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'Googled': Biography Of A Company, And An Age

Media critic Ken Auletta tracks the development of Google from a search engine created in a garage in 1998 to the provider of all things Internet in his new book Googled: The End of the World As We Know It.

Auletta tells Terry Gross that although the company trumpets free access to information, it is notoriously tight-lipped when it comes to its own formula for success.

"Google believes in transparency, but they're not transparent about what's in that black box of search," says Auletta. "We don't know — no outsider knows — how Google comes up with what they call 'page rank,' which is why a listing is at the top or second place or third place or 100th place when you do a search."

Though the company made its name as a search engine, it has since expanded into other markets, including applications, data storage, advertising, voice, video and e-mail. Recently, the city of Los Angeles announced plans to switch its e-mail system to Google's Gmail. But while the city stands to save money with the move, Auletta warns that there are potential risks as well: "Do you trust Google? Do you want to store that information with a company? Will they guard your secrets, or will they share them with advertisers or with someone else?"

As the company grows and acquires even more data, issues of trust continue to arise. "They retain so much information, and if that information got in the wrong hands, or if Google decides one day that its customer's not the searcher ... but [is instead] the advertiser ... that is cause for concern," Auletta says.

But, Auletta adds, the company's two founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, are idealists at heart: "I don't think Google and its two co-founders are cold businessmen. I think they're cold engineers. ... The difference is that what an engineer does is just says, 'How do we make things more efficient?' They think they're doing wonderful things."

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