Agog Over Google

As a simple Internet search engine has grown into a billion-dollar tech behemoth, the question becomes: Is Google good? Take quiz, find out.

In the seven years since its creation by a couple of Stanford graduate students, Google Inc. has blossomed from a simple online search engine into a technological behemoth, all but besting search rivals like Yahoo! and eagerly expanding into other computer-related markets. Along with announced plans to digitize entire collections of libraries and move into the wireless Internet field, the Mountain View-based company has tripled its number of employees in the past two years, rolling out several lines of software and services that some analysts believe are aimed at challenging the popular Office package. Indeed, Google -- whose corporate motto is "Don't Be Evil" -- finds itself with $7.1 billion to spend after a stock offering completed last month, and faces increased speculation about which direction its products will head. But against this backdrop of growth, Google has also encountered heavy scrutiny from critics who argue that the company's data collection methods are raising important privacy concerns, and that it is merely seeking to become the next Microsoft. Are you an apologist for the ever-growing Google? Take our quiz and find out!

1) Google's latest high-profile plan concerns San Francisco; the company announced last week that it wants to connect all of the city to the Internet with a free wireless service, thereby breaking into the telecommunications business. Although 10 other firms are also bidding for the project, instigated by Mayor Gavin Newsom, Google is considered the front-runner. San Francisco could provide a testing ground for a national Wi-Fi service, which would allow anyone in the country to connect to the Internet through a Google portal. What do you think of the idea?

A) But what about SBC and Comcast? Google is just gonna start driving small local businesses out of town, huh?

B) If it means my grandmother no longer has to use AOL, I'm all for it.

C) Fantastic! Forget homelessness, health services, and violent crime -- if there's one civic problem in San Francisco that desperately needs solving, it's free Internet access for all!

2) Over the past few years, the word "Google" has become virtually synonymous with Internet searching. What does Google's emergence into the vernacular suggest to you about the company's influence on pop culture?

A) Whoa, whoa, whoa. Have you been to a dinner party lately? Do you know how hot "Lycos" is on the street? It's blowing up, man.

B) Oh, that's what "Google" means. I thought it meant "Your kids are finding porn."

C) Yeah, it's almost worth a Seinfeldcast reunion, just so they could do the "Google" episode.

3) Amid rampant speculation about the company's next move -- the development of a computer platform or Web browser to challenge Microsoft, perhaps, or a transition into the national telecom market -- Google CEO Eric Schmidt has remained characteristically tight-lipped. In a recent interview with the Associated Press, he said: "You can't know what we are really up to until you are in the bowels of the company." What's your response?

A) As much as I'm interested, that's just gross. Forget it.

B) Oh, please. The idea that Google could ever challenge Microsoft for market dominance is simply ludicrous. I mean, Microsoft doesn't have a monopoly for nothing. (Bonus point for hearing a knock on your door, asking who's there, and hearing, "Someone from Microsoft.")

C) Yeah, I've been in the bowels of Google. It's a lot better than being in the bowels of, lemme tell ya.

4) In recent years, Google Inc. has drawn criticism for several of its initiatives, with privacy advocates arguing that its recording of search terms and IP addresses (which link searches to a specific computer) could potentially violate users' rights. The company admits it stockpiles this information but says it will only distribute the data if the public good demands it. Would you want information about your Internet searches becoming public?

A) Hold on. I'm Googling "how to get a divorce."

B) Sure. It should be as public as the information I've found on building a dirty bomb in your bathtub.

C) I'll let you know how I feel about that right after I finish searching for "visa," "cheap plane ticket," and "asylum."

5) On Feb. 10, the New York Times quoted CEO Schmidt as telling financial analysts, "We are moving towards a Google that knows more about you." Do you think that's a good thing?

A) Well, Google already knows about my pathetic time in the 5K I ran in 1999. What else is there, really?

B) Absolutely. And while we're at it, how about a Google that can find my keys?

C) Of course. Speaking about near-omnipotent, ultrainvasive computer programs in the third person can only be seen as a positive development.

6) In a sign that the company is perhaps losing some of its luster as a media darling, Schmidt had a well-publicized blowup with the technology news outlet CNET this year. Following a story that published information on Schmidt obtained with the help of a Google search engine -- including the $1.5 billion value of his shares in Google, the name of his wife, and the address of his residence in Atherton -- the CEO banned his employees from speaking with CNET. Although that boycott appears to have been lifted, industry observers say the episode provides evidence of a double standard in Google's attitude toward privacy. What do you think?

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