Google is a fascinating company. One of its "core principles" is, "You can make money without doing evil"-a tenet that suggested Google would never do what presumably many other companies were less squeamish about doing. That mantra, and the more direct unofficial slogan, "Don't be evil," were supposed to be the guiding light for Google's executives and employees.
But in recent years, Google's motto has also become its curse. As the company got bigger and entered multiple new markets, people have increasingly asked whether Google has held true to the do-no-evil philosophy, especially in light of persistent complaints about the erosion of personal privacy caused by Google's Street View mapping feature and the Google Buzz social network.
So far, Google has remained relatively unscathed, as some of the privacy concerns voiced by regulators and pundits have mostly gone unnoticed by the mainstream media and Internet users at large. That obviously helps Google. But how much longer can the current situation last?
If Google doesn't act fast to solve its privacy troubles, they will linger and haunt the company. Here's why:
1. The mainstream will eventually care
Google has yet to be faced with widespread outcry over privacy. Part of that is because its privacy troubles were centered on Buzz and Street View, which aren't all that popular among mainstream users. But it's also because the public simply doesn't care about privacy the way it should. For now, that is helping Google, Facebook and other companies that have faced privacy complaints. But it won't stay that way forever. And unless Google changes things up, it will be faced with objections from the mainstream public eventually.
2. It's becoming more frequent
Whether Google wants to admit it or not, the privacy issues that used to arise every now and then are starting to rear their ugly heads more often. It was just a few months ago that the company was battling outcry over its Buzz practices. Now it's being forced to admit that it inadvertently collected private information over public WiFi networks as it was taking pictures for Street View. The more privacy concerns are made public, the greater the chance they will hurt the search giant.
3. Privacy matters to companies
The tech industry is moving online. The enterprise is quickly realizing that for businesses to be more efficient than they were in the past, moving to the Web is a necessity. Google will be one of the companies that will bring others into the cloud and help make their transition easier. But if Google continues to attract privacy complaints, some organizations might balk at using its services when they get to the cloud. That could spell trouble for Google's bottom line.
4. The government will take more notice
For now, the U.S. government and European regulators are spending much of their time picking on Facebook and Microsoft. But that is starting to change as more lawmakers realize that Google is acquiring a level of power and dominance that is almost unprecedented in the industry. Google's market power also makes it a target for ambitious lawmakers and regulators. Look for more inquiries into Google's operations as the company continues to grow and move into new markets with new information services.