A Bavarian court recently ruled that Google Fonts violates GDPR because when a user visits a site that uses a Google Font, Google can see their identifiable IP address. When I read this, something clicked in my mind, and I realized that this is probably the entire reason Google Fonts exists, so the ad giant has one more way to track who visits what sites and can target ads to them accordingly. So, I said to myself, you’re telling me that the massive, free, and easy-to-use repository of webfonts that’s so ubiquitous that it’s built into Figma… isn’t there because of an altruistic desire on the part of Google to make the web better? Shocking, isn’t it.
I think so often we accept products and services at face value, without really questioning the capitalistic motivations on the part of their creators. It’s so easy to forget the ever-applicable adage that if you aren’t paying for something, you are the product. Thanks to trending topics like The Social Dilemma and The Facebook Papers, a lot of folks are getting wiser to the addictive, emotionally manipulative, ad-targeting hellscape of social media (though still few enough of us have the wherewithal to actually quit). But there are plenty of other places where we should pay more attention.
Another example: It’s de rigueur on the web these days to complain about Safari taking so long to implement new platform features and about how all browsers on iOS are required to run the Safari engine under the hood. At the same time, events like the Epic Games lawsuit against Apple have highlighted how heavily Apple leans into the App Store as a money-making enterprise. Would it be so outlandish to say that Apple is heavily incentivized to hobble the web as much as possible to keep the App Store as indispensable as possible, and that keeping Safari ubiquitous yet less functional helps to do just that?
I hope I don’t sound like a conspiracy nut who sees hidden plots in every shadow. But let’s face it, these companies are run by very smart people and they’re very good at making money. There are reasons behind every decision, and those reasons are, one way or another, aimed at increasing their bottom-line. I’d like to try to understand them if I can.