Easily our No. 1 choice for Google gaffe of the year, the WiSpy incident was the worst thing to happen to Google in 2010. What happened? Google in May revealed its Street View cars had inadvertently scooped 600 gigabytes of data from unsecured WiFi networks in more than 30 countries around the world since 2007. Whoops, turns out a Google engineer had written code to do this without Google’s permission. Countries, privacy watchdogs and state attorneys general are hounding Google.
A few months before the WiSpy scandal erupted, Google launched a social conversation service called Google Buzz. The product promptly infringed on users’ privacy. Google put its tail between its legs and worked overtime to engineer out the privacy flaws. But the company still had to shell out $8.5 million to plaintiffs who sued the company because their private lives had been affected. Adding insult to injury, few people use the service enough for it to matter. We see this product disappearing altogether or possibly layered into the Google +1 social layer cake next year.
4Google Fires Engineer for Accessing Gmail Accounts
This one is just bad for business. While WiSpy and Buzz blasted apart the ramparts of user privacy at the macro level, one Google engineer allegedly snooped Gmail accounts of at least four minors. Google told Gawker, which broke the story: “We dismissed David Barksdale for breaking Google’s strict internal privacy policies. We carefully control the number of employees who have access to our systems, and we regularly upgrade our security controls. For example, we are significantly increasing the amount of time we spend auditing our logs to ensure those controls are effective. That said, a limited number of people will always need to access these systems if we are to operate them properly—which is why we take any breach so seriously.”
Google CEO Eric Schmidt didn’t do Google any favors with regard to upholding the search engine’s formal privacy procedures when he told CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo in December 2009 that: “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” In October 2010, he said anyone who didn’t like their house appearing in photographs on Google Street View could “just move.” Schmidt claimed these were jokes, and while mainstream consumers failed to find fault with his quips, consumer advocates such as the Consumer Watchdog used his cavalier comments as ammunition for Google bashing.
6Google Investigated by the European Commission
It happened to Microsoft and it happened to Intel. Both had to shell out billions to keep operating in Europe once the European Union’s antitrust watchdog got through with them. Now Google is battling a formal investigation from the European Commission after Foundem, Ciao, ejustice, Euro-Cities and German publishers complained that Google is pumping up its own Web services at the expense of theirs on Google.com. The Commission is taking this seriously.
7Googles ITA Bid Halted
Google in July offered to acquire online travel data provider ITA Software for $700 million. That deal should have been sealed by now, but for opposition from online travel companies. Expedia, Microsoft and others banned together to form FairSearch.org to ask the Justice Department to block the deal in the spirit of preserving healthy competition. The DOJ is looking into it. This purchase would beef up Google’s flight search and pricing comparison capabilities. Each month it’s delayed is lost time for Google trying to improve its services. Surely, Google could have built better travel search services by this time.
8Google Fails to Buy Groupon
Google spent the bulk of this month and November trying to land local coupon giant Groupon, allegedly for the enormous price of $6 billion. Groupon declined and is now taking off like a rocket after the attention generated from the failed negotiations. Just like with Yelp in 2009, Google failed to snag a market-leading local service. What this has done is shone a spotlight on the reluctance for growing companies to join Google and become more corporatized. This was a big loss for Google, which doesn’t have a solid local deals offering such that Groupon, Foursquare or Facebook provide.
Netbooks based on Google’s Chrome operating system were supposed to launch to the public in time for Christmas. Google missed this deadline and issued Cr-48 test machines to let thousands of users try out the OS. Chrome OS works well enough. But at a time when Apple’s iPad and Samsung’s Galaxy Tab are all the rage, Chrome OS on anything but a tablet next year will be a tough sell, in our opinion.
Unveiled to great fanfare at Google I/O in May this year, Google TV is the company’s bid to marry Web and channel surfing. Lukewarm reception to the software, blocks by major TV networks and nose-thumbing at the costs for the service have apparently concerned Google enough to request TV set makers such as Toshiba, Sharp and LG to hold off from launching devices with the service. Expect media to throw more mud at Google TV into 2011 if it doesn’t have a decent showing from Samsung or anyone else at the Consumer Electronics Show next month.
Easily the biggest product disappointment of the year, Google Wave was supposed to usher in a new era of real-time collaboration and information sharing. Google launched it broadly this year to the public at Google I/O only to shutter it in August for failing to gain traction. Considering all the hype, this was a big blow of wasted money and engineering resources.