It sounds simple: don’t be evil. How hard can it be, really? Don’t kill kittens. Don’t perform illegal acts involving chainsaws, guns, or exotic fruits. Easy.
For such a simple motto – slogan, really – Google seems to have been having difficulties with this lately. Has the omnipresent company grown from its don’t be evil roots, or are they as good-hearted as they’ve ever been?
Evil Act Number One: Messing with Search
Google is all about search. That’s how they make their money, which means it’s their core product. While they offer other services, like Google Analytics and Google Docs, their primary revenue stream comes from advertisements that they show in their search engine. To that end, they need to keep the advertisers happy; to keep the advertisers happy, they need to gather as much data on you as possible. What better way to do this than through a social network?
Google+ is one of those social networks that seems promising at first. Sure, I’ll sign up; it looks like a nice enough service. Then a week later you realize that you haven’t used it at all. A month later you try to remember why you ever thought you’d use it. Now Google is trying to throw their social network in your face, with Search Plus Your World.
Now, instead of showing items based on a relevancy factor, Google will show you what your friends think or have said…so long as it’s on Google+. Google won’t show you anything from Twitter or Facebook in SPYW, opting instead to draw you in to Google+.
Fishy at best, anti-competitive and illegal at worst, Search Plus Your World is the beginning of the end for relevant, unbiased results in your Google search results.
Evil Act Number Two: Stalking You
Google isn’t the only internet powerhouse monitoring your activity across the web, but it’s certainly the one gathering the most information. Even if you choose to go with a different search engine, chances are that Google is monitoring your activity. It can do this through a variety of ways, like digging through the services that you use Google products for (like, you know, email) or leaving a cookie in your browser, monitoring the sites you visit and things you say.
Beyond that, Google has a powerful tool in their information-gathering arsenal: Google Analytics. A useful tool for bloggers and website managers, Analytics allows someone operating a site to get detailed information on their visitors, right down to what operating system and browser they’re using, their (general) location, and what they viewed on the site. You know who else has that information? Google.
I don’t know about you, but I would prefer if someone didn’t set me up for tracking that I didn’t know was going on. Sure, given Google’s large presence on the Web, I don’t think any single site running Analytics will hurt in the long run, but every single contribution counts. I’m not a big fan of the service, but I see its usefulness.
Evil Act Number Three: Being ‘Yucky’ with Advertisements
I get that Google is offering (a ton of) free services. They make some good tools, from Gmail and Google Docs to Google Search and Chrome. I’m used to seeing advertisements in Google Search results, as that’s how they make money. Cool.
What I don’t like is seeing advertisements based on an email that I’m reading. Sure, I doubt there’s an actual person viewing my email, but it still puts me on edge. It’s much the same when I launch Google Chrome. The first time I saw an advertisement in that Start Page (granted, it was for a Chromebook) I began using Safari as often as possible.
This probably sounds whiny. I could pay for some other email service, or use another search engine, there’s something horrible going on with my mother; feel free to leave those out of the comments section. Why? Because I’m looking into the first one, I’m using DuckDuckGo for search, and you don’t even know my mother. I think.
Evil Act Number Four: Buying a Weapon for the Patent Wars
Everyone has been doing this lately, but it doesn’t make it any less appalling. The patent wars continue, with multiple lawsuits being brought up in multiple countries in an effort to gain a leg-up on the competition through backhanded, broad patents for technology instead of trying to compete by creating excellent products.
Not only is Google preparing to participate in this ridiculous ‘war’, they’ve also wasted twelve billion dollars in order to do so. You don’t pay that kind of money for a company that has been practically screaming for bankruptcy unless you’ve got something underhanded going on.
One could argue that Google is simply trying to play on the same level as other companies, and they’d be right. Unfortunately, I don’t think those same people ever paid attention when they were told that two wrongs don’t make a right.
Evil Act Number Five: On Verizon and Net Neutrality
Oh, Google. Supporter of the ‘open web’, bringer of light to the dark halls of proprietary formats and closed systems, how have you fallen? Some time around a billion years ago (it’s not an exact science) Google saw that they needed Verizon to sell Android phones, and Verizon needed Google’s backing behind their own internet agendas, which included proposing a variety of principles to the FCC in regards to net neutrality. Thus began the don’t be evil company’s courtship with one of America’s biggest telcos around a decidedly evil agenda.
Essentially, what all this means is that Google and Verizon wanted to make the wired web completely neutral, barring companies providing non-mobile internet access from messing with data or website speeds. What they didn’t do was use solid language or mention the mobile web anywhere…except to say that the rules should be different.
What’s that? The nation’s largest cellular service provider and the company that makes the operating systems on their (one-time) most popular phones wants to stop the FCC from bringing net neutrality to wireless companies? That makes perfect, non-evil sense. Maybe. Not really.
This move was a classic smile-in-the-front, dagger-in-the-back maneuver. By creating standards for wired service providers while trying to retain control of mobile internet, Google and Verizon made it difficult to argue.
Okay, but All Companies are Evil
Well, maybe. Sure, I guess. Even if these other companies are evil, the important thing going on here is the sheer size of the company we’re dealing with. So many people I know don’t know how to enter an internet address that isn’t for Facebook or Google. For them, Google Search is the Web. This makes Google an immensely powerful company in this space, and puts them in a position to do some real harm to the Web as a whole.
If this were a no-name company being creepy the easy answer would be ‘okay, but they’ll obviously die soon, you can’t get away with being creepy’. Unfortunately, Google isn’t a small company. They have money. They have talent. They have dedicated employees that genuinely believe they are helping change the Web (which, to be fair, they are). Google, as an entity, will probably be around long enough to deal some real damage.
I don’t expect Google to change. They’re a for-profit company, and I get that their ultimate goal is to pay stockholders. That’s cool. What I would like to see is the end of such lies like “Don’t be evil”. If you’re going to invade my privacy, mess with how I see the Web, and show me advertisements on every turn, don’t pretend you’re a nice guy.