Does Google have more power than the government?

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News hit yesterday that Google plans on expanding its ad blocking powers to cover adverts for loans due within 60 days of the agreement, or charged at an interest rate of 36% and above.
This is the latest in a string of reports relating to online advertising, with concerns ranging from whether an advert is appropriate or not, to miss-sales and false claims, invasion of privacy and issues surrounding spam. But what’s interesting in this instance is that the decision stems from ethical questions raised by the payday loan industry, rather than legal problems.
Pressure has been mounting on the UK government to crack down on companies seen to target financially insecure households with offers of quick money at a high short term cost, by restricting their ability to advertise. As such, by jumping the gun, Google has managed to take a step that even Westminster seems incapable of for the time being.
So does this mean Google has more power than the UK government? If we look at the tax debacle, whereby Google has agreed to pay £130million in tax to HMRC, supposedly covering debts dating back to 2005, then the answer seems to be ‘yes’. The tech giant’s UK sales in 2013 alone are thought to be some £3.8billion, so you don’t have to be adept at maths to workout there’s a shortcoming somewhere.
There’s also a huge discussion surrounding the ‘right to block’ ads in the first place- other than those that infringe on ASA regulations. Should the world’s biggest internet gatekeeper really have the ability to censor what we are exposed to online. Technically speaking, the role of Google is signposting, or at least that’s its original core business, but you could argue in this case it’s also acting as moral police for the internet by deciding which signposts to put out.
If you tuned in to Radio 4’s You & Yours earlier this week then you may have caught the segment about holiday website Opodo, which ‘scrapes’ details of fares, routes and prices from airlines and then charges additional fees to customers whilst presenting itself as the airline (Ryanair specifically). The discussion touched upon the misleading position of Opodo in Google results- the site appears in sponsored links at the top.
The problem being, not everyone knows those top results are really just paid for adverts. And what has this got to do with blocking payday lenders? Well, not much, other than the way it further accentuates how much control Google has in terms of presenting, removing and promoting this piece of information rather than that. As ever, then, it pays to spend time properly researching, even if what’s placed on the plate already looks so deliciously easy to digest.
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