Despite its success, Google has come under scrutiny over human rights and privacy concerns [Arnd WIegmann/Reuters]
Google started out as a simple search engine in 1998 and has turned into one of the most important and influential companies in the world.
On Thursday, the company celebrates its 20th birthday, and although searching for something on the internet has commonly become “googling”, the company itself has become a part of the everyday lives in more ways than one.
Google was officially founded in September 1997 but September 1998 is generally seen as the date the company really started its now ubiquitous search engine.
The search engine was created for about $100,000 by Sergey Brin and Larry Page, two Stanford PhD students, who wanted to challenge Altavista and Yahoo, the two most popular search engines in the earlier days of the internet.
As its popularity grew, the company expanded to new territories. One of the most important ones, without which it could have never grown to its current size, is selling advertisements next to its search results.
Google AdWords, as it became known, was launched in 2000 and soon turned Google into a highly profitable company.
Combined with Google’s powerful PageRank system of indexing search results, the company grew over the years and went public in 2004, offering investors to buy its shares.
The same year, Google launched Gmail, providing internet users an inbox with 1GB of space, which was unheard of until then.
Over the years, the company expanded into new technologies – some successful, some not so much.
Two of the most successful Google brands, besides its search engine and Gmail, are probably the video platform YouTube and operating system Android.
YouTube, which was launched in 2005 and bought by Google the next year, has become the go-to platform for majority of internet users. It now boasts of more than 1 billions hours watched on the website and app every day by its users.
In similar fashion, Google’s Android has become the most common operating system around the world.
Android became popular because of its open nature, which allows the operating system to run on both expensive as well as budget phones, making it perfect for emerging markets like China, India and Brazil.
Despite changing the internet, and everything that comes with it, Google has also faced much criticism in the recent two decades.
Its users are required to give up significant amounts of privacy, so that the company could can tailor ads towards them.
Google’s Chrome browser knows a user’s browsing history, its Android phone knows where they have travelled, and their Gmail inbox is scanned for keywords, all to improve advertising.
With its huge market share – more than 90 percent of all searches on the internet are done using Google – the company has come under scrutiny by the European Union, which handed the company a record fine of $5bn for violating anti-trust laws.
In addition, since 2016, Google has become part of a discussion around fake news because of the way its algorithm recommends articles and videos on Google News and YouTube to a user.
Most recently, Google came under scrutiny for Project Dragonfly, a separate version of its search engine tailor-made for the highly censored Chinese internet.
Rights groups have decried Google’s attempts to build a separate search engine, saying freedom of speech and human rights would be at risk because the company would knowingly and willingly keep results deemed ‘dangerous’ by the Chinesegovernment from showing up.
Despite these criticisms, there seems to be no stopping Google for the foreseeable future.
Currently, the company is working on futuristic projects, including self-driving cars, artificial intelligence, robotics and even attempts at creating an eternal life.
To house these different ventures under one umbrella, Google in 2015 officially changed its name to Alphabet, which is one of the top five tech companies in the world and is currently valued at over $700bn.
Google itself is now only related to things related to the search engine. But whatever its future holds, chances are it will definitely last for at least another twenty years.