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Last week, I wrote about the 3rd Rebirth of Computing. This change will lead to the potential for Google to be vastly more powerful than any company in the history of the world. Given the historical patterns associated with companies that get even a fraction of this power, current trends are frightening. I'll focus on Google's increasingly troubling behavior this week and explore whether the company is trending to become the most dangerous company in the world -- a synonym for evil.
I would like to leave a reply to much of the rhetoric that has been tossed Google's way, especially with respect to how dangerous it is, how it manipulates the public, and how "destructive" it really is. But before doing so, let me add that I am an author also, not just some random blogger passing this way. I'm going to take a somewhat different stance here, not so much in defense of Google, but rather what it is we should really be focused on with regards to "Dangerous Corporations", especially in 2011.
So Google is dangerous? First of all, how dangerous can it possibly be? Second, how dangerous can it get considering the fact that it doesn't create anything tangible? Some people who post replies won't explain why it's dangerous, only that it engages in strange and conspicuous business practices, or that it's part of some mysterious propaganda network. Think so?
The fact is companies come and go, some get absorbed, some get passed by, some have an eminent failure for their business plan, and some can't see around the next corner. A few grow to immense proportions. And size often causes alarm with some people whether it be Google, Microsoft, General Electric, AT&T, US Steel, The East India Trading Company, Wal Mart, or Nike. Some of that alarm comes with a solid foundation based upon ugly facts especially if a large corporation leaves behind a ghost town in its business wake. But size shouldn't necessarily draw too much alarm if that corporation doesn't produce anything tangible even if it has in fact become a Mega-Corporation. Similar to Facebook, you can't touch what Google primarily does in function. So size isn't a big issue with me knowing that first, Google might be the clear cut favorite for search engine use right now, but there are still some players out there such as Bing and Yahoo. Second, Google provides a service not a product, and many of the services it does provide are still free. And that's important. And so long as those services remain free I find it difficult to go off onto any super critical tangent especially when I'm drawing value out of what it provides. The fact is nobody is being forced to use Google. There are alternatives.
If you want to consider danger, then consider this: Exxon/Mobil and British Petroleum are easy to criticize given their history and what it is that they do. And not lost to many people is their advertising machinery, especially evident when they blanket television screens with the soft look of fresh and sometimes young innocent looking faces, endearing spokespersons who tell us about the future, about possibilities, and all the good works that these behemoths are currently tackling in order to help get us there. These soft commercials are presented to the public like a gentle broad stroke, an easy pat down the back that reassures us with stories of hard work that is currently being done in realms of positive green research breakthroughs and new developments. But these things are nothing more than a flimsy black shroud despite any advancements being made. The fact is these giants ravage the planet in the real world of the here and now. Make no mistake, that's what a "propaganda network" looks like and it's very dangerous stuff. It's also forced upon all of us despite any beliefs or personal opinions any of us have. We have to deal with it on ugly levels and then endure it somehow. I could talk at length about what entities like those really do, about their real impact on earth, sky, and water, and about what their real contribution is to society. How they change the landscape, how they transform government and distort foreign policy. I might be able to talk about them indefinitely, maybe make a career out of it provided I had enough personal energy. That would be almost too easy.
But back to point, unfortunately those are Mega-Corporations that provide products. If someone feels the need to get critical when discussing the implications of size and power then those might be more appropriate places to start, not with an internet giant that concerns itself with how information is gathered, collated, and disseminated. If Google had some weird political platform that it hoisted like a black flag, then it would be time to get worried. So pushing the problem of size aside, right now the water is calm enough for me. And right now they offer free services that I value. I use their search engine frequently. I pull information from it, I apply it to what I'm doing, and occasionally I find new things that I can use and integrate into my site. Sure, I could have used another engine and perhaps retrieved similar looking results, but I didn't. So on a personal level, and perhaps albeit myopic, Google deserves loads of credit. A positive write up is the only way I know how to repay them.
Daniel A. Pino, author of the new book "The Western Arc" 2011
I'dagree Google is evil, if an only if Google:
1. KNOWS some of the 20% of Internet content that it cherry-picks to index is known to be false, and
2. KNOWS it has been echoing incorrect and personally damaging information to an individual, and
3. KNOWS that has been retracted by the source.
Obviously, to continue to pass along an untruth of this type, is not noble, and should not be covered under "Freedom of Speech/Press" according to common decency and law of the land(s).
I would HOPE Google should be subject to slander/libel laws each time it is erroneously "repeated" IMHO...if the law doesn't say that now, it needs to be changed to say that now.
If it happened to YOU, and YOU had no way to redress your grievances, and the "lies" effectively get repeated hurting your family or worse, your kids, it would be a nightmare.
All of us would agree there should be, there MUST be, a way to stop Google from repeating content KNOWN to be false. Any inaction to correct content KNOWN to be untrue by all parties involved needs to stop being repeated to protect the individual kids or people hurt by the lies.
BI-Temporal Database design techniques have had known ways to suppress retroactively corrected information since the last millennium (CJ Date & Snodgrass), so it is "common IT knowledge" how to suppress invalid info as "corrections to historical content"
Is it true Google just doesn't bother? Inaction is, in and of itself, an action of contempt and disdain in this case. Repeating information known to be damaging to individuals, has always been criminal IMHO, and still should be ASAP.
Besides, applying simple DB techniques known since last century is not a stretch, and using a real RDBMS just might "perform better" as we move to the semantic web and can exploit relational DB
Google's apparent and complete disregard for their concerns is at least hypocritical, an adjective that has been applied to Google before.
First, let me say that for the most part, <shock> I agree with you.</shock>
However, in reading the story I kept wondering how it is that you can speak out so vehemently against Google while at the same time at least giving Microsoft a pass if not indeed defending their right to keep committing the very same crimes for which they have already been convicted.
How can you point a finger at Google without having 3 pointing back in the direction of yourself and Microsoft?
Then I tried the different permutations of pointing ones finger and found one that fits.
Hold you right hand palm facing you. Now bend index, ring and pinky downward. Now cover those with thumb. There now you have one displayed addressing your intended recipient. Those curved in your direction are covered by the thumb.
It is my guess that Google has harmed you in a personal way and you are using this forum to deliver the message indicated by exercise depicted above.
I would rather think that you are turning over a new leaf and will hitherto, decry corporate abuse, immorality and evil where ever it lies.
If however, you continue to expose corporate miss deed by others, while at the same time ignoring and indeed championing and defending Microsoft's continued misconduct then, far as hypocrisy goes, see subject.
I've made it my life's work to fight abuses though sometimes I have to pick my fights. I also choose how I fight it; picking the most effective tools I have for each task. Ranting at a company is the least effective tool in my toolbox and I only used if I can't use personal leverage.
It is my belief that abusive use of power is a company killer. The short term gains result in risks that put the firm's existence at risk.
In Microsoft's case, currently I don't actually see them abusing their power and they are being punished for past abuses, many of which I both identified and tried to correct. In some cases, though fewer than I'd like, I was actually successful.
Eventually I hope to write a book on how to do this kind of thing more effectively, because it is so widespread, but I still don't think I have the ideal formula.
Out of curiosity, what do you personally do to fight the abuses in your own company?
You quote the saying "Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely." supporting your thesis that government should regulate Google. However, there is a seriuos contradiction here. If the saying is true (which it is, in my opinion), then government (i.e. agents of it) must be absolutely corrupted, after all government has absolute power, despite all the false claims about democracy, etc. So how would regulation by an absolutely corrupted entity solve any problems with Google?
Rob, I also have concerns about the growing mountain of information that Google has control over. For this reason I refuse to use Gmail, opting for yahoo mail instead. However, I have two major problems with your op-ed.
1. The simple fact that a company has the potential to do evil does not necessitate that it will become evil.Your basic assumption is the same one that has plagued the tobacco and gun companies and remains just as ridiculous as it was in the beginning.
2. Why in the world do we have to get the government involved? In my limited experience I seem to recall that when the government gets involved things get more complex and less efficient. Leave the government out of it. Additional government interference would ruin the best qualities of Google and destroy the creativity of similar startup companies.
Posted by: RobEnderle
2009-04-21 23:16:04 In reply to: jrsowash
Actually I agree, my hope is that Google sees the threat and puts in place enforced policies that prevent the outcome I expect by seeing the risk, and clear trend, before it becomes the problem it will become. But to get a company to do this you have to make them see the risk of not acting timely or they will ignore the problem until too late.
The author (Rob Enderle) is discussing a real problem. Now if only he would speak about the worse problem that is Microsoft owning and controlling a vast portion of the software used in businesses and homes all over. Before anything makes its way to Google, *if* it makes its way to Google, it goes through Microsoft for a great many people.
Worse, Microsoft is even more secretive than Google. Microsoft also believes that the average person should have less security and knowledge if they don't have as much money as others. Generally speaking Google is successful in part because they enable more people to watch their backs as well as the bad guys will.
I applaud criticisms over Google, but I think it's dirty to avoid providing the harsher criticisms due Microsoft, especially since a primary beneficiary of Google loses is Microsoft who, as is, has way too much power and control over their many customers' data and privacy. And Microsoft's newest products do an ever better job of locking in users and their data as well as making it easier for Microsoft to spy and gather data on these customers when they use their own computers running Microsoft software to do anything.
I hope the author picks up on this security and privacy theme and agrees (with me and others) to push for the dissemination of open source software in lieu of Microsoft secret software.
I'm not suggesting Google be put out of business, and the idea the Open Source software would fix Privacy and Security issues in the current decade seems exceedingly ill informed. It is my understanding that most botnets run on Open Source software and prefer Linux as a target at the moment.
As far as Microsoft being more secretive than Google, you may want to study Google a bit more. Seriously this is a firm whose founders used 3rd parties to buy their homes so people couldn't use Google Earth to find them. That is both more secret and very hypocritical.
Finally, thanks to the DOJ consent decree and the EU, Microsoft probably has more oversight than any non US Bank at the moment. Microsoft has already had their big moment screwing up; Google is trending to be much more powerful and could end up doing vastly more damage. I'm suggesting we might want to avoid that before it happens this time. This isn't about killing Google, they are doing a lot of good at the moment, this is about making sure they don't become the next Enron.
>> Open Source software would [not] fix Privacy and Security issues
Perhaps you don't realize that closed source software can be updated at any time and closed source is much more difficult to scrutinize in any given amount of time than is open source. To suggest you can have more peace of mind with closed source is comical. To suggest the number of experts in Redmond compares to those outside Redmond is comical.
Don't interpret this remark as some sort of excuse for Google. It isn't. But don't forget that what Google does in their server rooms and labs can just as easily be done by Microsoft in their corresponding hide-out. These two also have vast partnership networks.
Let's not forget Microsoft strives daily to supersede Google. They get much help from a much larger installed base of their proprietary software running on clients at the most important levels of control (the OS). Many people can avoid Google to a very large degree but could not currently avoid Microsoft software even for a minute.
>> It is my understanding that most botnets run on Open Source software and prefer Linux as a target at the moment.
You should put up source links when you make a statement like this. Ask a person using Linux what their computing experience is like in terms of speed. Ask a Windows person what it is like. Query about the large amount of malware that is found on Windows PCs regularly (or not found on Linux PCs). Now, add in the number of Windows PCs out there and the number of Linux PCs out there. Add to this the information that the media states millions of compromised PCs can and do compose botnets. We don't have to agree on numbers exactly to know that your statement looks like statistical trash. Can you understand why I would want to see your references?
>> As far as Microsoft being more secretive than Google
The voluminous amount of code and NDAs built up over the past lies much on Microsoft's side from what I can tell. That is not to say Google is not a concern. Microsoft is the more secretive one by a wide shot best I can tell. Of course, Microsoft software controls PCs everywhere and collectively these have more data than anything Google could pull in. It's anyone's guess what fraction of all of that data lying in the worlds' computers is harvested by Microsoft or by related third parties. I think the number is very large. Certainly, via their EULAs, they attempt to create a legal safety net to anything they might do technically.
>> Finally, thanks to the DOJ consent decree and the EU, Microsoft probably has more oversight than any non US Bank at the moment.
I have not heard a single thing (that's not to say I expect this condition to last) that would make me feel comfortable that Microsoft has very much less control over what goes into their software than how things were in the past. There may be some differences, but I doubt very many. Microsoft software is still full of, shall we say, weaknesses that can be tapped by any agent on the net. Microsoft doesn't have to dictate policy beyond what they state on their EULA (which is bad enough from what I hear). More nefarious harvesting can come from third parties of unknown origins. Those who best know the secrets of Microsoft software, for the most part, can be expected to have worked for Microsoft or to have engaged Microsoft in close partnerships.
Oversight by the government.. why don't we talk *guarantees* or details. "Oversight" is too general a word. Let's not forget how frequently government "oversight" fails. Details, please.
Further, talk is cheap and frequently misleading. That is why I like open source.
>> This isn't about killing Google, they are doing a lot of good at the moment, this is about making sure they don't become the next Enron.
I do agree, but my comment was critical because, time and time again, Rob, you overlook the more serious risks that exist because of Microsoft.
What really bleeds through in your comments is that you really don't know very much about Microsoft other than what you read in Blogs. I can't fix that in one post.
Yes they have missacted, every large company does, and it is costing them billions at the moment. Now it isn't that they are doing the things you suggest it is that lots of people believe they are which is part of the cost of their missaction.
When I wrote a few weeks ago on the 3rd rebirth of computing I spoke of a time when Google will take Microsoft's place. When that happens and they missact the damage will make everthing Microsoft has done seem trivial. At least that is my belief.
With that in mind I see little point in ranting about what Microsoft has done or what people like you believe they are doing. One is too late and the other is a waste of time. I'm focused on trying to prevent the next problem not rehashing old or fictional ones.
I let others focus on the past, I try really hard to focus on the present and, increasingly, I'm trying to focus on the future.
There ... got your attention. Just like Mr. Enderle did. And I'll supply just about the same amount of justification.
Could it be that Mr. Enderle is still a master of insinuation and half-truths? Of the same calibre he let loose on the world while covering the SCO story? Some people call him persistently and maliciously clueless of the nature of the GPL license. Others berate him for siding with whatever company he can find that uses backhanded or heavy-handed tactics against FOSS.
But those tales about Google streetmap being used for burglary?
Well I happen to know for a fact that some burglars use pliers and screwdrivers bought at Kmart. And that some use cars made by Ford, Chrysler, and GM to carry off the loot from burglaries. Could it be that Kmart's potential to evil is unmatched? Could it be that Kmart, Ford, GM, and Chrysler are facilitating burglary? Could it be that Mr. Enderle's piece is the equivalent of suggesting just that, but then for Google?
Perhaps Mr. Enderle would like to actually read and digest the links he refers to before composing his headline?
"Security experts fear that internet giant Googles Street View project, [...], may end up helping burglars in planning their next job. The risk increases particularly because the new project would make it easy for thieves to see almost everything like cars, alarms, locks, etc on their laptops."
OK. What part of people's alarm system is visible from the street (because that's what you get on Google street view)? Could it be that allowing an alarm system where to be visible from the street is an incompetent installation? And the photographs allow you to figure out the make of someone's lock, do they? And cars are always parked when Google Street View cars pass by?
That's why the original source says: "Security experts fear [...] _may_ end up [...]". Plenty of caution there. Not as much with Mr. Enderle, sadly enough.
Moving on while adroitly sidestepping responsibility Mr. Enderle puts it as follows: "clearly the people in the chain viewed the company's effort as evil". Right. Start with a huge insinuating headline, water it down by putting a question mark at the end, and then construct a story by leading speculation and selective citation, and present unique cases (like the man specialising in stealing lead from roofs in London) by way of "evidence".
Could it be that Mr. Enderle, who regularly defends Microsoft in its feuds against Open Source and commercial competitors like Google has an agenda?
The point is that Google completely disregarded the concerns of the local populace, so much so they had to take to the streets. Once you start down the path of choosing to disregard the concerns of others the more power you have, the more likely you will be to have an Enron or Madoff moment. I had the same initial response that you did, but it's not whether what they are doing is harmless or not, it's that they don't care. It's the "don't care" part that is a problem. That same attitude goes to the core of the problems we've been having with the banking industry.
You talk about an ulterior motive. Like many I'm just a little sick of big companies misacting at the moment and would just as soon not see another one go down this path. I'm not sure the nation, or the world for that matter, could afford Google learning an Enron lesson.
Well ... formulated like this (without the breathless innuendo and the sleazy insinuations) I'd be the first to agree that you have a point.
Which is that Google, as the dominant search engine provider on the Internet, wields an awful lot of power, that it is indeed possible to abuse this power, and that Google isn't run by saints either, so there just might be a case for regulation here.
Only ... as far as I'm concerned you manged to completely bury any reasonable points you have in a mass of breathless Google-bashing innuendo.
As to disregarding the concern of the local populace and the dangers of the we-don't-care stance from Google, I'm less sanguine. We have a fine-meshed legal framework on what you can and cannot publish that impinges on people's private lives. It has been developed and tested over more than a century and it has been most heavily fought over.
Disallowing anyone to publish photographs taken from a car driving on public roads goes too far down the road towards blocking people's freedom of speech to me. Even if it does facilitate the odd burglary (perhaps: the links you cite are far less unequivocal than you make them appear, and that bit about Street View pics showing the alarm systems and the locks sounds questionable), it also provides enormous benefits for education and research. And how about voluntary self-sensorship on part of Google as soon as anyone objects to anything they put online? Is that a healthy state of affairs? Where is your tradeoff?
It's not necessary for people to actually *like* freedom of speech for it to be upheld, even if that concerns entire villages. Feelings of "ownership" from those villagers are fine and good, but they cannot be allowed to infringe on people's statutory rights. No matter how heartfelt. Even if they concern "people" who aren't natural persons.
There is an interesting question right there which you could have highlighted: the lawgivers probably didn't anticipate Goggle Street View, so is our current legal framework adequate when confronted with this technological development? Why didn't you?
Last but not least, to what extent does "not caring" lead to Enron moments or Madoff moments?
Madoff is easy: he essentially ran a Ponzi scheme, which is illegal, and he simply lied to his clients about the solidity of their investments in his capacity of a broker, which is also illegal. Are you really telling us that you believe Mr. Madoff is alone on Wall Street for being totally callous about his clients interests? How about Ivan Boesky? Why was the SEC called into being?
Enron is harder, but it too broke the law: it committed fraud. Institutionalized, systematic, and creatively planned accounting fraud. Where is the comparison with Google?
I sympathise with your gut feeling that perhaps there ought to be some regulations about "honest-brokership" about search engines, which I would support, but I can't see how either the Enron nor the Madoff analogies hold.
As I see it, at this point you could have taken the high road and soberly set out your concerns (which I suspect would not have made your article any less impactful) or the low road (need I elaborate further?). Why didn't you take the high road?
What you miss is that I'm using current behavior to anticipate a future problem and you showcase how hard that really is. You basically want proof that they are currently doing what I'm saying they will do before they have done it. I can't do that, but I'll bet with every example both of us have used people could have seen the trend and stopped Bernie or Enron before they crossed the line.
I just think a lot of folks would appreciate it if problems like Bernie and Enron created didn't happen in the first place rather than going the blame route. Do you disagree?
If you can do this better than I can, please feel free. If you prevent just one problem it will be time well spent.
I've been working this stuff most of my life and lord knows I could use the help.
Google's power comes from those who choose to use it's services. Being a product of the new wired world also makes Google exquisitely vulnerable to the whims, opinions, and actions of it's guests and customers.
If what you say is true, Rob, and I don't doubt it, the internet provides the most direct and effective means to deal with it. The web is an interactive medium. If one doesn't like what Google does, one can take immediate action by avoiding dealings with it and it's advertisers, publicizing its mis-deeds, and other means. Government, to the contrary, has proven itself time and again to be a decidedly NON-interactive and sluggish medium for action.
Put simply, I believe we as individuals have far more power over companies in the marketplace than we have over our own government. I think folks will find their own measured online action against Google's missteps not only more satisfying, but far superior to acts of congress.
You're right Rob. As you said "The question is whether government will respond to the threat before it becomes a reality".
The government should strike with preemptive justice before they do anything illegal! If it works out with large companies perhaps we can test it on individual citizens. Finding people with the potential to do harm; we can start with the most obvious first, gun owners. But eventually we will realize that everyone has this potential for evil... Then we can trade justice for a cheap imitation of security. Good idea Rob.
I'm not talking about preemptive justice. I'm talking about making sure there are controls in place to assure that Google doesn't make the mistake in the first place. When companies get too much power they misact. Generally this is because they think the wrong path is the easier path, with proper controls, that path no longer appears as easy and there is a better chance they won't make the painful mistake in the first place. With Google controlling more and more of the world's information and now getting involved in things like Smart Grid, the danger of them doing something really damaging is increasing exponentially.
Typically we wait until the disaster and then overreact in response. Why not anticipate the problem, assure that the proper controls are in place to prevent it, and better assure the future rather than hope the dissaster comes on someone else's watch?