Google search is a government risk

It has always amazed me how governments, in particular, have handed over the findability of their information to Google. AI will compound this risk.

Imagine if the German government outsourced the organization, filing and retrieval of its physical documents pertaining to the making of laws to a third party, because it felt that organizing information was just too hard and costly. Imagine if, at the same time, the German government was seeking to restrict this third party’s actions because of monopolistic, anti-competitive behavior and privacy violations. It’s unthinkable.

Yet, since the Web emerged in the mid-Nineties, the vast majority of government entities I have dealt with have so neglected their information architecture and search duties that they have essentially invited Google to be the way citizens find vital government information. It’s insane. It’s sad. It negligent. It’s a big security and society risk. It threatens the future stability of nations when an advertising agency like Google is given the job of helping citizens find the ‘right’ information.

AI will make it ten times worse. Google et al will demand deeper access to databases. Its AI is greedy for every scrap of information it can gobble up. Its AI is designed to sell ads and manipulate people, and create dependency and addiction in the cute marketing name of engagement.

Outsourcing critical elements of the state to suspect third parties, whether it be energy, information or water, was never wise and is less wise today. The sad and scary thing is that there is very little competence within many governments to even recognize that whoever stores your information and controls the findability of your information controls a lot about you.

There are fewer people with information architecture skills today than there were twenty years ago. Governments have reacted to the explosion of data by becoming even deeper believers in outsourcing to the Cloud, and hoping that magical technology will solve the deep problems. It won’t. Technology is making the information problem immeasurably worse because the vast majority of technology is being used to create and store data rather than to help organize it and make it findable.

Findability depends on structure. Findability depends of metadata. Findability depends on regularly archiving and deleting the huge quantity of irrelevant data that’s out there. Findability depends on having documents in the most findable format, which is HTML (and certainly not PDF). Findability is about writing content in a clear and simple way. Findability requires real skills. Skills of information organization. Skills of writing. Skills of editing, archiving and deletion.

Google wasn’t always a monopolistic juggernaut. It gained success and power by helping people find stuff. It gained success and power because most governments and organizations ignored and defunded the strategically critical infrastructure of information organization and findability.

Governments—and all organizations—must invest in findability. Buying new technology—whether it’s AI or chatbots—without having the deep human skills required to design and manage the information environment will only make the problem ten times worse. Outsourcing findability to Google will turn out to be one of the most serious mistakes any government can make in an information society.

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