The mysterious case of missing URLs and Google's AMP

By Charlie Owen on

Google has a monopoly on search rankings. We can't let them obtain a monopoly on websites.

When I saw a speculative article about Google wanting to "kill" URLs appear in my news feed, I didn't think too much about it.

Trying to hide "ugly" URLs... well, that feels like a natural thing for an app to try and do. Designers of apps often (erroneously) assume that users cannot cope with "technical" things like URLs and try to hide them away, lest the user start bleeding from their eyes.

In fact some browsers already go so far as hiding parts of the URL. Safari, for example, shows only a domain name in the normal URL area until it is clicked, whereupon the full URL appears.

The primary reason in the story for hiding complex URLs makes sense. Phishing scams often involve creating complexly long URLs where the section visible in the browser chrome can be mistaken for being a real URL.

The story seems pretty legit, with Adrienne Porter Felt, the engineer interviewed in Wired, seeming to confirm it in a Tweet.

But then this article on AMP showed up, and it is one a big smelly doozy. Because this article paints a picture of Google deliberately using it's power and monopoly to force content sites to generate their sites AMP-first.

Read the article for more insight, but it essentially boils down to Google perverting the (already perverse) "A parallel AMP site as something you must suffer to get good search rankings" into "You must use AMP to generate your cote sites, otherwise you can kiss your search rankings goodbye".

When you combine these two stories, you realise that this could easily be the prelude to a move on the open web, forcing the shift of a fair part of it into walled garden of Google's construction.

Do no fucking evil, my arse.

Choose a walled garden of any size

What makes me think this? The hiding of URLs fits perfectly with AMPs preferred method of making sites fast, which is to host them directly on Google's servers, and to serve them from a Google domain. Hiding the URL from the user then makes a Google AMP site indistinguishable from an ordinary site.

If this sounds all conspiracy theory, then good for you - you've just earned the Junior Meta Sceptic Badge. But I don't think this is conscious by Google, insofar as any corporation can be conscious (but hey, if it can have personhood...).

But I do think this is an emergent effect of technology, capitalism, and an unhealthy monopoly. Of course Google wants, deep down, to get everyone locked into a pseudo web of their design and that they control. That's the fucking aim of capitalism, kids! Corner the market, and suck it dry.

I really hope that the people who are part of Google can stop something awful like this from happening.

Because as the last couple of years have shown us, burying your head and stating "it'll never happen" is the most stupid thing you can do.