Don't Be Google

Search giant has set itself up for failure -- at least in the public eye

By Owen Thomas
|  Monday, Dec 7, 2009  |  Updated 3:30 PM EDT
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Don't Be Google

If Dr. Evil ran Google, would we be able to tell the difference?

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Remember when we were all Google-crazy?

Those heady days were only a few years ago -- a honeymoon that ran for perhaps a year before and after Google's blockbuster IPO in August 2004.

Wired called it "Googlemania." The New York Times noted the tech industry's "Google envy." Business 2.0 even dubbed its employee shuttle -- performing the miracle of getting workers from Point A to Point B -- "the magic bus."

Now Google has gone "from friend to foe," notes the San Francisco Chronicle. The media business, in particular, is suspicious of Google's advertising ambitions and its supposed cheapening of content.

But even small moves, like Google's rollout of a "public DNS" service to speed up Web page downloads, draw arched eyebrows. While it may improve the Web-browsing experience, PC World observes, it would also give Google "an unparalleled look [at] what people are doing on the Internet."

Even Google's money isn't as green as it used to be: Shareholders of On2 are raising awkward questions about the video-technology's acquisition by Google.

Poor Google! Ask Google's hapless public-relations staff about these moves, and you'll get pat reassurances about Google's "openness" and "transparency." Less-rehearsed answers from rank-and-file Googlers show that the company's employees still believe it's a force for good -- even if it's not very skilled at convincing others of that case.

The real problem? Google is a big company, with nearly 10 times the number of employees it had at its IPO and $22 billion in revenues last year. It has clear commercial interests which are at odds with competitors. And it profits from having vast amounts of data about its users and advertisers. Whatever safeguards it creates, the truth is that privacy is a speed bump to its profit machine.

Google's unofficial slogan is "don't be evil." That's not the same, it's worth noting, as being good.

Perhaps Google, the unstoppable collective of brainiacs working to bring all the world's information online, is beyond good and evil.

It's just Google.

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