I recently read Farhad Manjoo’s drooling review of Google Chrome, naming it “the best browser on the planet”. Maybe it is. But it’s also the most dangerous.
The reason is one particular “feature” that Google Chrome has that other browsers wouldn’t dare. In Firefox, there is a big box on the left where you enter the URL you want to go to, and a smaller box on the right that does a search. Chrome merges the two boxes into one. As Manjoo puts it:
Type in an address or a search term and Chrome will figure out what you want. Indeed, Chrome does something even better—it gives you search results right in the bar. Type in “jd salinger” and the first result in the drop-down list is the Wikipedia entry on Salinger. Want to visit your favorite political blogger? Type in “nate silver” and you immediately get a link to Silver’s site, Fivethirtyeight.com. This is a terrific way to navigate the Web—you never have to remember URLs, or even the names of sites, and you don’t even have to make a stop at Google to find what you’re looking for.
Sounds great, and fairly innocuous. Except, as more people rely on Google to navigate the web, Google gains more control over where people end up. At some point, entering a URL directly will become quaint – why bother typing “http://www.facebook.com” when you can just type “Facebook” into Google? That’s already a trend that I’m seeing more and more of. Chrome takes this a step further, by making the address bar of the browser identical to the Search box on Google’s home page. In this manner, Google is setting itself up as a proxy for the rest of the internet.
Note that this argument leaves aside the question of how wise it is to tell Google every site you visit, since, using Chrome, every request now goes through Google first. That is, I’m not even getting into the vast privacy problems here.
My main concern is that, given a certain critical mass of Chrome usage, Google can simply “disappear” a website it doesn’t like, and Chrome users would have no way to get to it. Even if you entered the site’s URL directly into the box, it would still be going through Google. Your access to information will be completely dependent on what Google wants you to see.
I’m not worried about anything for the next few years. Chrome doesn’t have the market share to allow Google to exercise this kind of power. The backlash would be too great if they tried that now. But make no mistake, Google’s aim is to take complete control over the internet.
What makes this even more disturbing is Google’s parallel goal of putting everything on the internet. Just a run-through of Google’s “free” services belies their agenda. Assuming Google took complete control of market share with all their services, they would have access to/control over:
- Your documents
- Your calendar
- Your email
- Your phone service
- Your website’s traffic
- Your entertainment
- Your access to news
- Your access to maps
- Your health records
Again, it’s not clear what Google is doing with all this information. Right now, they’re just biding their time, building market share, and collecting. And this is not about advertising. Advertising is small potatoes compared to the real power Google is slowly amassing – control over everyone’s information, information that we are voluntarily submitting to it.
I don’t care how good or fast or free Chrome is. Google is already too big and too dangerous for us to allow Chrome to be our primary gateway to the internet.