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Beware Google. It's not as benign as you think

Google. Don't get me started. No, don't even bother. Let's kick Google in the goolies today.

I am informed that 98 per cent of Internet users use Google on a regular basis. How did I find this info? Damn Google. But I kind of knew that already. Everyone's an expert thanks to Google. Every freakin' time I write something about Fox News some nit writes to me and proclaims that, once, I called for Fox News to be banned in Canada. Never happened. But somewhere on Google you can find some people holding fast to this notion. Therefore, it must be true.

Problem one with Google: a world of know-nothings who think they know everything. Problem two: way too many people think Google is nice. Real nice. Bunch of cool laidback guys somewhere in California helping you know stuff. Jeez, you can read whole books for free on the Internet because Google has copied pretty much every book ever written (including mine) and it's right there for you to read. Problem three: Google knows everything.

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This week in Toronna there was a flapdoodle about a mayoral candidate and liaisons with women. Toronna, being Toronna, was briefly gripped by the faintly salacious story. No doubt many, many people Googled the names of the ladies involved. Well, if you were one of those people, Google now has you down as somebody seeking info on ladies. Probably has you down as looking for lady-companions. Good luck with that.

But it's problem two that matters - Google's image is utterly benign. Apparently Google gets one million job applications a year. How do I know this? Not from Google, thank heavens.

Google World (CBC, 9 p.m. on Doc Zone) reveals the job-application numbers. It's a fascinating look at Google. Mind you, it tends to err on the side of being Google-friendly before it finally raises real questions.

That's understandable because Google is, in reality, a scary outfit. Not that it appears that way. We get a look inside Google's HQ and hear all about the free meals, the laundry, the massages that come with the job and the truck that goes around the sprawling headquarters and provides haircuts. Oh yeah, there is also an almost complete absence of paper.

This is the sort of atmosphere that attracts so many young people to the company and embellishes the image. What you also notice, though - if you're a little older and a little cranky - is not so much the absence of paper as the absence of dissidence or nonconformity. Essentially, the impression you get is of adherence to a blind belief in the benefits of everything that Google does. That's standard in a big company. Mind you, Google is not any company. It reaches into all our lives. An internal company slogan is "Don't be evil." According to Google itself, one meaning of the slogan is embodied is the company's practice of "providing our users unbiased access to information, focusing on their needs and giving them the best products and services that we can. But it's also about doing the right thing more generally - following the law, acting honourably and treating each other with respect."

That's cute, but as Google World (made by Ted Remerowski) eventually dwells upon, it is at variance with the reality of life in some parts of the world. The issue of China eventually arises, and complex matters rise to surface. For years Google went along with Chinese laws and government policies. Thus, if you Googled "Tibetan independence" in China you got something very different from what you'd get in the West. Simultaneously, users could download Western music or other entertainment products without paying for it.

In the documentary, Google CEO Eric Schmidt is quoted as saying, "The trust issue is central to our whole brand." And that word "trust" goes to the heart of the matter. For those young people who grew up with Google's existence and expansion there tends to be a blind trust in the benign aspect of Google. For those of us who are older and appreciate how Google has changed things for the better, there is, and should be, an intuitive suspicion of where Google goes from here and what it does with all that data about all of us.

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For some years now, Google has bossed the Internet. It's not a conventional company and is proud of that. But at some point a smart person becomes suspicious of any company that bosses the world.

Check local listings.

Also airing:

The Street (TVO, 9 p.m.) was cited to me by readers last week when I wrote about the lack of great Brit TV these days. Created by Jimmy McGovern ( Cracker) it follows the lives of various residents of one street in Manchester. The cast is great - Bob Hoskins, Jim Broadbent, Jane Horrocks, Timothy Spall and David Thewlis have appeared in it. But, if you ask me, it's Coronation Street with a dose of grim despair added to it.

Parks & Recreation (NBC, CITY-TV, 8:30 p.m.) gets better - it's evolved into a smart comedy while The Office seems to have lost its groove. Tonight, "When Leslie (Amy Poehler) hears her mom's (guest star Pamela Reed) story about an old flame (John Larroquette), she and her boyfriend Justin (guest star Justin Theroux) track him down and reunite them on Valentine's Day." Obviously it is attracting good guest actors too.

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About the Author
Television critic

John Doyle is The Globe and Mail's television critic. His column appears in the Review section Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. He has been the paper's critic since 2000. More

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