OK, Google: Please do these things in 2017
Google didn’t have much to complain about in 2016. The Alphabet, Inc., subsidiary continued to dominate the search and smartphone markets, it refrained from shipping exploding products, and it didn’t declare war on a perfectly functional audio connector like Apple did.
But a successful 2016 doesn’t mean the search giant should rest on its laurels. Here are some ideas for how it can have an even better 2017.
Improving privacy might seem like an odd request for Google, a company that makes much of its money selling targeted ads. But its business model won’t work for much longer if people stop trusting that advertisers and other third parties can only see your interests and not your actual identity.
Google has a good and deserved reputation for standing up to government requests for user data that don’t come backed by a warrant. And we should hope that doesn’t change with the incoming administration. Over the last few years it’s also moved aggressively and successfully to coax other email providers into cooperating to encrypt email as it travels across the internet.
But there are a couple of other steps Google could take to ease growing privacy fears.
One would be joining Microsoft and Yahoo Finance’s parent firm in selling an ad-free upgrade to its existing ad-supported webmail service.
The other, more ambitious move would be to ship end-to-end encryption for Gmail, something Google has been working on with Yahoo for the past few years without success. Facebook, on the other hand, has already deployed the same security feature across mobile versions of its Messenger app.
Fight fake news
Fake news isn’t just a Facebook problem. A week after the election, a Google search for which presidential candidate won the popular vote yielded a prominent and fake result: a blog post incorrectly saying Trump won. And as of Thursday, a search for “did the Holocaust happen” has a neo-Nazi forum in the second spot.
That represented progress: As the Guardian’s Carole Cadwalladr wrote Dec. 11, the search giant’s results until recently were topped by anti-Semitic lies.
Channeling hateful fiction to readers is not something that “will ultimately serve you,” to quote Google’s corporate philosophy. It says it’s determined to fix this, telling Search Engine Land that “Google was built on providing people with high-quality and authoritative results for their search queries” and that it “recently made improvements to our algorithm that will help surface more high quality, credible content on the web.”
As Vox’s Tim Lee noted, this is a problem Google should know how to solve: After “content farms” began gaming Google’s algorithms to lure readers into information-starved, ad-stuffed pages, Google intervened and tweaked those equations to push content farms down its results. That effectively crushed their business model.
Don’t give up on broadband
Google’s venture into deploying new gigabit fiber-optic broadband connections has been one of the more exciting stories in broadband. The news this October that it would stop plans to expand Google Fiber to new cities disheartened many people yearning for an alternative to an effective monopoly by their local cable companies.
Google says it’s not abandoning this project but does want to make it more efficient and sustainable. We can only hope that’s true, since many phone-line-based DSL connections won’t see speed upgrades anytime soon — and city- and county-owned municipal broadband projects continue to get held up by state-level restrictions.
This doesn’t have to involve running fiber to every new home. In June, Google bought a wireless-broadband company named Webpass; 2017 would be a good time to see promises of fast residential wireless internet access, liberated from data caps, finally become a commercial reality.
Make Android Wear wrist-worthy
The non-iOS smartwatch may have been 2016’s biggest tech bust. These wearable devices haven’t grown much thinner or offered much longer battery life, and slumping sales have led many high-profile Android Wear vendors to flee the market.
Meanwhile, Apple increasingly has the market to itself. It’s time for Google to step in, since the basic concept of the smartwatch isn’t crazy and should not be left to one company.
Fortunately, the Verge reported last week that Google plans to ship its own smartwatch next year. And if that doesn’t deliver battery life measured in days and a thickness not measured in large fractions of an inch, there’s always 2018.
By Rob Pegoraro