“Don’t Be Evil”

March 1, 2009

Chapters six through nine of the book “The Search” seemed to be a synopsis of Google’s efforts to “not be evil.”  From the impact on the little-guy merchant, to privacy vs. public good questions, to Google’s entry into China, the dichotomy of participating and effectively competing in the cut-throat business world  while upholding  standards of “ corporate righteousness” was on display.

“Search has become the new interface of commerce,” states John Battelle.   I was struck by Google’s ability to control what amounts to people’s business destiny and the obligation that comes with that power.  The example of Neil Moncrief’s shoe business made me wonder if anyone could feel secure building a web business when Google can simply alter their algorithms and wipe you out.  I recognize all businesses—web or not—are subject to whims of the market, but, dang… building a business reliant on someone else’s search parameters seems particularly risky.  The most dangerous thing in business is uncertainty in the rules of the game.  My businessman husband is fond of saying that even “bad rules” can be worked around in business—it’s the changing of the rules that causes the heartburn.  I don’t know what to make of Google’s (or any search organization) power in that regard.

Regarding the privacy issues and Google’s ability to cooperate or not cooperate in delivering information into questionable hands, I was interested in the exchanges regarding the millennial generation.  Early last week, I was part of a conversation about the fact that Millennials, in general, don’t seem to be all that concerned about privacy issues.  They have few qualms about plastering even intimate details of their lives (and their faces) all over the internet while we old folks tend to be fairly squeamish about it.  One” 20 something “guy in our class referred me to an article entitled “Social Streaking” in Kennedy School’s newspaper “The Citizen.”  Sam Sanders writes: 

Let’s face it.  We’re a generation stuck on ourselves.  We take pictures of everything we do, throw them online and wait for others to comment.  We write our opinions on blogs as if we were experts and expect everyone to read it.  We post our inside jokes between friends for the world to see….  I’d like to think you all are just like me.  Trapped in your own social bubble by the very technology that was meant to unite us with the entire world.  It’s a little sad, isn’t it?  The internet was supposed to open the universe to us.  And while it has, a lot of what we’ve doing is socially streaking of front of the e-world…”

The old fogey in me wants to say: “Ya know what kids…streaking (virtual or otherwise) is probably going to come back to haunt you.”  That becomes even more real to me when I realize that there is a virtual “database in the sky” for most people on the planet—definitely for those of us in the industrialized world.  Maybe my concern, then, is misplaced….it’s already too late.  I hope Google can find their way through all the shades of gray involved in the cyberspace privacy debate.  I don’t think I’ve been “streaking,” but I do wonder to what degree I’m “exposed.”

As for how Google responded to their moral challenge in entering China, I have to admit I wasn’t all that aware of the details on the issue at the time.  I do, however, remember my husband angry and sputtering about how Google had “sold out.”  He felt that Google had the power and a huge opportunity to make a difference in China—they threw it away to the detriment of all Chinese citizens.   Personally, I’m not prepared to make a moral judgment here–Just telling you how it “played out in Topeka.”

Lastly, the “IPO of the Ages” pages made me laugh.  Got to give credit to Google…I’m not sure that anyone has ever successfully “thumbed their nose” at Wallstreet in the way that Google did.  Tip of the hat.

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