“It was bizarre – as if people all of a sudden couldn’t find me,” says a still bemused Oliver Standproud, recounting how, last month, he found himself apparently disappearing off of the social map. “The phone just stopped ringing, people stopped tweeting me, the number of friends I had on Facebook halved overnight!” But worse was to come for the freelance fish slapping consultant, as he found himself ignored in shops, cafes and bars. “It didn’t matter whether I was at the front of the queue, the staff would serve several other people before they grudgingly served me,” he explains. “It was the same with taxis – at least a dozen would drive past and ignore me before one would take my fare! I just couldn’t understand what was going on – it was as if I’d suddenly become less popular, even though I hadn’t changed anything in my life.” When thirty seven year old Standproud finally got to the bottom of his dilemma, he initially refused to believe the explanation. “I only found out what was going on when I went online and consulted a webmaster forum to try and find out why all search traffic to my business website had apparently stopped,” he recalls. “I was told by other members that it was the result of a recent Google algorithm update. Incredibly, they suggested that my non-web problems had also been caused by the same update. Obviously, I at first dismissed this as being ridiculous – I mean, Google might think that they own the web, but this was the real world! Surely they couldn’t control that as well?”

However, the bizarre diagnosis was quickly confirmed by the search engine itself, with the release of a video, in which CEO Eric Schmidt announced Google’s ‘acquisition’ of the entire world. “It’s true, we now have the entire world indexed, every inch of territory, every citizen and every available piece of data concerning those citizens,” he boasted. “What did you think Google Maps and Google Earth were about? Did you really think all that private data our camera vans collected from individuals was gathered accidentally? Did you honestly believe that Google Plus was a social media platform? Did you really think we’d be insane enough to try and compete with Facebook? Believe me, the easiest way to gather people’s most intimate data is to get them to give it to you willingly!” He went on to claim that now the globe was indexed, non-web life would be subject to Google’s webmaster guidelines and that anyone breaking them would be penalised by having their ‘life rankings’ reduced. “Suddenly everything made sense – I’d obviously broken some rule of theirs and suffered a penalty,” says Standproud. “The trouble was, I didn’t know what it was and they wouldn’t tell me when I tried to talk to them on their forums. The situation was desperate – I was losing more business with every day that went by! People looking for fish slapping services couldn’t find me in any kind of directories, off line or online – big companies with no fish slapping expertise whatsoever were being listed ahead of my business!”

Eventually Standproud learned from another video released by Google – whose motto is ‘Don’t Be Evil’ – that his life had probably been caught up in a new algorithm update, codenamed ‘Panda’. “This update has been about maintaining quality. Basically, our newly adjusted algorithm can grade people’s businesses, even their entire lives, in terms of quality, by analysing their social interactions, business deals and the nature of their business,” smirked Google corporate mouthpiece Matt Cutts in the new video. “So, if you have a good business and behave properly you should have nothing to fear. Only if you have a superficial life or a thin business models will you find yourself demoted. Sure, in the short-term some innocent people might see some reductions in their business or social activity, but believe me, if you haven’t recovered from the adjustment yet, then there’s something wrong with your life.” Not surprisingly, Standproud wasn’t happy with this latest development, denying that his life and business was, in any way, ‘low quality’. “It’s outrageous that they can arbitrarily wreck someone’s life like this,” he says. “In the end I was forced to consult Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) experts, who suggested that I needed to make myself more ‘visible’ to Google. So I ended up spending hundreds of pounds on Google Ads, telling everyone how great I am and what a brilliant fish slapper I am. It seems to have worked as business has picked up a bit, but I’m probably going to have to spend hundreds more on Google Ads again next month if I’m going to stay in business!”

Despite his loss of business and social standing, Standproud had been relatively lucky compared to some other victims of the Google reality update. “I woke up to find that I’d completely fallen off of the radar – my phone was dead, my satellite TV and internet didn’t work and all my bank cards had been cancelled,” says Ray Friskett, who is currently living on a park bench in Sandhurst. “When I went to the bank, they wouldn’t let me withdraw any money. In fact, they denied I had an account there. It was the same with all my friends – none of them would acknowledge me! My employer also denied all knowledge of me when I tried to go to work. Worst of all, when I returned home, I found the locks changed and someone else living there!” Experts believe that Friskett’s life had fallen so short of Google’s new quality guidelines that the update had resulted in him being removed completely from the ‘index’. The thirty two year old, now begging for a living as, currently being a ‘non-person’, he is ineligible for benefits, remains mystified as to why he has been de-indexed. “I had a good job, a mortgage, no criminal record, I don’t drink to excess or do drugs,” he muses. “I just don’t know what I’m supposed to have done – how have I angered Google?”

In spite of the experiences of Standproud, Friskett and many others, Google executives are adamant that Google’s reality update has produced many more winners than losers. “Most people will now find it much easier to locate quality businesses in their local community – we’ve ensured that the likes of Boots, Sainsbury’s and Tesco are now known to everyone,” explained Schmidt. “Not having to rely on low quality, highly dubious local traders will be of enormous benefit to consumers.” He also claims that Google’s acquisition of reality has brought other benefits to consumers. “Real time predictive shopping, where shop staff automatically predict what you want to purchase on the basis of previous shopping behaviour will save most consumers so much time and effort,” he asserted. “In future, all you will need to do is just turn up at the checkout and your trolley will be waiting for you, full of your purchases – all you’ll have to do is pay for them.” However, Standproud is unconvinced. “People already knew how to find the likes of Marks and Spencer – they’re on every bloody high street,” he points out. “As for predictive shopping, all that means is shop assistants trying to shove tins of sardines into my trolley just because I bought some Tuna fish last week!” Many politicians are also wary of Google’s reality takeover, fearing that it will undermine democracy. “At least now we know why they’re getting away with paying next to no corporate tax in the UK, despite making millions in profits here,” opines Labour Shadow Treasury Spokesperson Howard Spang. “Any politician who proposes changes to the tax regime just finds themselves suffering a popularity penalty, risking their chances of re-election. Even now they’re probably de-indexing Ed Miliband’s recent speech calling for them to pay more tax, so that nobody will ever know that he made it!”