Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Google I/O: An Ethos of Google

Lore tells that in a particular instance of a particular Google board meeting, Google tasked the attendees to come up with a company motto.  While several tried to come up with elegant descriptions of what the company stood for, one was far more catchy and captured the spirit of what was desired than the rest; 'Don't Be Evil'.

Since that time, several issues have risen to test the robustness of their motto.  Competition between the likes of Facebook, Apple, Yahoo, and Microsoft test the lengths that they are willing to go to be on top.  Countries have been on both sides of their actions.  And individuals debate whether their technological expansions are innovations or invasions of privacy.

Is Google a monopoly? If it is, is that a bad thing?  After the 'Too big to fail' banking fiasco, I am quick to say nothing should be too big to fail.  That is part of capitalism.  However, C-Net recently posted an article explaining the benefits and necessity of some industries consisting of only a few major competitors.  Primarily, in industries that have a large initial expense, smaller competitors will not be able to compete.  The example was given of aircraft manufacturers, where the primary companies are Airbus and Boeing.  Are people going to be benefited by having more companies?  That point can always be argued both ways.

Google has been fined several times for gathering data that is deemed as an invasion of privacy.  For them to provide the best services they need to gather the best data.  To best locate a person, wi-fi locations can be mapped.  This gives better local results.  To give the best street view experience, they actually have cars that drive around taking pictures everywhere.  People complained about their faces, their houses, their license plates.  Governments place cameras everywhere, but as soon as Google takes a picture in public everyone is offended.  The company satiated the complaints by incorporating technology to automatically blur the offending areas.  Seems like cameras should be required to incorporate the same technology.  It would be horrible if you took a picture of a friend at the beach and posted a picture of someone else on your favorite social media site because they were in the background of your picture.  I go the other way.  I want to know when Google would be driving by my house so I could take one of those old timey pictures.  Do a search for my house and you would see a picture of my entire extended family standing outside (no one smiles) along with many of the possessions from inside the house. I never know their schedule or how to find that, so it will never happen.   

In contrast, Facebook has this whole wiki post listing their ethical mine field.  My favorite is the PR company, Burson-Marsteller, they hired that ended up doing an anti-Google smear campaign.  The campaign was trying to highlight Google's horrendous privacy policies.  Many of which are similar to those of other companies, except that Google tries to be more up front about everything.  Or perhaps they are only more up front because of the smear campaign.  The entire history of Burson-Marsteller would make for interesting reading because if someone uses them there is almost certainly a juicy reason that PR is needed.  Come on David Fincher, this would make a great follow up to The Social Network.

In comparison to the other companies competing in similar markets, Google seems to be on higher ethical ground.  Granted, the motto was not 'Don't be as evil as that guy'.  But, when Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google at the time, went before congress to defend the actions of his company, he did use the argument that with technology advancing every day, even though Google looks far superior on that day, it is only a couple steps from falling behind the other tech giants.  The technology sector is notorious for moving from one big thing to the next.

Some people who are Google fanboys will still talk against them when discussing so called deals with the devil.  They forged a deal with Verizon to get a demanding presence in the mobile industry.  To expand into China they agreed to censor certain search results.  They eventually did pull out of China when their requests were too great.  Also, going against the Verizon deal is Google's effort to introduce incredible fiber networks.  Kansas City is the first location to receive that opportunity.  Having enormous quantities of bandwidth to play with opens several possibilities that will allow them to perform the Herculean effort of rectifying their deal.

On top of that they also have side projects such as cars that drive themselves.  They recently achieved 300,000 miles on open road.  Another big announcement was that of Google Glass; their augmented reality headset.  The key point for those announcements is disruption; disruption that evolves the societal infrastructure.  Perhaps those could become new revenue sources.  If not, it keeps people talking about Google and going to their website.  It is a great business model cause the more people that look at the internet, the more revenue they get.  It boils down to the more time they free up for people, the more money Google makes.  It's beautiful.

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