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What if Google Were Evil? Doctorow Asks in Fiction

By - September 17, 2007

Google Cam

BB pal Cory Doctorow has published a short story on the theme of Google as evildoer. The opening scene imagines Google services used by the Department of Homeland Security.

The interrogator in the secondary screening room was an older man, so skinny he looked like he’d been carved out of wood. His questions went a lot deeper than shrooms.

“Tell me about your hobbies. Are you into model rocketry?”


“Model rocketry.”

“No,” Greg said, “No, I’m not.” He sensed where this was going.

The man made a note, did some clicking. “You see, I ask because I see a heavy spike in ads for rocketry supplies showing up alongside your search results and Google mail.”

Greg felt a spasm in his guts. “You’re looking at my searches and e-mail?” He hadn’t touched a keyboard in a month, but he knew what he put into that search bar was likely more revealing than what he told his shrink.

“Sir, calm down, please. No, I’m not looking at your searches,” the man said in a mocking whine. “That would be unconstitutional. We see only the ads that show up when you read your mail and do your searching. I have a brochure explaining it. I’ll give it to you when we’re through here.”

“But the ads don’t mean anything,” Greg sputtered. “I get ads for Ann Coulter ring tones whenever I get e-mail from my friend in Coulter, Iowa!”

The man nodded. “I understand, sir. And that’s just why I’m here talking to you. Why do you suppose model rocket ads show up so frequently?”

It gets far richer from there…

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One thought on “What if Google Were Evil? Doctorow Asks in Fiction

  1. JG says:

    “I suppose,” demured Greg, “that since I frequently patronize the local burger joint, Johnny Rockets, and also enjoy reading Vogue to ogle those fashion models, the personalization system must have conflated those two keywords and mistakenly show me model rockets ads.”

    Greg continued, slowly but firmly. “I cannot help it if Google has lost its focus on relevance-based ads, starting back in 2007 when they began showing banner ads on YouTube.”

    The interrogator scratched his head, looking mildly confused.

    “Think about it, officer,” Greg insisted. “If Google were not so busy going after ‘all of advertising’ as Eric Schmidt said in the middle of 2007, instead of sticking to just relevance-based advertising, then maybe I would not have had to see all of those irrelevant model rockets ads. As it is, with Google’s continued dependence on advertising as 98% of its income, combined with the loss of relevance-focus, it could just be that some model rockets advertiser is paying Google extra money for Google to serve up as many model rockets ads to as many people as possible. I must have been randomly chosen as one of the recipients of this non-relevance-targeted campaign. The reason I am seeing these ads have nothing to do with me.”

    “Hmm, I see your point. Sir, you are free to go.” The interrogator paused, as if searching his memories for something. “By the way,”, said the interrogator, “you might want to download Adblock Plus. That might help you get rid of all those non-relevant ads, and avoid accidental run-ins with us in the future.”