Google’s unmatched power and influence over the world wide web is being called into question once again. The tech giant is in the crosshairs of the U.S. Justice Department and has caused consternation for SEO reliant sites after its June core algorithm update.
The issues brought forward, by the Trump administration in terms of the potential Justice Department investigation, is the suppression of conservative voices on Google’s online platforms. Moreover, in the cryptocurrency and blockchain space, many sites have noted a massive downturn in their visibility on the search engine since the update.
CCN, a well-regarded political and cryptocurrency site that has been running for six years, shut its doors, briefly, citing Google core update as the reason they can no longer continue running. The site is one of several that reported similar issues after June 3.
The inventor of the world wide web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, has become one of the most outspoken critics over the way tech giants like Google have overshadowed his open source vision. In response, he’s even looking at his own decentralized web solution.
There have been calls for a decentralized internet for some time now, and those calls have grown louder with the mainstream adoption of blockchain and cryptocurrencies which proved the power of decentralized finance.
Google in the crosshairs
In early June, it was reported that Alphabet Inc’s, Google’s parent company, shares closed 6 percent down on Monday following reports that the U.S. Justice Department may investigate Google for hampering competition.
“While precedent suggests that Google enjoys broad discretion over the direction of search results, the questions arising from an investigation will challenge the possibility of multiple expansion,” Evercore ISI analyst Kevin Rippey said after cutting his price target on the Alphabet stock by $50 to $1,200, the second lowest on Wall Street and well below the median price target of $1,350.
This attack is based on the assumption from the Trump administration that Google is actively choosing to suppress conservative voices on their platform. While it is difficult to prove this to be a campaign by Google against conservative views, there is more evidence of Google’s power over visibility with regards to certain cryptocurrency websites.
The latest core update has reportedly hit several cryptocurrency news websites hard in terms of their SEO traffic. CCN announced its closure due to a drop in visibility from the search engine which in terms unearthed a bevy of disgruntled cryptocurrency news sites.
CCN states on their post:
“Google’s June 2019 Core Update rolled out on June 3 2019, and CCN’s traffic from Google searches dropped more than 71 percent on mobile overnight.”
They also add that their daily revenue was down 90 percent overnight.
Other leading cryptocurrency news sites have also seen significant drops in visibility with Coindesk experiencing a 34.6 percent drop and Cointelegraph witnessing a decline of 21.1 percent on mobile. The Daily Mail, a major news site that also covers crypto in the UK, wrote on Google Webmasters Forum that they had lost 50 percent visibility after the update.
Google has responded to these allegations of cryptocurrency news site targeting; they told Forbes:
“With any update, some sites might not perform as well as in the past, while other sites might perform better.” Google detailed that some sites, at times, may see better results after updates due to those sites not previously seeing benefits of their high relevance.
CCN has since reopened their site, Founder Jonas Borchgrevink stating that ’CryptoCoinsNews.com’ – their previous domain- is reappearing in Google searches after requesting a domain name change in 2017. Potentially the core update was causing issues here rather than any directly targeting them.
Even if the Department of Justice comes up empty in its probe, and there was no cryptocurrency targeting, Google’s digital authoritarianism is still being witnessed, and it is scary to see.
Dangers of Digital Authoritarianism
Google is only one purveyor of robust digital authoritarianism though, there have also been instances of information manipulation from the Russian media.
Late in 2018, there was an incident in the shared waters Russian-Ukrainian Sea of Azov. Ukrainian vessels had attempted to enter the Sea of Azov only to be blocked at the Kerch Strait by Russian naval ships.
Russian media outlet Sputnik covered the incident. While the initial reporting was reasonably objective, but the article was later amended to label the Ukrainian actions as “provocative” and an act of “maritime terrorism.”
The reason we know beyond doubt that the article was changed is that the British Express newspaper exposed the original version of the story, via a decentralized web platform provided by Arweave.
Arweave is already utilizing decentralization to ensure free and fair information on the web through what it calls the ”Permaweb,” a variant of distributed ledger technology, blockweave. Essentially, it allows anyone can upload any information to be stored permanently and unalterably.
In the case of Sputnik, in the 52 minutes between the publication of the original story, and the biased alterations being made, a user had uploaded the first version to the Permaweb. Now, it’s alleged to be there forever, for anyone to see, providing a permanent and unarguable evidence trail of Sputnik’s propaganda efforts at work.
Is a decentralized web the answer?
Decentralization of information, in this case, has gained many fans, and a much stronger understanding in the digital realm thanks to blockchain. Blockchain technology is one of the most functional and plausible decentralizing tools for nearly any space and industry.
However, as many have found, the blockchain as a tool is still embryonic and not without its problems. When taking aim at a problem as big as a centralized internet and trying to use blockchain as the tool to overcome it, a new set of issues could emerge.
In an age when fake news has become a common term, the idea of reclaiming the online world for the greater good is a tempting one. However, decentralizing the internet doesn’t solve all the challenges of the existing web.
Perhaps the most significant issue is that a decentralized internet doesn’t verify the truth. It’s merely a permanent means of storage, as this is what the blockchain is currently all about. Therefore, there’s a danger that the decentralized web could end up being populated with as much fake news as the current web, if not more.
Gaining adopters is a further challenge when people are well used to the existing internet infrastructure.
Sam Williams, Arweave CEO, spoke to Forbes: “Just being decentralized is not enough for most people — you need to offer people something tangible that they cannot get on the centralized web. We believe that something is permanence.”
Williams believes that a decentralized internet will be most useful in countries like Russia or China, where the centralized web is subject to government manipulation and control. But as the curtains start to be pulled back on companies like Google, there will be a need for more than just permanence; there will need to be functional decentralization.