I don’t know if Google is becoming evil, but I do know that it has become selfish and inconsiderate
It is interesting to observe the way that the personality of a company evolves in correlation to changes at board level.
In the first place, we need to establish what we mean by corporate personality: the latter word refers to the qualities we find in people, and is not really applicable to a group of people working with a shared vision and mission. Hence, the idea of corporate personality refers only to the qualities that we would attribute to a person in the event that we could compare certain behavioral characteristics with decisions taken by the company, which is not a terribly realistic comparison to make.
That said, there is something of value in the idea of corporate personality: it is a barometer by which many users judge a company, a collection of attributes that transmit either a sympathetic or antipathetic image, a feeling of affinity or aversion. And that image or collection of feelings are what make a company attractive, a “friendly company”, or one that is disliked, and seen, however simplistic it may seem, as a threat.
Two recent entries by Spanish professor Ricardo Galli spell out the frustration caused by Google’s decision to eliminate an important function of Android that has imposed serious limitations for millions of users, and is little short of an act of betrayal toward thousands of applications developers. The feeling will be similar to that experienced by five million Google users when the company decided to withdraw Google Reader, not for any strategic or thought-out reason, but simply because nobody in the company gave a damn about it: it’s not just the product disappearing that is so frustrating, but the company’s apparent lack of interest in offering any kind of alternative.
Not long ago, talking to a manager of the company in London, I expressed my concern about the way that its results pages dedicate less and less space to natural results, and more to those editorialized by the company and that correspond to its own products. I explained that in many cases long-standing Google users like myself were uncomfortable about these types of modifications and that we preferred our results unfiltered, and not subject to any type of editing, such as those that had led us to abandon other search engines in favor of Google. And the reply from the director in question? Very polite, of course, but the subtitles underneath read something like: “take it or leave it; it’s your choice.”
In short, Google has become a very self-interested company. Its users no longer matter, because at the end of the day, there is no real alternative, and we just have to get on with it. Entrepreneurs are of no consequence and can be walked all over: if you have never tried competing with Google, don’t worry, you will. Patents used to be evil for the company, but now they patent as much as they can. Even its workforce seems resigned to its fate, and the sense of pride associated with working for the company has been replaced by protests and ill feeling.
Businesses are of little concern to Google either: the alternatives for online advertising are few and far between, and anyway, recalcitrant companies can soon be brought round to the right way of thinking. Programmers are equally unimportant in the Google scheme of things, and will always end up doing what they are told: it is of little importance that they make no money from their apps or that fragmentation drives them insane, because our system now dominates virtually every market.
In short, as long as there is no alternative, Google’s attitude is “we can do what we like, what is in our best interests, and what maximizes our resources and profits best. What users, clients, or programmers think is of no consequence. It doesn’t matter how they see us. They can call us all the names they like, we aren’t worried.”
The entry barriers protecting Google’s business have grown ever higher, in the same way that the internet has become increasingly unmanageable. When Google launched its search engine, all that was needed to compete was a better algorithm. To take the company on today would require setting up a vast infrastructure of data centers along with a computing architecture able to make a copy of the entire worldwide web. Think about it. To compete in terms of advertising would also require a huge critical mass. For Google, avoiding the nuisances caused by the regulators, all that is required to pay the lobbyists more money than anybody else.
For Google, the only thing that matters is Google. It doesn’t care about its users, about its programmers, or about its customers. “Don’t be evil”? Don’t make me laugh. And yes, you also are of no consequence to Google. Take it or leave it, it’s your choice.