The Influence of Google on Urban Policy in Developing Countries


‘Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.’ In the case of urban policy in developing countries, Google not only provides information, e.g. the size of a city’s population, but also knowledge, e.g. analyses of urban issues and policies. Based on research conducted between January and May 2008, we argue that googling urban policy issues contributes to hegemonic policy perspectives; that the manner in which Google organizes knowledge limits access to alternative policy perspectives and debate; and that this is not in the public interest. We make three claims. The first is that the World Bank, the Cities Alliance and UN Habitat together dominate explanations of urban issues and appropriate policies. The second is that googling policy issues contributes to this dominance. The third claim is that Google especially serves this purpose when the query ‘keywords’ can be used as labels whose conceptualization can be ‘owned’. These claims are demonstrated through explaining how the Google search engine works and creates ‘biases’; and then through googling ‘city development strategy’, ‘slum upgrading’, and ‘municipal services, finances and capacity building in developing countries’. We further demonstrate that finding potential alternative policies requires perseverance and time and pre‐existing knowledge of what the policy issues might be.