Is Google still worth our love, or has it become another selfish corporation?

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More examples of Google’s anti-social behavior

Google’s new self-serving streak doesn’t end with Google+, Motorola patents, Google Play, or Google Maps. The company’s new-found aggressiveness has crept into many areas of its business. Google built its search business on the idea that the best results should always float to the top, but its expanding empire has challenged that impartiality. Below are a few examples of services and areas where Google has chosen to go it alone and build its own competing service instead of working with other companies.  

  • Google Latitude: With recent additions like check-ins and leaderboards, Google is trying to position Latitude more directly against Foursquare and Facebook Places.

  • Google Places: For a long time, Google Places included data from Yelp, Citysearch, TripAdvisor, and other services, but in July it dropped support for those services after the companies filed suit because they weren’t getting enough value back from Google, which seemed to be scraping their data solely to enhance its own service. Instead of working to better accommodate these services, Google purchased Zagat and has decided to go it alone.

  • Google Flights & Hotel Finder: Instead of signing a deal to get flight data or working with a competitor, Google went solo and bought ITA, the company that makes the the software that almost all airlines and ticket sites use to make online reservations. Competitors like Kayak, Bing Travel, and others who need this data have complained, but the deal went through anyway. Google now operates its own flight- and hotel-finding services.

  • Unified Privacy Policy: On March 1, Google instituted a massive overhaul of its privacy policy, unifying more than 60 separate privacy policies into one. Users, journalists, and bloggers complained that the new policy also makes it even easier for Google to freely aggregate a user data from all of its services and use that information to target ads on its other services, with no option to opt out. Google has argued that all users are free to log out of Google at any time.

  • Google Offers: Google’s attempts to buy Groupon were turned down. Instead of finding new ways to aggregate deals from the growing number of coupon and location-based deals sites on the Web, Google opened its own Google Offers, which is currently available in a number of cities across the US.

  • Google Wallet: I like the idea of Google Wallet and digital wallets, but instead of working with companies like Isis, which has the backing of most major US wireless carriers, Google chose to develop its own competing standard, which may be holding the new service back. It is currently still only available in a few cities and only on Sprint. Verizon, which launched the Galaxy Nexus, refused to operate Google Wallet on its service. Google has also chosen to only integrate its own Google Offers coupon system with Wallet. Competitors have been left out in the cold.

  • Google Videos: Though it has a video tab that aggregates video from across the Web, recent updates to the Google UI have hidden this feature and put YouTube in its place. Instead of promoting impartial video search, Google is placing a huge preference on its own video site.

  • Android Honeycomb source code: Google never released the source code for its tablet-only Android 3.0, despite the OS supposedly being an open-source operation. Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) code was released, but it’s plausible that a situation like this could happen again or that Google could reconsider open source all together.

  • YouTube premium content: Google is funding 100 YouTube channels that will have exclusive content and live shows for its network. This effort is nice, but it also makes YouTube less of an open video market where the best videos (or dumbest) rise to the top. Google will continue to use more YouTube real estate to promote its own video products. Funding your own content is a bit of a conflict of interest for YouTube and Google.

There are undoubtedly many more examples of selfish behavior by Google over the last few years. While most, if not all, of these actions can be justified, it’s not hard to see that there has been a shift in Google’s attitude as of late.

Upcoming changes to search

Earlier today, the Wall Street Journal leaked some of Google’s upcoming plans for its search engine. Soon, it will introduce a new concept called “semantic search,” which will help it deliver actual answers to users instead of links to Web sites. The service will be powered by a new database of more than 200 million ‘entities’ or people, places, and things, that will help Google know exactly what a user wants when typing and better figure out the context of the search query. If you’ve ever typed a simple math problem into Google or asked for the “Population of Michigan,” then you’ve already seen an example of Google giving you a direct answer. While this sounds amazing, and may be, it could also open up a new controversy for Google. The company gets all of its data from sites on the Web. By mining them and delivering direct answers to users, it may save users some clicks and reading, but it could anger Web site owners around the world. After all, what good is Google to a Web site if it doesn’t send traffic back to it? 

The WSJ piece also hints that Google will have some exclusive partners for certain types of content. It’s a bit difficult to imagine Google’s search results remaining ‘impartial,’ as it advertises, when it starts delivering answers instead of links. We hope that Google has thought this through and implemented measures to ensure that Web sites don’t get screwed in this new arrangement, but with its track record this year, it’s difficult to say.

Is Google worthy of our love?


About a month ago, I was listening to Gina Trapani on This Week in Google and she referenced a very good blog post from a former Googler named Nelson Minar. He argues that Google isn’t suddenly ‘evil’ but has become something sadder: a traditional company.

“I imagine half of my readers are smugly thinking ‘See, I told you Google was evil all along.’ I don’t think that’s right. In particular I refuse to give in to a cynical view of Google’s “Don’t be evil” motto; that ethos was very real, a sincere and important guiding principle. And if a big company like Google can’t avoid being evil, then what world-changing enterprise can? But I think Google as an organization has moved on; they’re focused now on market position, not making the world better. Which makes me sad. Google is too powerful, too arrogant, too entrenched to be worth our love. Let them defend themselves, I’d rather devote my emotional energy to the upstarts and startups. They deserve our passion.”

A recent blog post by James Whittaker, who just quit Google to work for Microsoft, reiterates this view with much harsher language.

“The Google I was passionate about was a technology company that empowered its employees to innovate,” writes Whittaker. “The Google I left was an advertising company with a single corporate-mandated focus…The days of old Google hiring smart people and empowering them to invent the future was gone. The new Google knew beyond doubt what the future should look like. Employees had gotten it wrong and corporate intervention would set it right again.”

It’s puzzling why Whittaker would go back to Microsoft, which is arguably just as focused and selfish as Google is, especially with its effort to bring out Windows 8, but perhaps that hints at the root of the problem. Microsoft hasn’t pretended to be something it isn’t, and neither have other companies like Facebook or Apple. They’ve claimed to love innovation more than money, but they’ve rarely acted like more than just smart tech companies. Google, on the other hand, has made a business out of convincing the public that it is a ‘good’ company–something different.

Google, the robber baron?

For a time, it seemed like Google was better than other companies. But, it’s fallen so far, so fast that Newsweek is labeling the search giant as one of the “Overlords of Silicon Valley” and a “robber baron.” It’s hard to say what’s going on with the leadership at Google, but it’s sad to see things change in the way that they have. I, and many other journalists and bloggers have long been extra hard on Google, probably to an unfair degree. But that is only because Google has taught us to set our standards high (read its philosophy).

Google claimed to be something greater than a typical money-grubbing corporation. It claimed to have grander intentions. I wonder, where have they gone? Are they caged up or was it a ruse all along?

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