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20 August 2009

For Google, the user comes first

By Peter Barron

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.

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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.

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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

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