Google has long sought to dominate not just search, but its users’ daily lives. The company is frequently the top-ranked app on the iPhone, and it was recently among the most downloaded apps in the iOS App Store for the first time in 2016. Now Google is still No. 1 on the iOS App Store’s free downloads chart, even as the search engine is plagued by a personal data scandal that exposed the personal information of up to 87 million users, leading to a rare announcement from the company that it will turn off all third-party cookies (the bit of code that stores data from users’ web browsing) in April 2019.
“Google is very much one of the pillars of American industry in a way that is very positive,” University of California, Berkeley, sociologist Jon Krosnick said. “But for somebody like me, from California, it’s just like living in another country: Every day I look at a yellow pill when I open my screen.”
Derek Bok is president emeritus of the University of Pennsylvania and co-wrote a study published this month in the American Sociological Review comparing self-control and well-being of 18,000 American college students. According to their findings, students who had difficulty controlling their impulses were no more likely to receive financial aid or to score well on cognitive tests than those who were able to control their “impulsive spending.” The students with poor self-control ended up spending more time hunting for discounts, higher-priced goods and shopping for others.
“What we do know about people who are better at controlling their impulses and thinking about where their money is going is that they feel better after they do so,” Bok said. “If you let your impulses rule, what’s the point of doing any of it?”
But are Google’s many products that we use everyday an effective social equivalent of the willpower booster the researchers found for college students? I took a look at what I do, and you can find out if you’re any better at it.
It’s a given that you now have to go through Google’s Search app to check the weather, find out who is meeting your coworker at the coffee shop, or scour the internet for articles about gay dating after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2015. But had I done that the old-fashioned way, going to Google.com, I would have visited other apps that make it easy to find the information I was looking for, like MapQuest or TripAdvisor, searching for the general topic “marijuana” or “boarding passes.” By using the Google Search app, I got up and running on my research without having to leave my home or office.
Google Calendar is the primary calendar service of choice for the average user, with 10 million monthly active users. The app has recently become more customizable than ever. Some users find the alerts that many apps like Apple’s Calendar, Google Now and Microsoft’s Outlook give when it’s time to meet friends are too intrusive, and there have been complaints about changes to the calendar app that made it too easy to convert unneeded tasks into appointments. But despite the revamp, it’s still one of the few essential apps we can’t do without.
Google Photos is an automatic photo and video storage and syncing tool that can work for families, having been introduced in 2014. It provides unlimited storage space, for a fee, and lets you search by brand, location, date, folder, date, event or title. It has many of the same features as the Google Photos app on iOS and Android, but it doesn’t handle videos as seamlessly as the iOS and Android app. The problem was again discovered after Google disclosed that an error in its acquisition of the film startup Mirovision may have inadvertently resulted in over 13 million videos and 4 million photos, including vacation snaps and stills from weddings, on people’s phones. Because of the mistake, users had to take additional steps to reach their files.