Google und Co.

Search engine conference: About surveillance, the power grid and digital education

From NSA cooperation to its debatable terms of use – when it comes to privacy issues and data protection, Google continues to be a major protagonist. Big search engines are often called “invaders” of our private sphere – and more often than not, this is true. For ITA-expert Astrid Mager, however, the providers are not the only problem: national legislation, web hosts, software designers and ultimately the users themselves play an equally important role.

Society of the Query

From November 7 to 8, Mager participated in the conference “Society of the Query” in Amsterdam. In her talk „Is small really beautiful? Big search and its alternatives” she analysed the relationship between search engines and their users: “We are quick to blame providers such as Google for their capitalist policies. At the same time, we strengthen their business model with our own user practices.” Without users accessing it, Google’s leading position would crumble and there would be no one to target with individual advertisement.

What are the alternatives?

According to Mager, alternatives are scarce: small, seemingly independent search engines such as DuckDuckGo or Ecosia are not what they seem: “DuckDuckGo’s own index is very small, so its results come to a big part from big players such as Yahoo or Bing. Ecosia for example posts ads paid for by the big search engines. With practices like this, small providers continue to support and profit from their bigger counter parts”, says Mager.

Amsterdam Hotspot for search engine experts

Siva Vaidhyanathan, author of the book „The Googlization of Everything“, made current surveillance practices and the close relationship between political and corporate surveillance of digital data in the US the subject of his keynote. Payal Arora, assistant professor of media and communications at the Erasums University in Rotterdam, talked about student education via Google images: Indian students in a rural area were asked to research “Western Art”, but the results were less than reliable: “Google images showed pictures of western cowboys, but also a painting by a Chinese artist. Also, a painting of Mona Lisa is shown, a similar painting by Picasso is not.” Arora concludes: “Digital learning can be creative, but it is not always correct.”


Searchengine-Project: Glocal Search
"Society of the Query" Conference videos

By: Denise Riedlinger

Astrid Mager during her talk at the "Society of the Query" conference in Amsterdam (Photo: Martin Risseeuw)