As far as internet search goes Google heads into 2013 looking as dominant as it’s ever been, controlling a massive 84.5% share of the global market according to some sources, including a solid 67% market share in the US.
But will we be able to say the same thing in twelve months’ time? According to one observer, Google is going to need to be extra vigilant if it wants to retain its status as the internet’s top dog.
In an interview with Yahoo News last week, the Economist’s chief analyst Daniel Franklin says that when companies reach the top of their game, that’s when they need to start looking round their shoulders.
“That’s when technology companies need to be worried because there’s always the next start-up that comes along and challenges their preeminence,” he said in the interview.
Franklin cites growing concerns over privacy issues that could potentially lead to consumers dropping them as their search engine of choice.
“Google could find that people are worried about privacy issues,” adds Franklin. “They’re worried about the tracking issue.”
Franklin points to the growing awareness of Google’s questionable privacy practices, which have led to several major investigations being launched against the company. Google is currently under investigation by France’s data-protection watchdogs, while in the US it was hit with a $23 million fine by the Federal Trade Commission for illegally tracking users of the Safari browser. Meanwhile, the UK is also reportedly planning to introduce a new communications bill that would limit Google’s ability to perform data mining.
The issues over privacy and also Google’s perceived bias are very real concerns, and some netizens – albeit very few at this time – are beginning to take notice and switch to alternatives. Last November, Google’s market share in the UK dipped below 90% for the first time in five years, while Bing has been steadily increasing its own slice of the action in the US for the past few years.
There are also new rivals on the horizon promising a ‘cleaner’ search experience than what traditional search algorithms provide. One of these, DuckDuckGo, doesn’t use any cookies to track its users so it will never bombard them with targeted advertising or compromise their privacy in any way. Another alternative, Blekko, promises ‘spam-free’ search results, only linking to those sites that have been ‘verfied’ by a human moderator. In both cases, these new competitors in the search arena have slowly but surely seen an increase in traffic.
Google faces an interesting year ahead, where it will have to carefully balance its data policies and other practices against an increasing number of investigations into it, while monitoring the competition as it seeks to steal Google’s market share.
“I’m not saying Google will find itself vulnerable,” says Franklin. “But these things can change very fast so Google has to be concerned and they will be watching all these things very closely I imagine.”