Google Arrogance Squared: The Company Killer - Page 2

At Microsoft, the trigger event was a meeting where I asked them what had happened to its "Office at home" policy. This had been a practice where employees with a valid copy of Office could have a free copy for their home PC. I was told that customers had asked that this policy be canceled. Being somewhat surprised (since this made no sense), I asked how that had come about. The answer was chilling. They said that they had told customers that if employees made additional copies of Office, the customer would be sued and the customers said they didn't want that. Microsoft took that to mean they didn't want to work at home, not that the customers didn't want to be sued. This was one of many examples during that time where Microsoft took 2+2 in terms of evidence and came up with whatever answer justified something it already wanted to do.

I wrote a paper on it, which never made it to the Web, and referred to it mixing up the "rights." Or mixing up what you had the right (power) to do versus doing the right (correct) thing. Seagate failed in the U.S. market and is a fraction of what it once was. IBM almost went under in the 90s and Microsoft lost its iconic CEO and its market dominance. I did eventually post on this for InformationWeek nearly a decade ago.

Google Next?

The first time that we saw this problem appear was when CNET first wrote about Google and privacy. CNET used Google search to collect a bunch of information on Eric Schmidt, its then CEO, as a showcase. Instead of looking at this as a teachable moment and moving to protect user privacy, Google's executive leadership did a better job of concealing its own personal information and blacklisted CNET for making the issue public.

Google's arrogance has been pretty impressive and if it weren't for the fact that its advertising-based revenue and products aren't closely tied, I think it would have gone under by now. For instance, after it brought out Android and people were starting to port it to tablets, it brought out the Chrome OS without telling its licensees first, blindsiding them and making them look stupid in front of their managers. It did this again when it bought Motorola, a company that competed with many of them, and once again made the executives who had chosen to partner with Google look stupid. The worst was Google TV though; there it embarrassed both Intel and Logitech. In fact, Logitech's CEO effectively lost his job as a result of partnering with Google.

At some point licensees are likely to realize that the hidden cost of dealing with Google, which could be their own jobs, may be vastly higher than the cost of paying for a license. I doubt vendors would accept this behavior if they had to write a check, but it is surprising what they'll put up with under the image of "free."

However, this most recent problem is very troubling given it is occurring during an election year and after Google had executed its first consent decree, which some clearly rightfully argued, didn't go far enough. Google apparently hacked through both Apple and Microsoft security to bypass privacy settings and track its customers.

This is like waving a big red flag and saying, "Please regulate me" (this was advocated in The New York Times) and it provides a chilling warning to anyone deploying Google technology that the company will do what it thinks is best for itself and your needs and concerns are not only not its highest priority, they may not even make the list. That's the problem with arrogance: No one else counts. And if you are a customer, that can be a problem.

Wrapping Up: Arrogance Squared

There is another part to that Microsoft story that is kind of funny and I'll share it here. After I wrote the report, Microsoft wanted to write a rebuttal and we thought correctly that vendor conflict would be very topical, so we agreed. However, after it sent over the rebuttal, I called them up and recommended we not post it because it was the most arrogant document I'd ever scene. While it proved my point, the result was likely to be a war with Microsoft, which seemed unwise. I left the decision up to them and later I got a call back from its analyst relations lead who, after an impressive foul language rant, accused me of tricking her into making Microsoft look worse.

There is little doubt that people in Google think this latest issue is largely being manufactured as a tempest in a teapot and that it has every right to take the information it needs to make money from you and me. In their heads, they have the right to do this, but I think we can agree that the company didn't do the right thing, and the fact it stopped when it was caught suggests it might, in a more sober moment, agree.

While Google's advertising revenue stream is more secure than Siemens', IBM's or Microsoft's, pissing off the government isn't a wise move as Microsoft itself found. That's the danger of arrogance: You forget there is always someone or something more powerful than you are and that generally doing the right thing pays dividends. Powerful companies often forget this and Google needs to be reminded.

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