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Apr 27

Google, privacy, and a higher standard

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I had a nice conversation with a good friend, who has certain concerns about Google’s motives. He felt that he understands Microsoft’s motus operandi: they want to sell Windows licenses and make lots of money doing it. Google on the other hand “has all of this data on me” and who knows what they will do with it.

I admit to understanding where the concern comes from. We often fear what we do not get to see, especially when the truth is too good to be true. Surely a company couldn’t last long without don’t evil in the name of “protecting our shareholders”. I remember, “When Google goes public… then we will see what happens.” I have had the fortune to be in meetings where privacy is a huge concern. I too get to see first hand that “Don’t be evil” isn’t a clever marketing ploy. I think that Google believes that it can make money by providing true value, and doing so for its users.

If you take a cynical tack, Google has no other choice. By coming out and saying that it will not be evil, it has put itself out there, to be held to a higher standard.

Tim O’Reilly has a great perspective:

I wanted to weigh in with a broader perspective, and a counter-argument. While there is some ground for concern, people seem to be ignoring far greater risks to our privacy that are in the hands of people far less scrupulous than Google. Our credit card company knows everything we buy — and sells that information to marketers; our phone company knows everyone we call — and sells that information to marketers; our supermarket knows what we buy and how often — and sells that information to marketers.

Meanwhile, here’s Google, which is using the information it collects to build better services that we eagerly consume because they are useful to us, and yet we’re complaining about the risks of how much data they collect! At least Google’s harnessing that data for our benefit, while most of the other big data collectors are simply using it for their own.

In short, it seems to me that Google is being held to a much higher standard than the rest of the world.

The last sentence, in some ways, may not be a bad thing. It will make sure that Google dosen’t take shortcuts, and that it sticks to the core values that the founders brought to the table.

I am not expecting anyone to listen to some random employee saying “trust me”. I understand that outsiders are unable to see how the employees themselves are the most forceful critics and watchers. After all, we don’t want to be proven wrong. Keep watching. Look at how we handle privacy first hand. Look at the data.

I know that people will probably talk about some of these concerns for many years to come. Google is sure to make some mistakes along the way, but I am confident that it can keep the trust that has been earned over the years.

NOTE: This is most definitely my own opinion on the subject

One Response to “Google, privacy, and a higher standard”

  1. Ben Galbraith Says:

    Much as I enjoy providing you with the context to shill for the Google machine a bit more ;-) my concerns are entirely distorted.

    I mean, sure, like everyone else, I am concerned about one company knowing so much about what I look for on the Web. But that’s not what I was talking about.

    What I actually said to kick off our conversation was that, “Google has a ton of engineers working on stuff–over ten thousand engineers I’ve been told–and a lot of companies are nervous because they’re not quite sure what Google’s up to.” I think that’s a pretty non-controversial statement.

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