My current blog is epistem.ink. This one is here just for archival purposes.
Google ain't worth a dime
Everyone seems to be up in arms about data collection, and privacy infringements by big tech, and preference manipulation via ads. Fair enough, I agree, I'd prefer a world where none of this would happen. A world where Google could collect my data with the sole purpose of helping me lead a more fulfilling life via better search results.
But surely one must see that a problem still exists, namely that of how google is supposed to keep its servers running, its engineers paid, and its shareholders happy. Waxing philosophical about capitalism aside, the system we live in is not one we can much change on a whim, and for now, Google operates in that system, so could it act more ethically without any fundamental changes to society or its equally calcified incentive structure?
Well, I think there might be a way to turn Google from an unethical ally of big corporations in the business of doing mind-manipulation, to a purely charitable enterprise with our best interests in mind. Have Google users pay google, thus becoming the customers instead of the product being sold to Google's true customers.
How much would you have to pay Google? How much money is your data generating? Surely it's a breathtaking amount, after all, we are talking about the equivalent wealth generated by dozens of thousands of ads bombarding us every year, changing our very self.
Well, google's revenue is 160 billion dollars a year in 2019, some of that is google cloud, some of that is it's enterprise services, and some of that is the 1001 other enterprises under the Alphabet umbrella. But most of that revenue comes from ads on their own platforms (search, maps, youtube... etc), which is the problematic source of income here:
Google Ads is Alphabet Inc's main source of revenue, contributing US$134.8 billion in 2019
So, roughly speaking, we'd need to pay google 134.8 billion a year for them to shelve advertising forever. That's a lot, I mean, what if every single person that uses Google search, or maps, or youtube (say, around 4.6 billion people) had to have monthly subscriptions which added up to that amount? Well, I'd be about 2.3$ a month.
Wait... that's all? 2.3$ a month could mean no more ads on google, nor on google maps, or youtube. Could mean that Google could afford to operate at the same revenue and sell 0 of its user data? That all data collection it does would be optional and its sole purpose would be to deliver us better search results!?
And as far as I can see, that's the straightforward answer, but it's wrong. If the advertising was gone, Google could free up servers and fire (or stop hiring) a bunch of engineers, thus cutting down its operating costs. Google's operating cost is around 130 billion a year, let's say that google ads are at least 20% of that, it's a very low assumption since they account for 80% of all revenue.
Thus we save 26 billion in operating costs and are left with only 108 billion required to cover the rest. So we'd be left with only 1.95$ a month to pay for that Google subscription.
I hear you clamor "That's still a lot for someone living in Nepal or the Gambia, and they should have access to Google much like we do. Wouldn't this cause a lot of inequality in access to information? And wouldn't it break the cost-benefit calculation for Google?
So fine, say Google decided to be charitable and only charge the wealthiest 20% of people on Earth (almost all of which are internet users) and offers Google for free to the disadvantaged in your Bangladeshs or Somalias or Michigans.
Assuming those 20% richest people on Earth are almost all internet users, we're now at 5$/person a month. Make that 10% richest and we're at 10$.
So why isn't Google doing this? For that matter why isn't Facebook? I'd be a much more ethical model, and for many people, Facebook + Google (including maps and youtube) use constitutes over half of their internet use.
Even if you chose to believe the C-suite of Facebook and Alphabet are all psychopaths even by lizard-people standards and lack any form of ethics... they'd still sleep more soundly at night with a fixed revenue stream, no lawsuits from governments, and no risk of antitrust breaking up their corporations.
Well, I don't want to speculate much as to why, because you know why, and I know why, and every single peer on that torrent knows why, and every single Wikipedia donation banner knows why, and the "free to play" games on google play know why.
But I think it's worth remembering that, no matter how evil Facebook or Google or whatever other advertising-based mega-corporation gets... it wouldn't have taken a fundamental shift in human nature to stop them, it would have taken the richest people on Earth, us, paying a few dollars a month for their services directly, instead of choosing those same measly dollars extracted from our mind via ads instead. Scratch that, I guess it would have taken a fundamental shift in human nature.
Published on: 2021-01-14