Basecamp CTO calls for the break up of Google

Heinemeier Hansson described Google as a monopoly.


The fundamental question of what Google is all too often gets lost in the noise of criticism over the giant's treatment of user privacy, algorithmic biases, and content censorship – for example on its video platform YouTube.

But if we understood and were better aware of Google's true nature, maybe finding solutions to these problems could be easier. Most people still think of Google as a search engine – but those search results now unabashedly prioritize and promote ads is making others conclude that Google is actually “an ad engine.”

Especially those like David Heinemeier Hansson, the creator of the Ruby on Rails web development framework and Basecamp CTO, whose independent company is directly threatened by this long-time trend in Google search.

Reacting to a user who tweeted, with a screenshot attached, that search for Basecamp on mobile “is just an advert of your competitors” – Hansson wrote, “Google is not a search engine, it's an ad engine. You search to find stuff, they respond with a full page ad.”

He then accused Google of being a monopoly that should be broken up to rectify the situation which he called “ludicrously user hostile.” In a series of tweets, Hansson also described Google as peddling surveillance capitalism and abusing their dominant position to get away with foul play.

The thread stemmed from a tweet posted by Basecamp co-founder, Jason Fried, who also complained that this project management and collaboration tool is having a hard time surfacing in results thanks to Google ranking as many as 4 paid ads making use of the Basecamp brand as top of the search results page.

Fried called this “a shakedown, ransom” – and attached a screenshot of an ad the company apparently paid to run on Google, in the hope of showing up when people search for it – and shedding some light on the practice.

“We're the #1 result, but this site (Google) lets companies advertise against us using our brand. So here we are,” the ad reads, adding, “A small, independent company forced to pay ransom to giant tech company.”

Fried's and Hansson's Twitter followers said that depending on the platform (mobile or desktop) and whether or not they were using an adblocker, they were either able or unable to reproduce this behavior: for some, Basecamp's own site appeared at the top of the search page.

Others recommended using alternative search engines and browsers like DuckDuckGo and Brave. But using a different search engine – while being helpful to more savvy web users – still doesn't solve the problem of the demise of organic search in favor of ads on a massively dominant platform like Google.


Didi Rankovic

Didi Rankovic is an experienced online journalist, editor, and translator, with a career spanning over ten years writing for major a English-language website in Serbia, and previously working as translator for international organizations and peacekeepers in the Balkans. Rankovic is passionate about free and open source tech and is a head contributor for Reclaim The Net, focusing on lead stories. [email protected]