Google Not Being Evil

Why does Google want to know so much about you?

The company provides us with services ranging from maps to email, phones to video, books to social media — all free. Why do they do this, and how can the company afford to do this?

The more products and services the company provides for free, the more of us will use them, and the more data about ourselves is available for the company to mine. The company’s revenues come from advertising, and the more the company knows about you, the better they can target ads to you

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


Patrick Clair examines Google’s business model and provides examples of the company, “not being evil”.

If you would like to see a less cynical view of the company’s motives, check out this 120 page slideshow by Google’s Creative Labs called, “The World is Full of Interesting Things“. [Via @timoreilly via @slashdot on 19 October 2010.]

That’s the name of a brilliant slideshow created by Google’s Creative Labs. You’ll find a lot of interesting HTML5 apps, iPhone apps, visualization tools, 3D projections, art projects, creative YouTube videos, crowdsourcing services and many other interesting things.

One of the sites featured in the presentation is Goollery, a collection of Google-related projects from people around the world. There’s a keyboard just for Gmail users, the already-famous Newsmap, a beautiful stylesheet for Google Reader and more.

The presentation also highlights Google Chrome’s ads, an interactive video for Arcade Fire’s “We Used to Wait”, a clever way to use YouTube’s annotations, Google Street View art and IBM’s “Internet of things” video.

Don’t forget to check Google’s slideshow. “This should keep you busy for the next 24 hours,” as Jason Kottke says.

[Via GoogleSystem.]

I looked through the slideshow, and there are some amazing examples of how Google’s products and services are used.

How often and how much of Google’s products and services do you use? Do you have any reservations about using these products and services? Do you think they are “being evil” because they are providing free products and services to consumers at the price of their data and digital exhaust?

Addendum: 22 October 2010
How Google has avoided paying $60 billion In taxes: http://bit.ly/a3au49.

I’d like to point out that the founders of Google were funded as graduate students by a National Science Foundation Digital Library Initiative award when they developed PageRank. From a business perspective, they are being smart. However, as naive as I might sound, there is a moral issue here that goes beyond their duty as a corporation and citizens (immigrants, in this case) to pay their taxes. Page and Brin wouldn’t have a company were it not for US taxpayers. Or, as JK Rowling put it when she explained why she remains domiciled in England and pays more in taxes than she would if she lived elsewhere:

I chose to remain a domiciled taxpayer for a couple of reasons. The main one was that I wanted my children to grow up where I grew up, to have proper roots in a culture as old and magnificent as Britain’s. A second reason, however, was that I am indebted to the British welfare state; the very one that Mr Cameron would like to replace with charity handouts. When my life hit rock bottom, that safety net, threadbare though it had become under John Major’s Government, was there to break the fall. I cannot help feeling, therefore, that it would have been contemptible to scarper for the West Indies at the first sniff of a seven-figure royalty cheque. This, if you like, is my notion of patriotism.

Patriotism in action by showing gratitude to the country that helped you when you were in dire need of funding by paying your taxes in full? What a quaint yet fabulous idea! How about it, Google?

/soapbox

Addendum: 23 October 2010
I thought this note Patrick Clair wrote on 19 October 2010 to one of his commenters about the above Google video might be of interest to some of the readers of this blog.

Patrick Clair commented on Google “Trying not to be evil”
Hi Standard Def Love,

I just wanted to drop you a quick note thanking you for your feedback on the Google profile. I noted your concern that the video was produced by a group with a hidden agenda so I thought it might be worthwhile sharing some information about the context that the video was produced in.

The video was part of a series of animated and non-animated ‘current affairs’ segments funded by, and aired on the television and website channels of, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). The ABC is a federal government body that occupies a similar position in the Australian media landscape to what the BBC does in the UK or PBS does in the US. This particular series, entitled “connect the dots”, was devoted to profiling powerful organisations, individuals and companies. Our thoughts were that many companies that are discussed in the news media every day are rarely profiled from a “birds eye view” approach whereby all information on the public record is revisited and succinctly summarised. Groups that we profiled included Australian politicians, US military contractors, UK-based defence service providers, and the Catholic Church. The idea was to remind people of the connections that exist between money and influence in society, helping them to be better informed the next time these groups are prominent in the news cycle.

Please don’t assume that the video was designed to be a wholesale criticism of Google. Myself, and many others on the production team, are avid users of Google products. While we didn’t “google the clip-art”, as alleged in your comment post (the artwork was purchased from stock image providers or created from scratch), we did use a variety of google products in our production process – including Gmail, google search engine, Google docs, etc… Ironic I know. Also, on a personal level, I’ve spoken with Google Australia before about collaborating on a range of projects that are motivated by innovation and creating social worth. Google does devote a good portion of their time to laudable activities and they should be recognised for it. All that said, it is important that the public is aware of the growing power of dominant groups in society – whether they be public bodies or private companies – so that we can continue to hold them accountable as their influence expands.

Also, it is important that we continue to rigorously enforce our existing laws or evolve those laws as technology develops. For instance, most western democracies do allow citizens some control of the use of their image in broadcasting or commerce – for instance through defamation legislation. That’s why people that work in media and advertising are required to have release and consent forms. In the instance of the google streetview situation their is a strong legal case to argue that Google does require people’s permission to use their likeness on a service that exists to generate advertising revenue (which is what in-theory motivates Google as a company, as all private ventures are driven to create profit, and rightly so).

Anyways, I hope this clears up some of your concerns about the video. Thanks dearly for your feedback, we’re passionate about continuing to encourage an atmosphere of open and rigorous debate around our online content. It’s good to see people bringing to bear a critical eye on the motivations behind the media we consume. On a personal level, I really appreciate having someone like yourself allege that the video posted here was motivated by a hidden agenda. Thoughtful, insightful and informed comments such as your own are what continue to promote America’s reputation as a nation of nuanced and intelligent citizens of the world.

Regards, Patrick.

More Questions Than Answers
In conclusion, if Google the corporation were a Dungeons and Dragons character, which alignment would the company have?

  1. Lawful Good – society is better off when people help each other.
  2. Neutral Good – you need it.
  3. Chaotic Good – I want to get back at the uncaring society that left you to die.
  4. Lawful Neutral – the law obliges me to.
  5. True Neutral – you’d do the same for me (for the Undecided true neutrals, by analogy with them killing in self-defence at the website above) or you are the underdog (for the Balanced true neutrals who join every fight on the losing side).
  6. Chaotic Neutral – I feel like it.
  7. Lawful Evil – you are vital to my conquest of the world.
  8. Neutral Evil – there’s a nice reward for it.
  9. Chaotic Evil – I want to torture you more before you die.

In what ways, if any, does the company live up to its motto, “Don’t Be Evil“? In what ways, if any, does the company not live up to its motto? In what ways, if any, does the company contradict itself?

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