Google as the 5th Estate

Wikipedia lists the “5th Estate” as an ambiguous addition to the traditional “estates,” including the clergy (1st Estate), nobility (2nd Estate), commoners (3rd Estate), and the press (4th Estate). The term (according to Wikipedia)has been used to describe Max Headroom in Our Ethertrade unions, the poor, the blogosphere and organized crime. It can also be used to describe media outlets that see themselves in opposition to mainstream (“Fourth Estate”) media.

If you believe Larry Page, a co-founder of Google, their vision is to marry artificial intelligence with search engines so powerful they would understand “everything in the world.” A couple of years ago Google further stated a corporate vision to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

A very compelling and interesting vision, until you begin to understand the extent of that capability. On a positive note it gives us a way find and access codified knowledge we’d never gain exposure to under normal conditions (pre-Google and Internet “normal conditions”), but on the other end of the spectrum personal information and confidential information is also collected, indexed, and made available to anybody with access to a search engine.

Posting a blog entry may get you indexed within seconds, as would posting pictures of your family. Your tax records, home information, educational records, and other personal information, if not guarded with near military discipline (oops, forgot about wikileaks.com), will expose parts of your life never expected to the other 4.5 billion people around the world who may have a voyeuristic or nefarious interest in your life.

Going Nose-to-Nose with a Sovereign Nation

However, perhaps the most interesting step into uncharted territory with Google is in their recent conflict with China.

Google took issue with China’s censorship of search engine results, as well as cyber-terrorism it alleged was raged by Chinese government hackers, who obtained confidential information and email data from Google as well as at least 20 other private companies in what Google described “as a highly sophisticated attack.” (Red Herring)

The issue here is not censorship, the issue is the rights of a sovereign nation, versus the development of a global utility that transcends the control of a nation over its citizens. Kind of a new United Nations of Cyber managed by Google.

China is a good target, as self-righteous citizens of western countries reject the socialist political/cultural environment in the world’s most populous country. Of course those who believe in western conspiracy would note that Google has been linked to the CIA and other global intelligence agencies since inception (1), (2), (3), etc., by a variety of mainstream media and private websites.

But what does happen when a private company reaches a level of power that allows it to set both foreign and domestic policy in sovereign nations? Is there a point when the UK, must check with Google for approval before signing privacy or security policy into law? At what point does a private company “cross over the line” of providing a global utility and become a global “big brother?”

Max Headroom Returns to Our Ether

We’ve written about Max Headroom in the past, and he recently pop-p-p-p-ped up in conversations and magazine artiocles, including Wired Magazine. Max Headroom’s world, although brought to us in 1985, is almost creepy in its relevance to modern times. Just swap Television, studios, and TV with Internet and SEO ratings.

“In the post-apocalyptic future where television sets are more important than food, TV ratings are the all important currency of the nation. A new technique of preventing viewers from channel surfing proves somewhat detrimental to particularly sedentary couch potatoes. The top studio becomes concerned: dead viewers make for low ratings. Edison Carter, top news reporter, is sent to find out more. After a motorcycle accident, his mind is preserved by wizz-kid Bryce and becomes his wise cracking, computer generated alter-ego: Max Headroom, who manages to boost ratings above those of any live hosts to date…”

Is Google and Google SEO the new global currency? Is Google search engine placement more important to a company than Euros, RMB, or Dollars? Is Google the next Max Headroom, an omnipresent component of all aspects of our life, more important than our national or cultural identity?

Maybe it is Time to Change

Our lives are now wired with laptop computers, smart phones, Netbooks, Twitter, Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and Internet. You cannot walk a block without being presented with license plates, billboards, handouts, or airplanes pulling banners or skywriting URLs flogging some Internet site or service. Part of every person’s life in our current world. And Bluetooth has drilled it into our heads with Skype and other applications transcending the government controlled communications infrastructure with packetized everything-over-IP applications.

Binding this together brings Facebooks and Googles into the basic infrastructure of the new world, almost to the point of transcending the value of fiber optics, wireless networks, routers, servers, and switches.

While uncomfortable to us 50-somethings, we are witnessing a harbinger of the future. The future is wired. The future is a global community with little respect for borders and culture. The wired world is the 5th Estate. Only question is if Google or Facebook will join the first four estates as individual companies as representatives of the 5th Estate.

About johnsavageau
Another telecom junkie who has been bouncing around the international communications community for most of the past 35 years.

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