates information. But the information, in itself, are only letters and numbers. It needs someone to interpret it. Maybe the consumption habits of a group of people have no value. But if we talk about billions of data from more than a billion people, everything changes. And this is where Big Data comes into play.
In simple words, Big Data is the analysis of massive data . It is what makes the difference between giving a forecast, and hitting.
Maybe you wonder why television polls during the elections never succeed. It’s simple: because they are based on interviews with only a few hundred or thousands of people, and with that you try to guess what millions of people vote. But, what if a poll asked 90% of the voters? Then the winner of the elections would be almost certain. This is how Big Data works.
We’ve seen how Google (and Facebook, and Amazon) collects information from more than a billion people, in all facets of their lives, from getting up to going to bed. These users represent a very high percentage of the population of countries such as the United States, Europe, Japan … Thanks to Big Data, these massive data are organized in the way that they want to organize : what mobile phones are bought, what movies are seen, what music is heard, what clothes are bought, or what books are seen. With this information, which Google sells to companies for an immense amount of money, it is possible to know what kind of movies, what phones, or what type of television people will buy, because they are data that belong to a very high percentage of the population .Google controls our lives by deciding the technological, consumer or leisure products that should be created, based on your data.
It is chilling, but almost trivial if we start analyzing another type of data. What are the areas where there are more people who have depression or who consult more about problems with alcohol? Where do they live, how old are they and what do they have a certain political opinion?
Quzá we are becoming too paranoid, but the scandals of Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, the Russian meddling in the elections in the United States and Europe, or the scourge of the Fake News , are real, not a paranoia.
And all this, without the need to collect names. The famous anonymity of the Internet in which the companies have shielded themselves to extract data from our private life, until we manage to control it.
Marvin Minsky predicted in 1970 that ” when computers take over, maybe we can not recover it again”. A prophecy that, possibly, has become reality.
Do we have another alternative?