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Monday, May 16, 2022

Everyone Fears Google (Again) & Will The Last Googler To Leave Turn The Lights Out?


Back at the beginning of this year, my
14 "Is Google Evil?"
Tipping Points Since 2001
covered the history of how Google has been deemed
to be too Big Brotherish or too dominant over the years. Another wave of Google
hatred and fear is washing across the great sea of Blog. Here’s a look at
what’s afloat:

FeedBurner Sparks Things Up

TechCrunch: Google Is
Buying FeedBurner
covers TechCrunch getting

confirmation
that Google is to buy FeedBurner. That seems to have sparked
off the latest wave of "too much, too much!" Just skim some of the headlines of
related discussion on the still-rumored sale on Techmeme
here. Should
publishers be "skittish,"

writes
BusinessWeek. Would Google please leave other blog advertising
systems alone,

begs
Amit Agalwal.

Geek News Central doesn’t hold back.
Google is Buying
FeedBurner this is pure Evil!
, it writes:

Imagine now, that you will be tracked across the 100’s of thousands of
sites using FeedBurner and they will know if your political orientation is
Left, Right they will know what your sexual orientation is, they will be able
to tell if you like adult sites the list goes on and on.


Google’s Feedburner Grab Would Impact Personalized Search, Analytics
from
MediaPost picks up the same thought:

Should Google decide to combine knowledge of a user’s subscribed feeds with
its wealth of corresponding behavioral data, the company will be able to
further target both search and advertising capabilities.

On the one hand, I totally understand the concern that this is another way
for Google to close the loop (as my
Google: Master Of
Closing The Loop?
post from last month gets into more). But on the other
hand, c’mon. Google has this data already.

Back in February, FeedBurner

posted
about what services generate the most feed views. Google was second
in terms of clicks and first in terms of views. Get FeedBurner to know what
feeds people? Google’s got a pretty good idea already.

Wait — what about tracking you across sites! As if tapping into AdSense and
Google Analytics data wouldn’t be enough, go back and read my
Google Search History
Expands, Becomes Web History
post. Forget FeedBurner. Heck, forget the
DoubleClick purchase. The change Google made already, on its own, is pushing it
right along to further tracking of people. As I wrote from that:

With today’s announcement, part of me wants to ring the alarm bell and
shout "Uninstall your toolbar! Delete your Google account!" Because let’s face
it. Google’s getting big, huge, giant. It’s no longer a joke that the once
small, lovable company wants to conquer the world. The Google monster company
really is gobbling it up, with no barriers seemingly left. The "we’re a tech
company" charade is over from the very top, with CEO Eric Schmidt finally
calling Google recently in a Wired

interview
"an advertising company"….

I remember when Google was a search engine, with a
philosophy that
said, "Google does search." Now it puts ads on TV, in radio, in print —
serves as a payment platform, provides web analytics, pitches software "packs"
to us and more. Does it really need to have our web surfing histories as well?
When’s enough enough?

Personalization Stokes The Fire


Google’s goal: to organise your daily life
came out from the Financial Times
this week, with quotes from Eric Schmidt on how Google wants to know all it can
about people:

Eric Schmidt, Google’s chief executive, said gathering more personal data
was a key way for Google to expand and the company believes that is the
logical extension of its stated mission to organise the world’s information.

Asked how Google might look in five years’ time, Mr Schmidt said: “We are
very early in the total information we have within Google. The algorithms will
get better and we will get better at personalisation.

“The goal is to enable Google users to be able to ask the question such as
‘What shall I do tomorrow?’ and ‘What job shall I take?’ ”

The race to accumulate the most comprehensive database of individual
information has become the new battleground for search engines as it will
allow the industry to offer far more personalised advertisements. These are
the holy grail for the search industry, as such advertising would command
higher rates.

Know everything about us? Know everything about us! It shouldn’t be that
shocking given that back in January, Google
stressed how big a
deal personalized data would be during an investors call.
Google Ramps Up
Personalized Search
covers how right after that, personalized search
expanded and then in May, we got the expanded iGoogle personalized home page as
part of an entire day of announcements at Google about personalization (see
iGoogle, Personalized
Search And You
for more on that).

Still, the FT article further woke people up to how much Google wants to know
about us. Techmeme had
another round of scary headlines, including

Google: The New Big Brother
from Windows Now and

Google is failing the Microsoft litmus test
from long-time Microsoft watcher
Mary Jo Foley, who wrote:

If you want to evaluate the “evil” quotient of any company’s
strategy/behavior, consider how you’d feel about it if it were Microsoft in
the driver seat.

She then notes issues like Google’s investment in the start-up company of
Sergey Brin’s new wife, barring vendors from customer seminars and employees
wearing t-shirts of its vendors. Frankly, these are pretty weak. Far better
would be the oft-cited concern that Google might drive competitors out of
business but simply announcing it might be interested in a space. Googleware,
like Microsoft vaporware, can chill a space..

But I totally understand the Microsoft comparison. Yeah, I’m going to
quote myself again — but c’mon, I was writing about that idea five years
ago, back
in
2002, when "Google is too big. Google is too scary" stuff was
happening then:

Anyone who’s ever watched the 70s television show "The Brady Bunch"
knows that eldest daughter Marcia was the star of the family. At least,
this was the view of middle daughter Jan, who complained once that
everyone was always talking about "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!"

Jan’s words have echoing through my head for the past few months,
because in matters of search, I’ve been hearing a crescendo of "Google,
Google, Google!"

In the "Search Engine Bunch," Google is Marcia Brady, the family member
who seemingly gets more attention than the others. But while the Jans of
the bunch might be envious of Google’s popularity, there are also serious
downsides to being at the top.

In particular, Google’s biggest challenge may be that so many people
now see it as the only search engine that "matters," a marketplace
dominance in search that seems akin to that which Microsoft has with
operating systems, office software and web browsers.

Microsoft’s supremacy as a company has caused it to be widely loathed.
Does search dominance by Google mean that the company is destined to face
general hatred, as well? Such a fate is not preordained, as we shall see.
But first, let’s review just a few examples of how people have viewed
Google as all powerful.

Hypocrisy

To explain the next blow to hit Google this week, I have to
quote from its
corporate philosophy, the "Ten things Google has found to be true:"

  • Focus on the user and all else will follow.
  • You can make money without doing evil.

Google & Dell’s
Revenue-Generating URL Error Pages Drawing Fire
from me earlier this week
highlights how this isn’t so — how Google has no problem partnering with a
major company to deliver a less-than-good user experience which many would
consider making money by being evil. Sure, Dell’s doing this — but Google’s not
preventing it. Not only that, Google cut a deal to that is causing this to
happen at the same time it complained about consumer choice in terms of Internet
Explorer.

My
article came off Google turns the page… in a bad way
from David Ulevitch’s
look at how Dell was handling bad URLs. Sure, OpenDNS has an interest in
highlighting what’s happening, but it didn’t make what Google’s cooperating with
any better. The stories sparked off yet more blog discussion, as you’ll
find on Techmeme,
and pushed Robert Scoble to do his

DOG (Distrust/Disdain of Google) movesin
roundup of Google fear from
this week — which kicked off yet more
discussion (echo,
echo, echo
….).

Privacy

Sure, the blogosphere can be an echo chamber, but new sounds kept entering
the chamber in terms of Google.

European Union
Questions Google’s Data Retention Policy
covers the latest, how Google finally got that
letter from the EU questioning whether it holds data too long, which I said
would be coming back in
April
. Perspective-time. Back then, I
wrote:

Indeed, just today we had
news that the
European Union is likely to send Google a letter that it might be violating data
retention laws. I can virtually guarantee you that whatever Google gets dinged
on, Yahoo and Microsoft are probably doing the same. But no one focuses on them
in terms of search privacy.

Guess what? No news that Yahoo or Microsoft received similar letters despite the
concerns almost being equally applicable to them. I also have to enjoy the fact
that to my understanding, other EU regulations may
compel Google to keep
the information for so long. See blogosphere discussion via Techmeme
here,
here,
here and
here.

Now remember that FT article above? It DID mention Yahoo, saying:

Yahoo unveiled a new search technology this year – which monitors what
internet users do on its portal, and use that information to build a profile
of their interests. The profiles are then used to display ads to the people
most likely to be interested in them. The technology will be incorporated into
Yahoo’s advertising revamped advertising system dubbed Project Panama.

Yahoo’s actually long monitored people like this (such as I
wrote about
back in 2003). Maybe it has upgraded that monitoring technology. If so, that’s
news to me. But then again, it might be some confusion, similar to what we’ll
see next. [NOTE: Yahoo tells me the FT was indeed confused here, stating “Panama is definitely not ‘a search technology that monitors user behavior’ “

From one British paper (the FT) to another, The Independent raised the Google
fear stakes with that front page Google is
watching you
story shown at the top of this page. It wrapped up a number of
Google moves, such as the push for more personalization, into a scary sounding
article complete with the headline above. There are some real concerns raised,
though some credibility was lost when Yahoo’s Panama ad system is described as something that "monitors
internet visitors to its site to build a profile of their interests." As I
explained — Panama doesn’t do this.

I also like the part saying, "The Independent has now learnt that the body
representing Europe’s data protection watchdogs has written to Google requesting
more information about its information retention policy." Just learned? As
I also explained above, this was known to be coming back in April. But adding
"just learned" gives the entire article that extra bit of ominous spice that it
needs, I suppose. It does nothing to make you think this was a carefully
researched, balanced examination of the issues.

Perspective

I’ve provided some balance above, and yet I’ve grown more worried myself.
There’s no doubt that Google has continued to assemble a closed loop system of
the type the old trusts
of the late 1800s might have admired. Consider that:

  1. You search at Google, click on a search result or ad and…
  2. End up at a site where it might run Google Analytics (or Google AdSense),
    tracking your visit and…
  3. Make a purchase using Google Checkout, which records what you buy

Old Google had only step one. New Google closes the loop more, and this is
only online. Google wants to be more than that. I’ll go back to what I said in
my
Google: Master Of
Closing The Loop?
article from earlier:

Is it far-fetched to think Google itself could be setting itself up for an
anti-trust action? If the web is now the operating system, and Google is seen
by many controlling the web, perhaps it will be forced to divest itself of
certain operations because of them effectively giving it a trust or monopoly.

It sounds like something out of Ask’s current
"information
revolution" ad campaign
. It’s the kind of statement that usually gets me
dissecting claims and providing balance and perspective, as I did in my
14 "Is Google Evil?"
Tipping Points Since 2001
article from earlier this year. But stranger
things have happened. In addition, what I’ve learned over the years is there’s
rarely thoughtful perspective, when it comes to Google. The company is either
seen as a giant success, lovable with
fun snakes
occasionally getting lose, or it is seen as a giant threat that no one can
stop. And some of those threatened have powerful friends themselves.

Despite efforts to close the loop, Google is by no means guaranteed to
succeed. In particular, the continued growth by the company of taking so much
on might ultimately make it master of nothing — too much data drowning out
either the real important signals or just more focused attention to particular
products.

Stopping Google

I just got off the phone with a reporter doing a story about all these
issues. What might stop Google? Hard to say. A privacy action, maybe — an
especially if any politician had their own data exposed. More likely, big
powerful interests that think Google controls too much of the ad marketer will
use their money to influence and get regulation — that is, if Microsoft’s
hasn’t shot its attempt
to do that in the Google-DoubleClick deal in the foot by
going after aQuantive.

Of course, the issue is that at some point, Google’s going to get hit by what
has been slamming Yahoo today. Pre-IPO employees with money will depart to prove
they can be successful out from under the shadow of Larry and Sergey. Post-IPO
employees will realize they don’t get to cash in and free food isn’t enough.

The Final Days of Google
from Cringley gets into some of this today. Jeff
Barr’s Google Can’t
Google?
shows how not everyone even wants to work for Google, especially as
it has become so bureaucratic (He writes: "They were almost ready to make the
‘can’t refuse’ offer but the process became bogged down when I couldn’t recall
my college GPA. Given that I earned my degree in 1985 and have been earning a
living by writing code since I was 15 or 16, this didn’t seem all that
essential.).

This is ironic given how much Google itself used to talk up having the
greatest hiring and employee management system. I don’t have time to pull some
past quotes and references now, but I distinctly remember Eric Schmidt a few
years ago publicly praising Sergey Brin and Larry Page for having somehow
analyze the weaknesses of big companies and come up with a way to prevent Google
from stalling.

The reality is that Google is a big giant company that will, like any
company, face employee challenges. That’s one reason as I’ve spoken to some
reporters recently about Yahoo’s "woes," I’ve argued Yahoo is in better shape
than they might think. Yahoo’s dealing with the problems now that Google is
going to get slammed with in the future — and perhaps not that far in the
future.

Meanwhile, I still firmly remain that the Google "problems" and "fears" could
be seen and dealt with in an industry-wide way. As I wrote about personalized
search, when I raised that warning flag about Google seeming to want too much:

On the other hand, I’m a big believer in personalized search. I think this
type of data can indeed improve the search experience. Moreover, I hate to
single out Google just because it is big. We run MyBlogLog here — and all those
MyBlogLog members, as
I’ve covered
, have their surfing habits tracked by Yahoo-owned MyBlogLog.
Pick any number of Javascript widgets or tracking things people install. All of
them send tracking data back to a mothership about web sites or individuals. Yet
little criticism gets raised about this, even when big companies are involved.
So why should Google get special attention?

Moreover, I’m actually pretty annoyed at some of the privacy advocacy groups.
When Google announced
it would anonymize server data last month, I still saw some old school concerns
that fairly anonymous cookie data and IP addresses were a privacy concern. C’mon
— you want to be concerned about something, you get concerned about the fact
Google has — and is growing — real honest-to-goodness personally identifiable
profiles of individual searchers. And if you want to get concerned about that,
also get concerned that Yahoo and Microsoft have similar profiling — just not
as visible to the searcher.

So many companies today offline (banks, credit cards, loyalty cards, credit
reporting agencies) hold much more information about me personally than Google
does. And Google’s peers are doing much of what Google itself wants to do. Don’t
solve the Google problem. Solve the problem, whatever it is, in a comprehensive
way. If that means better privacy protection, then give it to me across the
board.


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