Google Drinking Its Own Koolaid?

At least some people are beginning to talk about the possibility of Google joining ranks with the dark side, what with the many markets it is insinuating itself in. For me, it’s bringing out the Berkeley mindset.

An editorial in today’s NY Times, What Google Should Roll Out Next: A Privacy Upgrade by Adam Cohen is one of the few voices willing to challenge the cloak of godliness that most people still see Google wearing. But I would like to go one step further. What happens when Serge and Brin no longer run the company with their iron wills?

Let’s give them every benefit of a doubt with these totally made up assumptions:
* They still are committed to “Don’t do evil.”
* They still have near absolute power to run the company and are willing to buck Wall Street whenever necessary.
* They plan to distribute their shared $30 billion in net worth back to the people in some uniquely clever and Google way.
* They will defend their principles to their deaths.

And therein lies the elephant in the room that no one is discussing. What happens after Serge and Brin are no longer at the helm of Google?

It’s one thing to keep believing (pretending?) that we are “safe” with Serge & Brin running Google. But they are human. They will die, even if they never retire. Frankly, I don’t trust them at this point, much less their successors, to being able to avoid doing evil — a concept which is in the mind of the beholder. Once a company goes public, it belongs to the shareholders and the board. How many of Google’s shareholders/board members are in it for the money versus in it for the dream of making the world a better place? Umm, I venture to guess many more the former.

The privacy concerns mentioned in Adam Cohen’s article hit the nail squarely:

bq. The biggest area where Google’s principles are likely to conflict is privacy. Google has been aggressive about collecting information about its users’ activities online. It stores their search data, possibly forever, and puts “cookies” on their computers that make it possible to track those searches in a personally identifiable way – cookies that do not expire until 2038. Its e-mail system, Gmail, scans the content of e-mail messages so relevant ads can be posted. Google’s written privacy policy reserves the right to pool what it learns about users from their searches with what it learns from their e-mail messages, though Google says it won’t do so. It also warns that users’ personal information may be processed on computers located in other countries.

Why don’t we, as Google lovers, act similarly principled (instead of being blinded by adoration) and demand that they stop collecting the personal information that is not relevant? They really don’t need it. Why don’t they LET US determine how much to give them and how to use it? Who can envision a world where money can be made and more than just a few benefit? That is the idealistic view of the future that I want to live in, where individuals are as willing to call out their own as well as the opposition’s misdeeds.

Yes, I am a 1974 graduate of UC Berkeley, the same school that brought us the anti-war student protests of the early 70’s, People’s Park, and all sorts of idealism for how to make the world a more equitable place. I’d like to think we’ve matured a lot in our methods, while going one step beyond “don’t do evil” to actually “doing some good.” Anyone with me on this?

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