Image by Matt Krueger
Warning: this first part is going to sound like an advertisement. I love Google. I trust Google with an inordinate amount of information. It hosts a blog for me, my primary e-mail account, my calendar, and numerous important spreadsheets that I created on Google Docs — including one with my 2006 federal and state tax information. I rely on Google Reader for my blogs, which means that in a day of work I rarely leave the Google domain.
I trust Apple with my computer needs and Poland Spring with my water needs, but since the days when I wore Gap clothing exclusively, I've never felt quite so comfortable with — or reliant upon — a company than I do Google. In short, while I'm neither a fan nor a boy, I am a Google fanboy. Yesterday Google even introduced a new mapping feature: Here's a picture of my house.
But could my love for this company be wrongheaded? Explore with me after the jump.
But I'm preaching to the choir here — you all use Google, right? You almost have to: Search boxes are now built into Safari, Internet Explorer, and Firefox browsers. Those browsers didn't put the search boxes there just to be nice. Google pays millions of dollars to be the default search engine in browser windows. And thank goodness. I use them all the time. I bet there aren't any contrarians out there either who use Ask.com instead. Barry Diller may be improving his search algorithm, but wouldn't it be painful to use it exclusively?
So everyone uses Google. Not everyone uses Gmail: Some of my friends still find the fact that a machine reads your e-mails to be spooky. But I love the directed advertising! I trust Google not to take advantage of my personal information, and I sometimes even click on the ads.
The fact that Google scans e-mail isn't the only possible reason to criticize the company. Because Google's company motto is "don't be evil," users keep a closer eye on the company than they do other Internet giants. Just as the environmental habits of Whole Foods are more closely watched than those of Safeway, users and the press hold Google to a higher standard.
In China, the company has failed to live up to that standard. Google's website in China is heavily censored. Eric Schmidt, Google's CEO, mentioned that the company weighed whether to censor their Chinese website on an "evil scale" and decided that it was less evil to censor its Chinese website than it would be not to "serve" China at all. I don't believe this for a second. It was strictly a business decision, and it's one about which Sergey Brin, one of the company's founders, has expressed some discomfort.
Google's not alone in its bad behavior in China. Yahoo gave out the personal information of one of its users when the Chinese government requested it, resulting in that user's imprisonment. But the fact that Google's behavior in China is slightly better than Yahoo's does not mean that it is operating at its "not evil" standard.
It was an easy tactic that hardly reads as an aggressive smear — the reporter hadn't found his social security number, nor did she uncover illicit photos. Nevertheless, in retaliation to the article, Google banned its representatives from talking to CNet until July 2006. Google then declined to comment on its blacklisting of the website. This is an extreme example, but not a lone one: Google reps have failed to get back to me on several occasions (once for this website).
The company isn't just cagey with the press. It's very secretive about its locations, and it drives a hard bargain in its negotiations with the small, poor towns where it builds server farms. These enormous campuses actually create very few jobs for locals, especially compared to the hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks that Google gets for just putting them somewhere.