Google Selling 'Democracy' -- Oh, and Advertising


For everybody -- and I get the feeling the numbers are dwindling -- who fancies Google as a new-age white knight jousting with the venomous capitalist serpent that is Microsoft, I offer yet another disheartening bit of evidence: corporate spin.


Last week, a Google employee caused a minor ruckus (big enough to catch the eye of The New York Times) by criticizing Michael Moore's new film "Sicko" and suggesting that health care companies may want to rebut Moore's claims about their industry by buying advertising. Google sells that, you know.


Lauren Turner, the Google employee in question, later clarified that the opinion she expressed was her own, and not Google's. Nonetheless, Turner hammered home her sales pitch:

"Whether the healthcare industry wants to rebut charges in Mr. Moore's movie, or whether Mr. Moore wants to challenge the healthcare industry, advertising is a very democratic and effective way to participate in a public dialogue."

Dan Farber at ZDNet last week questioned why Google would align itself with the U.S. health care industry (which is by all accounts pretty evil). Farber also writes:

"I won't argue with the idea of advertising as democratic. Anyone with the money or winning bid can get their message out into the ether."

Advertising is about as democratic as poll taxes -- people who can afford to get out their message do so; those that can't, don't. Certainly, Google has every right to latch on to any market development -- even yet another distorted rant by Michael Moore -- to try to sell its products. But, really, leave "democracy" out of it, OK?


Every day we see more headlines about folks who are nervous about Google's data-retention policies, its deals with oppressive regimes, and most recently the pressure most agree it put on the Free Software Foundation to resurrect the ASP Loophole in the GPLv3. Eben Moglen, the outspoken FSF attorney who recently announced his resignation, encapsulated these misgivings in this comment:

"Upon the behaviour of Google much depends."

Google is a very successful company that offers a lot of really good products. But it is a company, and companies align themselves with partners and practices that make them money. They can be smart and even sometimes ethical about it, but they are seldom altruistic in their market practices. Google is no different.

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