For Google, the user comes first

Google's aim is and always has been to help people find the information they are looking for. It's why our services have become so popular. They are easy to use and they work.

Take Search. People use Google Search because they trust it to help them find what they need. We don't charge for it or force people to use it. We don't "lock" our users in as some technology companies do. Search is a highly competitive field which is evolving all the time. In just the past few months we've seen the emergence of new services such as Bing, Cuil and WolframAlpha. People can choose to switch to these search engines and others with a click of a mouse. More than half of internet users in the UK say they use more than one search engine every week.

Similarly, there is nothing to lock advertisers in to using Google's services. Advertising rates are set, not by Google, but by a competitive auction. Advertisers determine their own bids and budgets and can adjust them at any time. And just as users can easily switch between search engines, advertisers can and do spend their budgets in a variety of places. The vast majority of Google's top advertisers also advertise on other search engines and in a range of other media, both offline and online. They'll stick with Google only if the results they achieve are worth more than they spend.

Of course, not everyone sees it like that. Some are concerned that Google is becoming too big and worry that we might misuse the
data we hold.

Online privacy is an important issue and one we take very seriously. As increasing amounts of data are uploaded to the internet every day, it becomes ever more important for people to understand the benefits and risks involved. Google is committed to protecting people's privacy online by offering transparency and choice. We are transparent about the data we collect when people sign up for our services and we design products that give people control over the information they share.

That data helps us provide a better experience for our users, helps combat spam and fraud, and allows us to customise content to make it more relevant and useful. It also allows us to use anonymised, aggregated data to give valuable insights into what people are searching for.
One such tool is Google Flu Trends. Conventional flu surveillance systems take up to a fortnight to collect and release data. By comparison, search queries can be automatically counted very quickly, and because people are likely to search for symptoms or remedies before they contact a doctor, our estimates may be able to provide a useful early-warning system for outbreaks of flu.

It is not in our interest to abuse our position or misuse your data. People continue to use Google because they trust it to work. Our focus is on providing an ever better service because that's the only thing that keeps them coming back.

Peter Barron, head of communications and public affairs (UK, Benelux and Ireland), Google

This article first appeared in the 24 August 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Is Google Evil?

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The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times