Sunday, February 14, 2010

Welcome to the Dark Side

For anyone who doesn't know me, I work for Google. Have done for almost 3 years. Enjoy it. A lot. I'm just stunned at the level of antipathy getting directed at Google lately. Talk about being in the down part of the news cycle. It used to be people loved Google and what Google did for them. The media couldn't write enough positive stories. The excellent search. The free email with lots of space. And the ads were occasionally useful. These days, though, there's this nebulous fear that Google Will Do Something Evil. That the data Google collects, which is collected in the service of giving you better information when you search, is going to be turned over to... the government? the advertisers? Someone Who Will Do Unspeakable Things With Their Newfound Knowledge Of Me And My Searches And Email And Photographs And Everything Else I Put In The Cloud. Today Google had to pull their Olympic-themed logo because of outcries that Google was capitalizing on the very sad death of a luger in a practice run.

Yes Google collects information. It also makes a lot of what it knows available to you and gives you control over a lot of it. But how is it wrong or evil to show you an advertisement that interests you, as opposed to one that doesn't? Are you such a marketing tool that you can't resist when you see an advertisement for something you want? I didn't think so.


eM said...

I think it's because of FaceBook being such total lying sack-of-shit tools.Oh, and the bank bail out. No one wants to really face the fact that the corporations are running the country. There will be no revolution, we are too busy chasing the next bright shiny thing and clinging to our America The Beautiful fantasy.
It is much easier to "Trust no one".

Thanos said...

I would say I have two or three gripes with Google:

1. Once a piece of data (say a Gmail email) is stored by Google, there's no way to undo that. Google can have it forever.

2. Recently, Google seems to be acting a bit autocratically, and seems to not be taking industry input into consideration. I am thinking search privacy, scanning books, video takedown policies. They just decide to do something (where their general idea is along benign lines) but then just railroad all the details without due consideration.

3. CEO's comment on "if you don't want people to find out, you probably shouldn't be doing it"... Don't think I need to say more on this.

Having said all this, Google is probably still a decent corporate citizen. A little more finesse and sensitivity would go a long way.

ardeb said...

The book thing is particularly perplexing to me, Thanos: Google is scanning books, and if someone demonstrates they're the copyright holder (or if the holder is known) they get most of the revenue from anyone purchasing the content through Google. This is revenue they wouldn't have access to otherwise (in the case of out-of-print books, of which there are a hell of a lot). I don't expect the process to be particularly onerous. The terms were reached during long negotiations with various publishers, is my understanding. Yes, if no one claims the copyright, Google will get all the money. The original purpose of Copyright was, like patent law, to incent creation of things in the short term, but to add to overall knowledge in the long term. The fact that copyright has been extended ridiculously over the past years courtesy of the Disney lobby, is bothersome to me. That's all a tangent, however. The core piece is that this is selling the sleeves off the vests of the authors and publishers, who do nothing while Google bears the cost of scanning and indexing, and the Copyright holder gets money they would never have gotten otherwise, while people get access to thousands of books that otherwise would languish.

I'm not up on the issue of search privacy you mention: can you elaborate? Also not clear what the issue is with video takedown policies. My understanding is it's easy to notify Google that something is copyrighted material (the volume of stuff being uploaded makes it impossible to screen these things by hand, though in theory one could take a guess based on title, and Google's been doing a lot of work with their automated content ID stuff), and Google either takes it down, or again shares any revenue with the owner of the content, and as with books, and AdSense network ads, way more than the majority goes to the owner.

The fact that data stored at google is there for a very long time, while likely true, doesn't mean it's that accessible. Things you delete go away. They're quite likely to be on tape, of course, so if something goes south we have a way of restoring data you do care about, but that's just a side-effect of putting stuff in the cloud. My dad gets his email through AOL and has the same concern: I asked him if he thought AOL was any different, and I could almost see the light bulb over his head. He doesn't really care what AOL might do with his email, but Google's better at processing / mining information, so this concerns him. (He also grew up under Stalin, so he's got background for being concerned :)

Thanos said...

IMHO the issue here is not with Google actually having sinister motives, but of appearing to have them. The gist of your response ("we didn't do anything wrong") reflects that too (and I say this in the friendliest possible way :-).

I just don't buy the "we're good - trust us, because *we* said so". With someone the size of Google, I would like you guys to go the extra mile to demonstrate this. Given the immense power that Google has over user data, there is a higher level of scrutiny.

Email: There is nothing I can find in the TOS or Privacy that says "If you cancel your account with us, we'll delete all your data for good and stop doing anything with it". Yes, you are telling me that's what you do, but if you do that anyway, why not put it in the TOS?

Books: Yes, I agree this has benefits for the publishers and they have their heads up their behinds in not wanting this (or something similar), but to me this looks like Google shooting first and asking questions later, as they basically created this content before seeking permission to use it. Google is essentially saying "we know this is the right thing to do (in the long run), and we're going to railroad over everyone else until we get there". End justifies the means.

Video: This is a slightly different point. Here, the copyright holders are making spurious takedown requests of fair-use items, and Google is all too happy to oblige. Don't be evil, would require putting a bit more effort to balancing fair-use rights and copyrights.

... and that's the gist of my dissatisfaction ;-)