Has Google Gone Evil?

In most technical circles, Microsoft has been considered the evil empire for many years. Well, Microsoft may have a new challenger for that title as Google has decided they want to rule the world, and the blogosphere has started to notice. Google has been given a free pass for quite some time because they changed the way we use the internet. They were the cool company to work for too. It is interesting how things change over the years.

So, why am I saying that Google has “gone evil”? It is still a bit of a stretch, but they are doing some very Microsoft-ish things. First, they have decided that they will own whatever interesting technical concept people come up with. They may not be first or the best, but they will kill you with free features. Microsoft never went free, but they definitely went cheap when they needed to. Let’s assume that Google’s core businesses are search and contextual advertising. What else do they have?

GMail was one of the early products, but web hosted email is not a profit center. GMail was a move to get more people to know Google. Free products are great for publicity, and this was one big advertisement for Google. Once you have an email product and a web crawler, an RSS reader makes a lot of sense, and now we have Google Reader. Still, these products were in the vicinity of the core products that Google offered. However, after some of the early products, we saw Google try to branch out more. If you want to see the full breadth of products, take a look at the “More Google Products” page. Yep, they really sneak up on you. Now we have Google applications, with the option of having Google host your corporate email. Just ask Microsoft, office applications and email management are a cash cow.

We also have Google Maps which recently put a damper on the GPS navigation market by adding turn by turn directions. They have a news site, a finance site and a blog platform too. Granted, some of these applications were acquired businesses, like YouTube, but acquisition into new business lines is still expanding the business. There are Google groups, a Google IM client, a picture sharing/editing application and a social network. Louis Gray, an admitted Apple fanboy, even devoted a post to the idea of going completely Google.

For a long time now, Google was the free option, free as in cheap but also “freedom” from the corporate chains that looked like Microsoft. If you look at Google now, they are not very different from the Microsoft of 10 years ago, except for the widespread disgust. Is Google spreading itself too thin? I did not mention many of their products as they have several pages dedicated to what they have created. They have also started to get into legal battles because of this, not the typical patent trolling battles, but getting into copyright issues with newspapers and book publishers and authors. By continuously expanding their business, under the banner of “free”, they have expanded to the point where they are now the big behemoth of a company. Many people have started to paint the big target Google’s back as well. Does all of this sound familiar?

So, is Google evil based on all of this? Not particularly, as some of this is just good business. However, many people state that vendor lock-in is a bad thing, including getting all of your services from one vendor. Google is actively pursuing this strategy. People complain that a company knowing too much about you is definitely evil and a privacy concern as well. Google definitely knows a lot about you, especially if you use more than just Google search. People considered Microsoft evil for entering different application areas just because they had the manpower to do it and there might be money to be made. Google just did that with their free turn-by-turn directions in Google Maps. You know what they say, “if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck.”

20 thoughts on “Has Google Gone Evil?

  1. Yeah, it certainly seems that Google is feeling a little “hate-heat” at the moment.

    To be honest I think it is an almost inevitable consequence of their success rather than any particular business decision on their behalf.

    At the end of the day there is no such thing as a “free good” and I raised this during the #cabinetforum sessions that were broadcast live and followed on Twitter.

    They had Matt Brittin from Google UK there and he made a few comments that placed them well within the Microsoft-esque fold.

    He blatantly plugged Google Insights, followed with the “this isn’t a plug” statement, which was rather disingenuous.

    Followed with statement about “no cost storage”, something which I think is a little bit of a misnomer. We go back to the no such thing as a free good issue.

    When a company reaches the size of Google they are never going be able to keep everyone in favour.

    That said, I don’t think they will be losing an enormous amount sleep over the dissenting masses at the moment.

    The groundswell I read on Google on a regular basis is still overwhelmingly positive.

    The interesting situation is whether they abuse their position in relation to the setting of standards for the industry, which you raise with the Google Maps decision.

    Everyone I know still uses Google as a standard for usability in certain web decision processes.

    Where will they turn when Google start making decisions that aren’t to the benefit of uniformity and standard setting?

    We only have to look at Microsoft’s non-complaint browser IE6 to see an example of where the arrogance of setting your own standards can lead.

    It’s an interesting time for Google, sure they are going to make some mistakes, who doesn’t?

    As long as they don’t forget some of the foundation upon which the company was built and the people that helped them build that foundation stronger.

    Good and poignant post Rob, cheers.


  2. Ed,

    The arrogance of setting your own standards is something that I did not touch own (due to length), but is definitely being hit already. We now have Google Wave being released today, PubSubHubbub and the new Salmon protocol (that’s google too right?). They are treading some very controversial ground right now and the tech blogosphere can be very fickle.

    Businesses past a certain size tend to not lose sleep over much except whether their cash cow will continue to product milk. If the blogosphere deems Google the new evil empire, it really does not change the bottom line in the short term, it just makes good conversation. It could have some longer term affects though.

    And thanks for the almost blog-post length comment. In depth responses are what I always hope for.


  3. Entering a new market because you believe you have both the willpower and ability to change it is not evil – even if it destroys your competitors.

    What makes a company evil, like Microsoft, is when you do legitimately evil things. Examples from their illustrious past include: multi-tiered products that basically force users to spend more money than they should, a distinct lack of portability and openness, changing your UI and user’s workflow just because you feel like it, creating buggy software that you claim is perfect, being a legitimate monopoly that strongarms competition illegally out of the market… the list goes on.

    Google is currently doing none of those things, despite what its detractors say.

    On the note of “vendor lock”- Google now provides a way to export almost all data from all its services, making it easy for Google Documents to be replaced with OpenOffice, or a Blogger site ported to WordPress. This is not the behavior of an evil company.

    Finally, while I don’t think that Google is great at everything they do, they should be applauded for giving their employees the latitude to try. Gmail, Google Reader, Docs, and Calendar seem to be core products outside of Search – and alot of their old ideas are just horrible. But the unpopular features/products that have good ideas (like Notebook and Bookmarks) have new life breathed into them inside new products to great effect (Calendar and Toolbar+Chrome, respectively)… that is a startup acquisition culture inside one of the largest tech companies at the moment, which is quite amazing.



  4. Kyle

    Google is trying to ensure that you can move things around, which is a good sign. They are getting very close to monopoly status however. Maybe I should have titled this, “Is Google Going Evil Slowly?” The book copyright issues are interesting, but Google is using the open/freedom stance. Microsoft did not seem evil at the time either.

    Google is an amazing company, but their strength and breadth is starting to get concerning. It is rarely a good idea to have a company with as much knowledge and power as Google is amassing. It will be interesting to see how Google handles themselves over the next year or two. They are a big target now, so I would assume more people will go after them.


  5. Rob,

    I guess we’ll find out… but I’m inclined to say the end result will be much different than an “evil monopoly”.


    p.s. They can’t be a monopoly, because one of the prerequisite actions is behaving in an abusive manner to your competitors – they haven’t even come close to that.


  6. While I’m no fan of Microsoft’s, I don’t think they are “evil” per se. I think they made some poor decisions that caused them to become a good target for the pitchfork wielding masses. When they got so large that they thought that changing standards (moving people’s cheese, if you will) would push others out and therefore letting them gain an even greater foothold was when they made their largest mis-step.

    If Google can resist the temptation to try a stunt like that and continue in the vein of making everyone’s pre-existing methods and habits easier and more efficient rather than changing them all together, then they will continue to be a company that everyone will continue to love (even if they’d rather hate them for being so large and effective) rather than becoming the company everyone loves to hate.

    Side note – I’m quite certain that Google is about to become the Microsoft of cell phones (not in the whole becoming too big for their britches kind of way, but in the whole taking an idea that Apple had and rocked at and opening it up to any hardware company to use their software to create more options and cheaper devices kind of way).

    Also, feel the need to state that I own a Mac and that I will be purchasing the Droid when it comes out next week 🙂


  7. Bailey81

    Evil is an exaggeration, but those types of companies become a target for blogger’s angst. You mention MS changing standards, and Google hopefully staying away from that. This is part of the problem that may be arising. Google has gotten much more involved in new standards like Wave (a completely different idea) and Pubsubhubbub.

    You make a good point on the Android/MS parallel. They could capitalize on an interesting position. And I also see a Droid in my future, probably next year though.


  8. IMHO, no, particularly in comparison with other companies. Google is still a more user-centric, open platform supporting company than others, namely Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Yahoo.

    If one considers Google “evil,” Facebook must be several orders of magnitude worse.


  9. I don’t really think any of the trends discussed in your post show a movement toward malignant monopoly. There are some warning signs, but they have been visible for quite some time. The will to have all your information and know everything that you do at all times has been a long-time goal of Google. It’s not necessarily “evil”, but complex from a privacy perspective.

    However, the Google Books controversy really does show the opposite of an evil company. They are, in fact, throwing themselves out on a limb on this one. Sure, they will probably earn a bunch of money by selling access to full-text books, but their share of the profits is abysmal compared to what Amazon takes for themselves. I do believe they are fighting the good fight here and the writers are on their side, while of course the publishers are not, because they are becoming irrelevant.

    They are spreading thin though. It’s not that easy anymore to point to Google’s core business.

    As for Apple (and don’t get me wrong here, I’m typing this on a Macbook and I’ve got an iPhone), they are probably the company to watch out for when it comes to evil.


  10. […] Has Google Gone Evil? In most technical circles, Microsoft has been considered the evil empire for many years. Well, Microsoft may have a new challenger for that title as Google has decided they want to rule the world, and the blogosphere has started to notice. Google has been given a free pass for quite some time because they changed the way we use the internet. They were the cool company to work for too. It is interesting how things change over the years. […]


  11. Will Google ever really control the Internet? I’m not sure of that unless it controls the pipes as well as the software used to put information into those pipes and to extract information from those pipes. Simply put, just because Google makes great products and offers great services, does NOT mean one has to use these products and services. I no longer use Google nor Microsoft any more and I’m fine with that. I use other smaller providers for all my needs and that’s fine. I realize that I am in the minority.


  12. About 4 years ago, there was a flurry of articles in various news sites about how its was finally Google’s turn to be evil. The NYT among them. Then all that went away in the wake of a slew of great offerings by Google.

    But I don’t think offering free, standards-based software, lets Google get away with abusive power. Come to think of it, Google is actually much _MORE_ insidious than it appears. Unlike MS which publicly flouted public standards with its own ideas for those standards, Google has been courting the programming community to come up with new standards that benefit everyone, most of all Google itself, which stands to make money no matter what its developers and legions of fanboys do.

    Just wait a few years, when Google dominates just about every web-based thing, controls the software for smartphones, search, email, etc. it will be a Google world; eventually, people will get tired of it and revolt just like they did against MS. But that will probably take a generation or two to happen. In the meantime, Larry, Sergey, and Eric will get richer and more powerful.


  13. An evil doers list:

    In the UK Google has avoided paying something like £450M in tax which would have built schools and hospitals – but then made a global charity donation of £12M.

    Google have avoided paying some currency conversion costs something like $35M – if you look at the typical advice for this type of cost saver it is to pass it on to your suppliers – make them pay you in $.

    Google insist of people paying for clicks not web site hits with Google Adsense. This is my personal hate. I wasted something like 18% of my advertising budget on clicks which were not site hits.


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