Safari and Firefox).
At the core of Google's business is its ability to collect data about consumers based on their Internet searches, creating a modern-day fingerprint that they can pitch to advertisers.
Larry Bailin, the chief executive officer of Single Throw, an Internet marketing company based in Wall, understands the power of Google's business model.
He recently searched for laptop computers for his staff, typing the item into Google and scrolling through his options. But the ads didn't stop there. Two weeks ago, he surfed the Internet and landed on a website that displayed an ad from Staples, selling laptop computers. It was no happy coincidence.
"Google is the only search engine in the world that saves all search data, everything we search for, and never deletes it," Bailin said. "No one is better at using search data and presenting personalized search information. Google remembers that. It remembers it's you."
To Bailin, who noted he is as paranoid as the next person, it makes life easier. He can find information faster. He sees ads for items he actually needs. And he doesn't worry about sharing his data with Google; what's the worst thing it can do to you? Try to sell you a laptop?
"Think about a world without Google," he said. "Everybody uses it as such a huge benefit. The trade-off is, we're going to use data about you to let advertisers sell things to you."
You are Google's product
Digital marketing isn't universally embraced. It is not a stretch to imagine a day when consumers desperately trying to lose weight walk down the street, smartphone in hand, and without prompting are offered discounts from the nearest Dunkin' Donuts.
"The marketers have become so sophisticated that they know our behavioral patterns better than we know our behavioral patterns," said Jerome Williams, research director of the Center of Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development at Rutgers Business School in Newark and New Brunswick. Williams co-edited a recent book about the impact the food industry's direct marketing has on childhood obesity.
Put another way, consumers using Google have let advertisers in on so much personal information that they may not be as empowered by the company as they think.
"We're not really Google's customers. We're Google's products," said John M. Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog's privacy project in Santa Monica, Calif.
These days, Google can find you almost wherever you are.
How it shapes the world:
-- Search engine. Two-thirds of all Web searches in April, 13.3 billion, were done through Google, according to comScore Inc., a research firm. Microsoft sites, by comparison, accounted for 17.3 percent of Web searches.
-- Software. It developed Android, software used for smartphones.
-- Smartphones. It acquired Motorola Mobility last year, giving it smartphones that use its software.
-- Videos. It owns YouTube, a video library that attracts more than 1 billion visitors a month who can surf the site to find anything from President Barack Obama's speech to Israelis (more than 53,000 views) to funny cats in water (more than 58 million views).
-- Fiber. It is building fiber-optic networks in Kansas City; Austin, Texas; and Provo, Utah, offering high-speed Internet access.
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