For many of us Internet-savvy students, the act of surfing the web is synonymous with Google Chrome. We value Google’s web browser for its ease of use, fast and snappy performance, and valuable features like syncing and extensions.
Browsing Facebook? Google Chrome. Checking Canvas? Chrome. Reading The Daily Texan? Chrome. And on and on and on. When we have business to do on the Internet, we reach for the circular red, green, and yellow Chrome icon without giving it a second thought.
In fact, Chrome dominates our desktop computers with a market share that approaches 60 percent, according to Net Market Share.
The fact that Google’s browser commands so much influence on the web should be a cause for concern for any citizen of the Internet. By controlling the browser, which defines the appearance and functionality of any webpage accessed online, Google is in an enormously powerful position from which it can pick and choose its own winners and losers.
The Internet is humanity’s shared space for exchanging information and ideas, and it should be an equal playing field for all. Yet we’ve granted Google the ability to undercut any website it so chooses. All Google has to do to harass a target is change a few lines of code in Chrome, thus breaking a critical feature or selectively hiding content.
Such a brazen move would not be without precedent. Google has already been accused of abusing its control over its wildly popular Google Search. In a 2011 Senate hearing, Jeffrey Katz, CEO of price comparison website Nextag, claimed that Google manipulated its own search results to fix other Google services at the top. “Today, Google doesn’t play fair. Google rigs its results, biasing in favor of Google Shopping and against competitors like us,” Katz testified.
Now it seems that Google will commandeer Chrome next. Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Google is considering building an Internet ad blocker into Chrome that would filter ads that “provide bad experiences for users.”
Google’s intentions appear noble. Many of us already use ad-blocking Chrome extensions to rid ourselves of obnoxious ads that create popup windows, play videos without warning, and – in the most egregious cases – infect our computers with viruses and malware.
But Google has its own advertising networks to run. Websites across the Internet purchase ads from Google’s AdSense, AdWords, and Doubleclick platforms. The conflict of interest should be immediately obvious – you can be sure that Google would never block its own ads.
We may reap the alluring benefits of Chrome now, but in the long term, we face a chilling version of the Internet in which Google stifles competition, innovation and even free speech. One can imagine a cabal of Chrome programmers, sitting in a remote Mountain View office, plotting to sabotage this very column.
As I paste this story into Google Docs, I realize that Google has enough control over my digital life. It doesn’t need the whole Internet, too. Yet the blame is not entirely on Google because we’ve given them the means to rule.
Web browsers are a free market. Every browser, whether it’s Chrome, Safari, Internet Explorer, Firefox or Opera, can be used to browse any website. As digital consumers, it’s our responsibility to foster healthy competition and prevent a destructive monopoly. I’ve raised my voice, and you can raise yours by choosing to ditch Google Chrome.
Young is a computer science junior from Bakersfield, California. He is a Columnist.