The dark side of Google

In the past several years, Google has become more evil. Despite its goal of purity and widely-heralded philosophy at its founding, it has become just another corporation trying to make a buck. While it employs some of the best and brightest engineering talent, it has taken over the Internet in ways that even a monopolist such as Microsoft can only admire from the sidelines. What happened? It was a gradual evolution and just being better than its competitors, but also being such a big presence in so many places around the Internet too.

Let me count the Googles in my own life. First and foremost is email: Gmail is probably the best webmailer that I have ever used, and I have used many of them. I use Google to host all of my email now from my various domains. I first started using their email service because it was free, but it still offers better features than most for-fee services. Their group emailing list services still is substandard, something that Yahoo does much better after all these years (Yahoo bought eGroups long ago, one of my favorite services).

Then there is search. All my searching is done on Google, too. I have tried Bing and while it has some appealing features, I keep coming back to Google. Yahoo? Oh yeah, there is Yahoo too.

How about video streaming? Certainly the go-to place for that is You Tube. I have used them as one of my many places where I put my own videos online, and have noticed that as You Tube has become part of the Googleplex it has gotten harder to use and lags behind features of some of the smaller video streaming service providers.

SaaS-based storage? While Google Docs is not as good as many, it does work to share documents and other stuff online. They bought Etherpad and have tried to incorporate the real-time editing service, but it has been a botched effort to date.

Maps? Got that covered. I particularly like the walking/biking directions. The mobile maps could use some work, which is one of the reasons why Apple is moving to their own app for their iThings. And let’s not even go into the whole sad saga of how they collected this mapping data and recording the open Wifi hotspots along the way, or the scary future of what they intend to do with their 3D plans, outlined here.

Social networking? There is Google+. (And Orkut, if you live in Brazil. And Wave and Buzz, which thankfully never took hold.) I know folks who love it and use it and profit from it greatly. I am not one of them. Facebook and LinkedIn are fine by me and enough work to keep up with them.

Photos? Google bought Picasa and has been dismantling it over time, making their offering less compelling for sharing photos online and wanting folks to use Google+ for this purpose.

Phones? Android is now the dominant smartphone player in the world.

Browsers? There is Chrome. I still try to resist, using the other ones.

Are you sensing a trend? Google isn’t as good at incorporating a small development group into the ‘Plex. Their offerings often lag behind the competition, even when the small dev groups are ahead of the market. As James Whittaker, one former Googler has said:
“The Google I was passionate about was a technology company that empowered its employees to innovate. The Google I left was an advertising company with a single corporate-mandated focus.”

Google now competes in so many places that many of my colleagues are moving to de-Google their online lives. And they are finding that the effort is considerable. Mainly because Google is like the Borg: it wants to assimilate your online life.

It does this through the Google Account. Take a look for a moment at accounts.google.com. You can see an impressive amount of information about your online activities, if you allow Google to do so. If I choose to, all of my social media posts of Twitter are tied to my account. All of my searches are saved in their archives, if I turn that option on. And the number of options of what to reveal to the world and what not are as complex and ever changing as the equivalent Facebook choices.

There are options presented as a way to “improve my search experience” and accuracy, and I am sure that they do. Trouble is, I have no idea if they are also adding to the things that Google can track about my online life. My guess is that they do, which totally creeps me out.

Where do we go from here? I don’t honestly know. I am not prepared to entirely de-Google my life yet, although I do keep in mind some of the alternatives and watch what they are doing. I do think Google has gotten more evil over time, and is seeing some of their best and brightest engineering talent leave for other places as their own frustrations increase. It is too bad, because we all had such high hopes for them.

8 thoughts on “The dark side of Google

  1. Dave – you described a lot of examples of superior technology and a lot of examples of incompetence, and explicitly describe Google’s inability to assimilate small tech innovators. So, er, where’s the evil? Mind you, I’m not a Google defender; I sold all but a nominal number of shares six months ago. The reasons why I sold are complex, and I’m not sure I fully understand them.

    I don’t see Google as evil. I see all giant internet companies (Google, Amazon, eBay, Baidu and let’s throw in Apple) as being forced to get into more and more businesses because of the way network effects work. Go ahead and list out all Amazon’s businesses the way you just did Googles! Not only are they in IaaS cloud services and tablet hardware and media distribution, but the other day they launched a videogame studio and in the spring they started soliciting scripts to produce TV shows. (Just noticed I forgot to mention retail consumer sales and wholesale fulfillment.)

    Back in the days when Eric Schmidt took my calls, he told me something short and simple that has stayed top-of-mind ever since. In a Comdex suite in Vegas, he told me, “The internet is the world’s ultimate arbitrage engine.”

    Combine network effects and the world’s greatest arbitrage engine and you can see why all these companies feel they have no choice but to get into all these (and each other’s) businesses. I don’t consider it evil. I consider it a new fact of business life that all these companies have recognized, but that the vast majority of traditional players haven’t yet figured out. They know the world has changed, they know weird things are happening to their businesses, but they don’t grasp the simple, awesome power behind network effects + arbitrage engine.

  2. Great piece as so many of your columns are but my take was similar as that of the infamous MikeA – great summary of G and I agree with almost all points and didnt realize how mediocre they are in so many areas – but your case for Evil would make me vote “Not Guilty.” While that being said the potential for them to be Evil is without peer and we hope that business and public pressure and some remaining loyalty to their credo will remain. However, at this time, being mediocre and Microsoft-like might be their worst crime.

    • Keith and Mike — My use of “evil” is straight from the Google IPO offering and their slogan, you notice that I didn’t use it in my post title. So maybe that was a bad decision on my part, but I guess we all remember what the trade press called Microsoft back in the day (“the Evil Empire”) so perhaps that was also what I was thinking in the background. Thanks for your comments. D

  3. Capitalism is amoral. Making a buck is the goal. If Google does good, to stay in business, it is for the people who PAY them. And that isn’t the people e mailing or searching, but the people buying marketing placement and services gleaned from those who willingly give up information to use a “free” service.

    Google, like Microsoft, is a marketing company. Their products may not be the best, but they have become powerful businesses because they market better than almost everyone else.

    Google also owns Postini which does anti-spam for them, so they control what you see in your mail as well. So not only do they deliver advertising and search placement, but they also are in the position to filter information that you do see from others.

    When you buy or use a software program or service you generally sign away your rights to privacy so that company can not only contact you but leverage that information so that others may do so as well, making that information they gather about you quite valuable.

  4. Dave, you hit on what I consider the evil part of Google when you mentioned their ability to track customers online. Like many, I hate not knowing how much personal information I put on the Web is being used to dissect, categorize and sell me. I remember reading somewhere that Google mines and analyzes not only gmail messages but attachments. Do you happen to know if the info remains anonymous or if they use it, or sell it, to target individuals? I am getting paranoid in my old age, but as they say, being paranoid doesnt mean they’re not out to get you. My 24 year old son, by the way, just shrugs it off.

    • I don’t believe they keep the personal information with your emails, but that is what they said about their wifi hotspot collections and you see how they handled that. I think that did them a lot of harm in the trustworthiness department.

  5. Pingback: In Google I Trust Not | Plot Configuration Parameters

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