THE DARK SIDE OF THE GOOGLE
di Maria Molinari
Luci e Ombre di Google. Futuro e Passato dell'industria dei Metadati is the last masterpiece of the Ippolita community. Presented in April 2006 during the last Hackmeeting in Parma , it is now published by Feltrinelli (2007). It is under Creative Commons License and it can be freely diffused and reproduce, even from Ippolita.Net .
If Open non è free, published by Eleuthera , Ippolita advise us about the ambiguity of the idea, so fashionable, of “Open Society”, in this last work its attention goes to Google , the research engine the most used in the entire world, and in this case as well urge us to pay attention. The Mountain View colossus is not what it seems, pilots our choices and put to risk our freedom and privacy.
Loved and sustained by all the users, its own workers, technicians, nerds and hackers, Google is seen as the good giant and defendant of the free circulation of the knowledge. Behind its “innocent interfaces” and its “minimal style” that makes every user comfortable, behind its infinite free services able to satisfy every desire of research and communication, behind its commitment for innovation and research and the use of typical Open Source and free software methodologies, behind all this there's an extremely complex and pervasive system to manage the knowledge of the Net and a fine strategy of cultural and technocratic domain.
“How could millions of users – asks Ippolita – leaf at the same time through the entire database of Google, if it wasn't for suitable filters to restrict the research area, for example limiting the data at the origin language? And if it wasn't for filters that allows a better linguistic navigation, wouldn't it be permissible to suppose that there are many others, studied so that the users can direct their choices as well?”
Supposing that Google is not a transparent and democratic instrument is just a starting point. The arriving point for Ippolita is to demonstrate that it can't and it couldn't effectively be for technical and economical reasons. This point does not coincide with the real aim of the book. The goal of Ippolita is not to unmask or boycott Google. Luci e Ombre di Google actually has different purposes. And it brings lots of messages and addressees.
At the first and quick lecture, the book appears as a detailed and documented Google history, an history that tracks down and draws the salient moments of its economical ascent, that tells how did its activity expanded in every digital communication sector, modelling the entire cultural universe of the web. Ippolita goes back, with tons of details, the most emblematic moments of this ascent. From its value to the Stock Exchange to the hostilities with Microsoft to control the Internet, from its judicial problems to the point when, because of the request of China , it censured some sites so that they became inaccessible for Chinese, a fact that clearly demonstrate how privacy and freedom can be easily violated.
Luci e Ombre di Google, is also a book about how Google works, about how it obtains and elaborates information that we daily leave on-line, and most generally, about how search engines and the metadata industry works, that is all the business that produces data through data, that are producers and consumers of information. It is in some way a particular form of hack . Ippolita pierces the image accurately built of Google and penetrates inside its complex system. It analyzes the page rank, the algorithm of indexation of the Net that allows the research engine to give a value to the pages and it sounds out its numerous free services from Gmail, its e-mail service. It reveals what's behind its choices and philosophy, which are the methods and real objectives and the secret of its great economic fortune.
Google democracy, Ippolita clarify, is filtered by technology and it is only formally in users hands. In fact the research engine does not index all the web pages. The pages are ordered following the votes received and, most of all, the importance of those votes. The first Google research pages are not what we're searching, rather what the user-type research. Moreover, Google “exploits and traces completely and in a continuative manner the behaviours of the users that searches its services, to profile their habits and inserts in their activities (navigation, mail, file managing, etc…) personalized, contextual, light, omnipresent publicities”.
For everyone that cares about its privacy and the conscious building of its own digital alter-ego, Google can nothing but represent a danger because of its way to find and exploit information. “It is the emersion of a mix of powers that already hardly influence the life of too many people. Google hold reserved information that it analyze without brakes to promote a more and more careful personalization of the publicity cancer. And as the union of powers generally favourites the control anxiety, it is right to investigate this phenomena”.
Ippolita reveals many aspects of Google, but not all of them, underlines. There are some obscures and secrets. Some of them would be evident to everybody, if we'd be educated and if we'd dispose of the knowledge and necessary instruments. These are missing. And this is maybe the most important aim of “Luci e Ombre di Google”: “underlining the problem, or better the social urgency, of alphabetization and critical orientation of the public on the theme of the knowledge management … signalling the emptiness, the Italian emptiness, in the scientific divulgation of technological phenomenon”.
The message is always the same. “Knowledge is power”. This is what hacker thinks, this is what Ippolita guys thinks. But what turns those guys into hacker is mostly the “methodology” with whom they observe, learn and analyze the realities towards they look at. “The most interesting thing we learned from hacking”, told us time ago Ippolita, “is the methodology from which you learn. This one makes every new knowledge a source, as it doesn't have its territory no more … the real power of the hacker is not what they produce, rather in the way they learn. Hacking is first of all a process of auto-formation”.
This “auto-formation” is indicated as “a real alternative to the formation managed following models of subordination” . The curiosity of the hacker ethic, the knowledge sharing, the critical attitude towards the “truths”, the accurate valuation of the sources, the free knowledge circulation, the auto-managing of the digital instruments are the only ways to avoid the technocratic domain of Google.
At this point the addressees of “ Luci e Ombre di Google ” are clear. First of all the mass, that must become more conscious and critical. It must be able to value the information because of its point of view, distinguishing the true from the false, setting – when talking about the own sensitive data – which ones can be public and which ones to maintain private.
Technicians, sociologists, politicians. Let's come out from your “ ivory tower of academic knowledge. Let's talk about macro economy without being economists, about info mediation without being experts of communication, about auto formation without being teacher, about auto management of digital instruments without being politicians ”.
Eventually, and once again, the hackers themselves. If “Open is not Free” was interested to those not interested to real life, to those neutral, not lined up, not politically active – “ It is the moment where hackers start to dirty their hands with real life, learning to talk and talking to people that do not have a similar technical competence ” . “Luci e Ombre di Google” also addresses to those attracted by autonomy, easy money and free instruments that enormously contributed into constructing the success and exaggerated image of Google. Hackers, Ippolita says, must apply to multiply spaces and occasion of autonomy “without falling into trouble-free enthusiasms, without succumb to the control paranoia. Just for fun”.