Googless is a multidisciplinary project focusing on the issue of big tech monopolies and specifically on Google as one of the most prominent examples. By revealing the omnipresence of tracking tools, Googless hopes to influence how we approach our digital rights and inspire those in charge of protecting them to take a stand against data hoarding and unfair market practices.
Plug to un-plug with Googless - Understanding the scale of the problem inspired the team to create a disruptive tool that seeks to ignite action amongst its users and policymakers. Our plugin, Googless, works in two ways; First, it identifies and exposes the Google services on any website that you decide to browse. Second, it blocks the site, informing you of all the ways these services are able to collect your data. Googless might seem impossible to use for those who already know how many sites are fully or partially operating using Google services. After all, you cannot possibly enjoy surfing online if 70% of your website visits are restricted. Obstructing your access to so many sites that excessively share your data with Google, illustrates the extent of the problem. Googless will make it impossible to ignore dangers to your privacy and the ever-growing influence of Google on the online market. Through the power of inconvenience, this plugin brings to light the trade-off you make every time you browse websites with seemingly harmless Google services.
The news that yet another tech company is abusing its power in order to surpass privacy laws and grab more market share is no longer exciting. Here we should ask the question, "why is the information that another tech company is breaking the rules not sparking the outrage it deserves?" After all, in recent years, Google paid over 9,4 billion euros in fines for their data misconduct and unfair practices against the competition. Yet, the company remains unscathed by these monetary sanctions and what is more, they continue to operate within grey zones of law.
Soft power, hard conditions - Through obscuring their practices, Google stays ahead of the potential competition and laws that might limit their practices. The company has been accused of dictating unfair conditions to app developers, software companies, and advertisers. Google forcing smartphone manufacturers to include Google services as a standard feature is one such example. It is important to note that without Google's backing, a lot of smaller online businesses might fall through. Having no real competition has created an unfair advantage which allows companies like Google to dictate who gets to survive on the internet. Imposing that pressure on developers was deemed as anticompetitive by European Union, to which more fines have followed.
Google's data hoarding practices - Furthermore, the omnipresence of Google grants them the power and advantage against laws such as GDPR. Establishing these much needed laws indeed drew a clear line between fair use of data and data hoarding practices. Google has been consistently reinventing the way they operate with users' data-creating the image of a privacy advocate. In its recent effort to emphasize its stance on privacy, the company plans to remove third-party cookies. Such a move is motivated by a claim that they now protect the users' data from being excessively monetized by third parties. Coveniently, it is simultaneously letting them justify keeping all the data to themselves. This duality has been noticed, and the issue is now debated with potential fines on the table.
However, the long trail of fines for breaking the rules shows that money is not an effective enforcement tool. For Google, all the financial penalties imposed by the EU in recent years make up about 5% of its annual revenue. Though the fines continue to grow, we must ask ourselves how we can ensure these laws stay genuinely impactful?
Luckily there are already intiatives that echo the message of Googless. Legislators and technologists propose alternative ways of thinking about monopolies without resorting to uninfluential fines. We look to the future for reassurance amongst researchers, designers and activists alike as we continue to expose shady practices of tech giants.