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Google: Now With Just A Little Evil

image A magician is successful by making the audience focus on one hand while the other engages in hidden behavior. Google’s (GOOG) proclamations that it is not evil are corporate PR sleight of hand, and should raise, not lower, the awareness of users of the ways it might indeed be evil. This weeks Economist leads with a cover story and editorial that eloquently frames our concerns.

More JP Morgan than Bill Gates

Google is often compared to Microsoft (another enemy, incidentally); but its evolution is actually closer to that of the banking industry. Just as financial institutions grew to become repositories of people’s money, and thus guardians of private information about their finances, Google is now turning into a custodian of a far wider and more intimate range of information about individuals … Google, through the sheer speed with which it accumulates the treasure of information, will be the one to test the limits of what society can tolerate.

The Economist makes a skillful argument that the issue isn’t whether Google is evil today but whether the foundations are laid for a large scale conflict of interest between individual privacy and corporate profit.

Google in effect controls a dial that, as it sells ever more services to you, could move in two directions. Set to one side, Google could voluntarily destroy very quickly any user data that it collects. That would assure privacy, but it would limit Google’s profits from selling to advertisers information about what you are doing, and make those services less useful. If the dial is set to the other side and Google hangs on to the information, the services will be more useful, but some dreadful intrusions into privacy could occur.

And this is the core issue. Google guards it’s internal processes with the utmost secrecy. Legions of consultants live off of reverse engineering the ranking schemes of Google’s engine. Gmail and Google Reader users consume free services without any knowledge of how their actions and content are being used.

When you deposit money at a bank, you have right to know how it is being used. Depositing information at Google should be no different.


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  1. * you should read John Battelle’s book too …

    * very good read.

    Posted by iain | September 4, 2007, 11:04 PM
  2. There probably is no chance that Google isn’t going to have to step over the line soon. As a public company with incremental billions expected to be generated each year by investors they will have to be self-interested when it comes to leveraging user data. Part of the problem is that most users don’t even realize what data is being collected, let alone how it might be used.

    At some point users may start to say “enough” and look for other providers which is part of what happened to Microsoft when they tried to launch services that demanded end-user trust.

    On the flip side most users are easily bribed by new functions, free usage and even simple eye candy in exchange for pushing their concerns aside for the sake of convenience.

    Posted by Kris Tuttle | September 5, 2007, 6:41 AM
  3. Maybe it’s just a “lizard-brain” response, as Battelle put it, but: Google stopped Not Being Evil a long time ago. Google is not your friend.

    Posted by Craig Matsumoto | September 11, 2007, 3:32 PM
  4. You people are pessimistic.
    Why will Google be evil?
    Being non evil is going to be costlier for google; Isn’t it? They are already earning billions being non evil. They are already spending alot for good PR.

    I furter say that, I don’t mind if they use my personal information to earn some money. They have already given so much. Supporting them is definitely a good thing.

    To all the google haters/doubters: You are selfish and just want to get without giving. Think about your life without google. Google has done all good since inception.

    Posted by Nitin | November 19, 2007, 12:46 AM
  5. A mistake in my post. It’s: Being evil is going to be costlier for google.

    Posted by Nitin | November 19, 2007, 12:48 AM