The giant of online search is, of course, Google. You could prove it by comparing search market share, advertising revenue, user data collection or brand recognition, Bing, Yahoo and Ask wouldn’t even come close.  Google’s unchallenged reach has its downside. One major hazard is obvious–super simplified search turns us into false, but confident experts.



The truth is, no one but Google really understands how its algorithms index and return search results and no one but Google knows how accurate the results for any given search term really are. Few people consider Google search a logical alternative to consulting a financial adviser before refinancing a mortgage. But when it comes to our health, we’re more convinced that we can google our way to the truth (or nearer to it). Let’s say you’ve got a headache. Visit a medical professional and they will tell you that the chances that it’s caused by a tumor are right around 0.002%. Google “headache” and 25% of your medical diagnosis results will discuss tumors.

Disproportionately represented “tumor related headache” results may cause disproportionate panic, but at least they get us to the doctor. What’s more troubling is the number of consumers that have followed ads or search results to sites promoting unproven fad diets or risky at-home health treatments.

The ways in which Google has revolutionized and personalized the web experience are obvious. We love and need to google. But, at what cost? This technology feels intuitive because it is creepily intuitive. It notes what we read and what we don’t, what we buy and what we don’t and ultimately delivers more market-targeted results faster. If you click straight through to the “headache as tumor symptom” results, you may just start to see more like it.

If you’re interested in learning more about the net impact of Google’s search model, check out the latest video in our Hidden Costs series.

Video Transcript

Health: C

When it comes to health, Google is the ultimate self-diagnostic tool. While it’s good people show an interest in their health by Googling symptoms, search results often inflict the fear of terminal diseases in users. For example, brain tumors affect only.002% of us, and yet 25% of medical diagnosis Google search results with the word “headache” in them site “tumor” as a possible cause.

Environment: B-

Two Google searches create the same amount of carbon dioxide produced by boiling a kettle of water. Of course, if you’re searching something like “what’s the most energy efficient kettle?” then you might offset your search pollution in the long run. Google is really in the business of speed and it takes a lot of power to produce speediness. In a year, Google uses the same amount of energy as 25% of a nuclear power plant. However, they use 50% less energy than the typical data center, so at least the effort is there to lessen their footprint.

Economy: B

The Google brand is worth about $110 billion dollars, and the company pulls in $38 billion per year in annual revenue – 97% coming straight from advertising. But what does that really mean? Gangam Style has over a billion views. According to one estimate made at the 530 million mark, Gangam Style made just $348,285 in advertising while costing $296,360 in server costs. A modest if unimpressive profit, considering its views.

Final Grade: B-

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