The Day Google Became Just Another Company

By James Kwak

Not the day they launched Google Buzz, but the day that Google Buzz product manager Todd Jackson responded to legitimate privacy concerns by writing this piece of meaningless corporate PR spin worthy of, well, any other company out there: “Google remains completely committed to freedom of expression and to privacy, and we have a strong track record of protecting both.”

35 thoughts on “The Day Google Became Just Another Company

  1. You mean the day they went public and were bound by law to put profits before anything else like every other corporation?

  2. Let us suppose, for the moment, that the interests of some of Google’s shareholders are not aligned with others. Whose interests is the board obligated to advance? Page and Brin still have majority voting control of Google, unless things have changed since Ken Auletta’s book tour a few months back.

    (I, for one, don’t usually invest in companies where insiders have voting control of the company. What is the economic justification for anyone to buy a stake in a company which will never hear their voice? Is it all just cults of personality? FWIW, I suspect that Larry and Sergey’s interests are still relatively more aligned with mine than Sumner’s or Rupert’s. But I wouldn’t buy their stock.)

  3. Just a lurker here.

    But much of the reason Google has such a successful search engine is precisely because of their use of information. All available info. Its why we use it.

    They don’t have an actual gun to your head to use the product, other engines and platforms exist. But as we know none are quite as effective as Google.

    Thus it seems to me the best way to keep privacy is not to use their services. Perhaps many think they have a de facto monopoly, ala MicroSoft circa mid 90’s and have become non-competitive.

    If this is the case they will suffer the same fate as competition catches them.

    Good blog here sir.

  4. Agreed. And this story gives a further indication that Google management has a very fuzzy notion of privacy, which had already been raised with Google street view.
    They just don’t seem to understand that it’s most private users whic must be taken as standard, not the most exhibitionist.

  5. I love you guys, I’m talking to James, Simon, 3-D, Min, Garrett, scharfy, rectonoverso, Tippy, The Raven, Taunter, Russ, Pete, Per, Paul, Nemo, Manshu, graham, Don, anne, and EVERYONE, I LOVE ALL OF YOU ANGRY SONS ‘A BITCHES!

  6. (I think I love Larry and Sergey, too, but I don’t want my backlog of porn queries eternally bound to the i.p. of my laptop…)

  7. Chris — in that case, it might be a good idea to do the following: give your current laptop away to someone that you don’t know, get a new ISP, change your address, and perhaps also your name. Change your shopping habits.

    I’d also suggest the following, but I think it’s still in alpha:

  8. Stockholders can revoke decisions you make as a CEO or owner if they own a large enough share of “your” company, taking many decisions out of your hand. Typically they’re going to do it because you’re doing something that doesn’t mean profit for the company and (by extension) them. So far as I KNOW that’s legally binding, correct?

  9. You know, Street View is one of their few things I think DOESN’T violate privacy. What they take pictures of is viewable from the street by any person. You’re not guaranteed 4th Amendment protection against pictures in public OR pictures of your house OR pictures through the windows of your house. You’re just guaranteed privacy by shutting the windows nice and tight, keeping the light (and the people peeking in) out.

    Now the kind of dirt they get on you via e-mail and searches on the other hand… that’s the kind of stuff you REALLY don’t get out in public on somebody.

  10. “What they take pictures of is viewable from the street by any person.”
    Which doesn’t mean a picture can be taken and posted on the web.
    They are in trouble in several countries were people just don’t want their house on the internet.

  11. How does adding “On the internet” to any action people could have taken for a hundred years now suddenly make it so menacing, new, or different?

  12. Because of the increased publicity. And I repeat, it is a right for anybody not to have her/his home on the web.

  13. When has an advertisement company not been evil.
    Google is an advertisement company that just happens to do search.
    Corporation want all matter of information that was
    private in the past in order to buy google’s ad space.

    Why do you think Kroger spend $100 million to
    setup computer system to have loyalty cards just
    to give their customer discounts where they track
    everything you buy. I am sure government wants that
    information too.

  14. Corporations are universally peddling the myth that their profligate use of our personal data is some how the consumer’s problem.

    The consumer credit report and id protection rackets are perfect examples of this.

    As Google CEO Eric Schmidt says, “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

    Translating from CEO new-speak, “We will only be responsible if forced to by law or regulation.”

    Where have we seen that before?

  15. There’s another one. Just because you may “technically” have a “right” to do something doesn’t mean you necessarily really have a right to do it.

    Decent human beings who want to have a civilization understand that.

  16. “But unfortunately propaganda in the Western democracies, above all in America, has two faces and a divided personality. In charge of the editorial department there is often a democratic Dr. Jekyll — a propagandist who would be very happy to prove that John Dewey had been right about the abillity of human nature to respond to truth and reason. But this worthy man controls only a part of the machinery of mass communication. In charge of advertising we find an anti-democratic, because anti-rational, Mr. Hyde — or rather a Dr. Hyde, for Hyde is now a Ph.D. in psychology and has a master’s degree as well in the social sciences. This Dr. Hyde would be very unhappy indeed if everybody always lived up to John Dewey’s faith in human nature. Truth and reason are Jekyll’s affair, not his. Hyde is a motivation analyst, and his business is to study human weaknesses and failings, to investigate those unconscious desires and fears by which so much of men’s conscious thinking and overt doing is determined. And he does this, not in the spirit of the moralist who would like to make people better, or of the physician who would like to improve their health, but simply in order to find out the best way to take advantage of their ignorance and to exploit their irrationality for the pecuniary benefit of his employers. But after all, it may be argued, “capitalism is dead, consumerism is king” — and consumerism requires the services of expert salesmen versed in all the arts (including the more insidious arts) of persuasion. Under a free enterprise system commercial propaganda by any and every means is absolutely indispensable. But the indispensable is not necessarily the desirable. What is demonstrably good in the sphere of economics may be far from good for men and women as voters or even as human beings.”

    From Brave New World Revisited by Aldous Huxley (1958); VI. The Arts of Selling

  17. That’s a rather weak argument. The same people with the same interests could always do the same things. Maybe ease of access is slightly greater now, but publicity? It’s not like they’re advertising YOUR HOUSE now available.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for strong privacy protection, but people have been able to take pictures of your house and document its location for years. I don’t see it as something being invaded at all, and I’ve repeatedly used Street View for nothing but good, over and over again. Now if they started insisting that they also be allowed to walk in to your house with a webcam and film you in the shower, then I’d agree with you…

  18. Google has been a regular company since the day it took venture capital. They have managed to snow the technology press for the past several years, but don’t kid yourself: the product managers at Google are all the same people who were product managers at Yahoo before, and Sun before that, and Microsoft before that.

  19. Yes, they are in trouble in other countries, but in some cases it is because the laws in other countries are different from those in the US. According to US law, they are not invading your privacy if they take photos from the street of things normally in public view (i.e, your house, etc.). They do not need your permission. Other countries, such as Germany, have more restrictive laws. You may, in fact, need permission to photo someone’s house. So the situations are not necessarily directly comparable.

  20. Yes. The system is rigged to legalize crime, and then system cadres defend criminal, often psychopathic, behavior, on the grounds that it’s technically “legal”.

    (Although, as Walt said, that a corporation is actually required to be as psychopathic as possible is an urban legend.)

  21. Furthmore.
    Newspaper and magazine publishers are pressuring Apple
    in giving up customer info or they won’t put their content in iPad.

    Cable companies has new cable box which report what you watch.
    It even monitors whether you walk away when commercial is on.

    So your trouble is just beginning.

  22. A couple issues.

    (1) Its much more complicated than this. Shareholders generally can’t just nullify CEO decisions. They have to work much more indirectly, and often can only prevent you from doing things again. (i.e., they might amend the corporate bylaws or charter, or elect directors who will frown on what you did and fire you – but often directors have staggered terms and so it takes years to elect a majority of the board).

    (2) With most companies, shareholders are extremely passive. Hence, you’re unlikely to get shareholders riled up over you failing to be evil.

    (3) There is no legal obligation to put profits before everything else. I believe this was Milton Friedman’s view of what a corporation should be, but its not a legal duty. Companies give money to charity all the time, without much evidence that its going to come back to them in added business.

  23. Interesting how far America has swung from pro-capitalist to anti-capitalist in the last 10-11 years. Back at the end of the 90s you couldn’t move for autobiographies of businessmen and fawning newspaper articles about CEOs. Now corporations are evil…

    I know it’s not popular, but some balance is always useful. Large companies weren’t was wonderful as they seemed in 2010, and they’re not as bad as they seem now. And America has amongst the best standards of living in the world at least partly because it is a good place to start and run a business.

    Don’t get me wrong- I am not a pro-market idealogue at all. And I see some worrying things happening in the US. But some balance…

  24. Balance would be great, and I agree that there should be a balance. Unfortunately, the Randroids have been running things for 30 years now, and the likelihood of things swinging back in to balance any time soon seems fairly low. Well, not before some REAL and permanent damage gets done first.

  25. IIRC, the 1919 Michigan Supreme Court decsion Dodge v. Ford stated that a company is to be run for the profit of the shareholders, and that management decisions are to be directed towards that end.

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