Google as Big Brother

I’m becoming less and less happy with Google every day, it seems. Here’s the latest on Google as Big Brother:
New York Times
Wall Street Journal
This snooping unaccountability raises scandalous to a whole new level.

apple-1984.jpgAlso, I can’t ignore that Google’s recent developer conference turned into an Apple-bashing fest. Competition is a good thing, and undertones of anti-Apple complaints and grumblings by Google developers here or there are not unexpected. Yet Google executives explicitly and publicly spurred on an ideological antipathy toward Apple. For example, Vic Gundotra, a Google Vice President who until recently worked for Microsoft, presented a keynote update on Android. Unfortunately for Google, he seems to fit right in. Gundotra described Google’s aim with Android as taking a heroic stand against Apple:

“If we did not act, we faced a draconian future where one man, one phone, one carrier was the future. That’s a future we don’t want.”

Yet this reconstruction-after-the-fact smells fishy. For the record, Google acquired Android before the iPhone was even announced, let alone before its exclusive US carrier arrangement with AT&T was made known. Google’s anti-Apple rhetoric is a quite misleading case of history disappearing down the memory hole. The anti-Apple rhetoric is also self-serving, because the underlying reality is that Google simply doesn’t want to be cut out of mobile advertising. Google’s core competency is serving up web ads on PC search results pages. Google’s company slogan is “don’t be evil,” but that’s apparently just another ad. All the while Google retains a near monopoly on desktop web search, so they are a much better candidate for Big Brother than Apple (which so far, at least, has no monopoly on anything except world-threatening mp3 players). And Google’s private data collecting shows they’re apparently getting more monstrous the larger they become. Gundotra concluded his remarks by stating that Google’s company strategy was “to be humble.” But their overt anti-Apple tantrums, both from the top and over the top, made them look like a bunch of amateurs.

It was a very sad day when Google decided to turn against Apple. Their collaboration did seem to help keep them more humble, and to do less evil. Lest we forget, Google CEO Eric Schmidt served on Apple’s Board of Directors until August of 2009, apparently eavesdropping all the while.

Another Google activity I find disturbing is their book scanning efforts’ disregard of copyright. I’m all for reforming copyright law and opening access to knowledge in the public domain, or making it available through the Creative Commons, as much as possible. But with book scanning as with Android development, Google is again using the rhetoric of openness to camouflage their own commercial interests. They are intent on gaining a monopoly advantage. As the New York Times put it:

“More recently, those questioning the agreement, which is subject to a court review, have raised concerns about whether it is fair to authors, whether it protects the privacy of people whose reading habits might be tracked and whether Google is being improperly given what amounts to exclusive rights to commercialize millions of out-of-print books.”

These three questions seem more deeply troubling the more I ponder them. No wonder the Google settlement is being opposed by the American Library Association and the Open Book Alliance, among many others. The latter group states:

“The mass digitization of books promises to bring tremendous value to consumers, libraries, scholars, and students. The Open Book Alliance will work to advance and protect this promise. And, by protecting it, we will assert that any mass book digitization and publishing effort be open and competitive. The process of achieving this promise must be undertaken in the open, grounded in sound public policy and mindful of the need to promote long-term benefits for consumers rather than isolated commercial interests. The Open Book Alliance will counter Google[‘s]… scheme to monopolize the access, distribution and pricing of the largest digital database of books in the world.”

Count me no longer a Google fan. I oppose the Google book settlement. I support litigation to investigate Google’s wi-fi data harvesting from private networks. I am astonished at their lack of class toward Apple as a competitor.

I’m now minimizing my use of Google products. I hope that soon Safari on the desktop will offer a choice to set Yahoo as the default for search, as it already does on the iPhone. I’ve discontinued my use of gmail (which is never deleted from their servers). I’m joining those who follow Google Watch.

Inevitably, arrogance leads to a fall. Maybe this is why there are even reports that Google maps are becoming increasingly erroneous.

What’s so sad is that it didn’t have to be this way.

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One Response to Google as Big Brother

  1. Pingback: Google: Don’t be creepy | Kerry's blog

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