Companies go through phases and for much of Google's existence, it seemed to be the adolescent who needed a caretaker CEO (now looking to do a TV show) to hold his hand to prevent him from doing something stupid. Now, right after the departure of its caretaker CEO, suddenly Google is behaving like that old guy down the street who screams at the kids to get off his lawn. Did I blink and miss it becoming a mature adult?
Let's explore this.
Google Tells Microsoft to Get off Its Lawn
A few days ago, Google lodged a complaint against Microsoft. Basically it had become concerned that Bing was providing search results that were as good or better than its own and was convinced that Microsoft was cheating. Google believed that Microsoft was copying search results from its users in order to improve its own search results. So Google prepared a test and, using made-up words, performed searches and discovered that Bing mimicked its behavior. It then screamed "bloody murder" and demanded Microsoft stop. Microsoft denied any allegations.
Imagine if law enforcement worked this way (and it actually seems to in some places I wouldn't want to live): It assumed you were guilty, restaged the crime it was investigating and put you in it, using that as proof for your guilt. How do you then prove you didn't do something?
It Wasn't Google's Lawn
Now setting aside Microsoft's claim that it didn't do it, what would be the problem if it did? Google maintains that Microsoft uses the Microsoft toolbar and the opt-in feature that asks if it can capture information in order to improve Microsoft products. If you say yes, then part of what it captures is reflected in your search results.
Now let's pause for a moment. Who owns your search results? I'll grant you that Google thinks it owns all of your information, but I'd argue that you own it and if you want to give it to Billy down the street or Microsoft, you are free to do so.
Old people often have funny ideas about who owns what and are known for being particularly nasty if they think you are depriving them of their rights. I was president of the Homeowners' Association and there was one old guy who felt the street light in front of his house should only shine on his driveway because it was his street light, and it didn't matter at all that if we angled it that way his neighbor across the street wouldn't have any light at all.
Old folks don't have to be reasonable and in this case, Google isn't even being smart. I just don't think Google should be making a point that our information belongs to them right now.
Senile at 13
The not-smart part has to do with the fact that Google is pretty cavalier when it comes to personal information, especially after a Google employee got caught spying on children through their Gmail accounts, after it got caught pulling information off of home and business Wi-Fi networks and after it even blackballed a news service that pointed out that Google had major privacy problems.
For them to jump up and down about another company using information-with permission-with the only the goal of improving its own products is like, hmmm, let me think ... it is like a driver who, upon being pulled over for speeding, says, "But officer why did you arrest me, I passed a guy back there who was clearly exceeding the speed limit."
Privacy is not a fight Google is prepared to have at the moment, so why make it a topic of discussion?
Wrapping Up: Reality Distortion Field
There is a term that has often been used about Steve Jobs that has to do with the fact he surrounds himself with a "Reality Distortion Field" and doesn't let anyone else in. It isn't one of his positive features. However, a lot of companies over time seem to copy that trait and it is something we often think about with regard to the elderly. They often lose touch with the real world. Google seems to have lost touch with this one and since changing CEOs, this news doesn't bode well for the company. It's something to think about this weekend, but you'll have to excuse me, I need to go chase some kids off my lawn. Oh, crap