Have we become too dependent on Google?

Google may now be too important to let fail, but government involvement doesn't seem like the right way to tackle the problem.

In the wake of Google's weekend error that labeled the entire Web as malware , some like CMS Watch analyst Kas Thomas are asking a provocative and timely question: have we become too dependent on Google?

One wonders: If Google were to go down (or become essentially unusable -- same thing) for, say, 72 hours or more, how disruptive would it be to the economy? Would online retailers see a slowdown in business? Would job-seekers remain out of work longer? Would the productivity of information workers (who supposedly spend a couple hours per day doing online searches) be seriously affected?...

Sometimes even the most highly distributed, highly virtualized, "enterprise-hardened" infrastructure is no stronger than its weakest component. And quite often, the weakest component is human. That's never going to change--cloud or no cloud.

In the case of the Google error, which was caused by a simple human mistake, the world arguably went its merry way without serious disruption. But it's a fair question, and the same one formerly raised about Microsoft's dominance on the desktop. When one company dominates a market so completely, does it become an essential facility and hence require government regulation to ensure that it doesn't bottleneck the economy?

I'm not sure. I tend to eschew government regulation whenever possible, and I'd hate to see Google significantly constrained by U.S. oversight. Even so, the weekend snafu demonstrates just how vulnerable Google is to attack, as well as how susceptible we'd be to going down with Google.

Yes, other search engines are just a click away, but with more and more people enveloping their online lives with Google products (Gmail, News, Finance, Reader, etc.), an error in one aspect of Google's product suite could have a domino effect on all of them, and significantly hamper productivity until Google fixes the source error.

Even so, the answer to Microsoft's dominance wasn't regulation: it was competition. Google, too, will face increased competition on the Web, so perhaps the answer to the concern is simply to wait. Over time, open source and other trends will no doubt diminish the relevance of Google's stranglehold in online search.

But for now, I can't help but feel a little vulnerable.

Tech Culture
About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.


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