Google Roundup

I’m uneasy about the creeping commercialization of Google results, and its privacy policy revisions since Larry Page took over directing the company. That impression seems to be confirmed by this widely read description of the new culture at Google by James Whittaker.

Under Eric Schmidt ads were always in the background. Google was run like an innovation factory, empowering employees to be entrepreneurial through founder’s awards, peer bonuses and 20% time. Our advertising revenue gave us the headroom to think, innovate and create. Forums like App Engine, Google Labs and open source served as staging grounds for our inventions.


But that was then, as the saying goes, and this is now.

The apparent obsession with Facebook and the failure of Google+, combined with the dilution of quality search results, do not inspire confidence. Is it really necessary to become the NSA and further invade our anonymity, to survive? Add to this a reported slow-down in its book scanning project, and it is clear the company is changing direction.

Now, we hear of approaching revisions in search results, apparently based on the emerging semantic web, or ‘Web 3.0′. Could this be a good thing? Likely it will be a missed opportunity.

To my mind, what Google is missing is the chance to offer users some shelter from the social media-led datadump of individuals’ personal histories. Google could lead the provision of anonymizing services, perhaps facilitating the creation of user-controlled online personae. That might do something to restore confidence in a company that has clearly ‘moved on’ from its commitment to ‘do no evil.’


  1. I’m no fan of Google’s ubiquity and profiling, but I see this as modern extension of the company’s efforts and growth since Page and Brin founded it, not a change in direction. For example, from Gmail’s beginnings its terms of use have made it clear that email contents were machine-scanned for targeted advertising; this has long been evident in the ads that appear in individual users’ Gmail account displays. I avoided a Gmail account for a long time for that reason. Unfortunately, a (now) Google account is requisite for so much valuable web activity.

    To its credit, Google makes ongoing efforts to adjust its algorithm to prevent dilution of results due to the wrong kind of SEO. Others can speak more intelligently to this than I can.

    When I say “modern,” I mean – in my view – these changes reflect the reality of social web, as you say. We see widespread use of online profiles by all kinds of outfits. The difficulty with Google is that it owns so much of our online lives.

    Whether we like it or not, privacy protection is also the responsibility of the user – choice of browser, browser settings, private browsing, account settings, for example. Unfortunately many users are less than ideally informed. This, I think, is where many of us come in.

    – Kim

  2. Interesting articles, Michael. I think it is still early days for Google+ to know how much staying power it has. It had huge, fast adoption but I suspect a lot of people were just sightseeing. Still, I find valuable discussions when I check in several times a week. I believe it comes down to community–who is there that will bring you back for conversation. If it is a numbers game, there are statistically more conversations on Facebook because there are more people there.

    I heard that Google+ is actually less about trying to build a new network, and more about trying to get people to share the links they are sharing on Facebook there as well so this can inform the Google search algorithm since that is a piece they are missing (they cannot use links from Facebook).

    Anyway, that is just speculative, but I think it is too early to call its demise. Just because it hasn’t trumped Facebook doesn’t mean it is not accomplishing what it is meant to do.


  3. Further to Michael’s post, spotted this (via tweet from AALL) in PCWorld:
    Google Faces Class-Action Lawsuits Over New Privacy Policy

    Google faces consumer complaints in federal courts in New York and California that claim that its new privacy policy violates the company’s earlier policies which promised that information provided by a user for one service would not be used by another service without the consumer’s consent.

    The Internet company is being charged in both lawsuits for violation of the Federal Wiretap Act, for wilful interception of communications and aggregation of personal information of its consumers for financial benefit, and the Stored Electronic Communications Act for exceeding its authorized access to consumer communications stored on its systems. Google is also charged with violation of the Computer Fraud Abuse Act, and other counts including state laws.

    – Kim