Google is off to a rocky summer. The European Union levied a record-setting $2.7 billion antitrust fine against the ubiquitous search engine, and now major media companies are attempting to band together against it and Facebook. While the company (and it’s $90 billion annual revenue) is almost certain to whether these storms, the implications for college students could be far-reaching. At the heart of each of these stories is the fact that Google profits more when the lines between advertisement versus news, and real versus fake are blurred.
The EU decision was made with regard to the fact that Google weights the services it offers higher in its search results than other parties. From a business perspective, this makes sense. Unfortunately, many people—especially younger students—view Google more as a utility than a corporation, and the research shows that even digital natives have trouble discerning paid advertisements from regular content.
The looming battle with media members like the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times is also interesting. These newspapers are attempting to collectively bargain with Google and Facebook, saying that these internet companies cut into their profits. Not to be understated is the fact that Google and Facebook have made the dissemination of fake news much easier, a phenomenon that has leeched credibility away from established news organizations.
To the modern student, Google is like the Swiss Army Knife for information: only its blades cut both ways. As the recent Stanford study suggests, learners of all ages today are in dire need of the critical thinking and information literacy skills to sort out the information they find online and use it responsibly.