Google, Evil and the Binary Curse

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2012-02-28 Print this article Print

Evil Google.png

The whole "Is Google Evil?" meme has grown to be a ridiculous, farcical debate, prone to solemn punditry by some of the most authoritative voices in high tech.

I've defended Google countless times here, but I've never subscribed to the notion that Google is good, much less evil. No business deserves the evil mantle. Well, except maybe Enron. You could argue a converse case for hours.

The discussion about whether Google is good or evil isn't a binary debate. This isn't Google=God, Microsoft=Satan.

Google is a big and unfortunately bloated business (even after the "spring cleanings"), whose will to compete and get bigger has triggered business decisions that have been, well, not so nice.

Are they evil decisions? Who is to say? They're not all good; that much is certain. Search Engine Land's Danny Sullivan struck the right neutral tone in this piece, a commentary on Nick Bilton's New York Times piece on the fact that Google has made a number of privacy missteps.

They include:

Those are just a handful of recent transgressions in 2012, yet all of them have warranted congressional inquiry and scrutiny. Google's privacy changes solicited a complaint from three dozen state attorneys general. They're not Google's first privacy-challenging encounters.

In 2010, Google owned up to permitting Street Views cars to swipe 600GB of user data. A few months before that, Google shared users' Gmail contacts in Google Buzz without express permission.

Yet those were two isolated incidents.

The recent behavior suggests a hedging of Google's bets to push the envelope for the sake of better accessing and leveraging user data to improve ad targeting and make more money.

Privacy advocates will have you believe that Google is doing all of these things because it is a nefarious company with no regard for users' privacy. I'd argue it's nothing personal. Google only has regard for user privacy where it makes good business sense to do so.

I'd argue Google feels it needs to upgrade its privacy policy to streamline, in Google parlance, user identity all in the name of competing with Facebook. Google has personalized search for the same reason.

I'd argue Google feels as if Apple, Facebook and Amazon have its back against the wall and that it is deathly afraid of becoming the next Microsoft. That is, fairly absent on the Web.

And I argue Google co-founders Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt form the trinity opposed to becoming the next Microsoft.

The irony is that Google has, to probably 90 percent of the high-tech-watching world, already become the next Microsoft. It's being investigated on multiple fronts, particularly for antitrust issues in search advertising, and for trampling privacy.

Google isn't acting out of evil. It's pushing the privacy envelope out of fear from the competition.

A capitalist-minded person might commend Google for the effort, but because Google traffics in consumer data, it looks like an insidious spy looking over our shoulders to make a buck.

I have to think Google knows that this isn't going to end well. Apparently, comScore said user engagement on Google+ is so low as to be negligible.

Combine that with the fact that it's ripe for a huge legal smackdown for anti-competitive practices and consumer privacy violations, and a possible violation of its consent decree, and the company could be facing a perfect storm of bad happenings this year. |

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