Google and the Serbian Crown: A Case for Universal Data Governance

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    Rene Bertagna ran a northern Virginia restaurant called the Serbian Crown for 40 years. It attracted Washington, D.C. diners with unusual fare such as horse, lion and kangaroo meat. For 40 years, his restaurant was a dining destination in and of itself.

    Bertagna blames the Internet, and specifically Google, for its closure last year, according to a July Wired article. He sued Google over the Serbian Crown’s erroneous listing on Google Places, which listed the restaurant as closed on weekends when, in fact, weekends constitute the bulk of the restaurant’s business. He and his attorney contend a hacker created the error, but that Google was unresponsive to his phone calls asking to change the listing.

    This problem isn’t as unusual as you’d like to think. Wired offers many other examples, and quotes Mike Blumenthal, a consultant who helps fix listings and who blogs about Google gaffs on his own site.

    Eventually, Bertagna hired a consultant to correct the error, and it was fixed easily and quickly—but too late, he claims, to save his business.

    Wired and Sophos’ Naked Security say Bertagna is unlikely to win, and given the Internet giant’s dismissive quotes, Google feels pretty secure as well.

    There are two key lessons here for organizations and data quality/governance leaders, in particular:

    1. You need to own your own data. Whether it’s online, lurking in Big Data, or the phone book, you’re the only one who knows what’s right and you need to own it.
    2. Maybe, just maybe, you should also let customers and business partners own their own data as well.

    Bertagna’s business closed two years ago—which I find poetic, since two years ago, data experts were arguing that individuals should have more control over their own data.

    Specifically, Jer Thorp, the co-founder of the Office for Creative Research, argued that organizations needed to re-humanize data by giving more access and rights to the real people it represents.

    As I shared at the time, this was a higher level of thinking about data governance. I noted then that data quality expert Jim Harris made a similar argument on the Data Roundtable blog by stating that data ownership and governance should belong to the users or customers who create the data, rather than the organization or IT. (Unfortunately, the links are no longer active on the Data Roundtable blog.)

    In fairness to Google, Wired points out that the company has made a number of changes since that are designed to verify information and protect small businesses.

    Sabotage is still a problem, however, especially on social media. In the past two years, we’ve seen the rise of Big Data, mobile data and the Internet of Things—all of which make data governance and data quality more challenging.

    That said, none of this changes the underlying ethical questions raised by Thorp and Harris two years ago. If Google had listened then, perhaps Bertagna’s business would still be offering fine Russian and French cuisine today.

    Loraine Lawson
    Loraine Lawson
    Loraine Lawson is a freelance writer specializing in technology and business issues, including integration, health care IT, cloud and Big Data.

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