Alan Perkins

Alan Perkins

27th April 2007

Bringing Down Google With Two Simple Lines of Code

Is Google too powerful? It's a question asked by many. But much of Google's future depends on two simple lines of code.

When Google floated, its SEC Filing listed many potential future threats to its business:

  • Our ability to compete effectively.
  • Our ability to continue to attract users to our web sites.
  • The level of use of the Internet to find information.
  • Our ability to attract advertisers to our AdWords program.
  • Our ability to attract web sites to our AdSense program.
  • The mix in our net revenues between those generated on our web sites and those generated through our Google Network.
  • The amount and timing of operating costs and capital expenditures related to the maintenance and expansion of our businesses, operations and infrastructure.
  • Our focus on long term goals over short-term results.
  • The results of our investments in risky projects.
  • General economic conditions and those economic conditions specific to the Internet and Internet advertising.
  • Our ability to keep our web sites operational at a reasonable cost and without service interruptions.
  • The success of our geographical and product expansion.
  • Our ability to attract, motivate and retain top-quality employees.
  • Foreign, federal, state or local government regulation that could impede our ability to post ads for various industries.
  • Our ability to upgrade and develop our systems, infrastructure and products.
  • New technologies or services that block the ads we deliver and user adoption of these technologies.
  • The costs and results of litigation that we face.
  • Our ability to protect our intellectual property rights.
  • Our ability to forecast revenue from agreements under which we guarantee minimum payments.
  • Our ability to manage click-through fraud and other activities that violate our terms of services.
  • Our ability to successfully integrate and manage our acquisitions.
  • Geopolitical events such as war, threat of war or terrorist actions.

One thing they never mentioned (explicitly anyway) was "Site owners continue to give us permission to crawl and index their sites". Without that permission, a large part of Google's business model disappears.

The permission can be taken away with two simple lines of code placed in a site's robots.txt file:

User-agent: Googlebot
Disallow: /

Sure, every site owner in the world would need to publish this file to their sites. But if they did such a thing, the Google search engine could no longer crawl or index any of the Web's content. It would be defunct.

So, fellow site owners, Google's future is in our hands. If you want to go "on strike" and stop Google profiting from the fruits of your labours, simply publish the code. Be warned that your site will eventually be removed from Google's index if you do so. As a unilateral step, this may do you more harm than good. But if we all do it en masse, then beware Google!

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