The face blurring on YouTube to protect activists’ identities is the latest way Google is practising its ‘Don’t be evil’ pledge. But is it keeping to the motto in all areas of its business? Let’s take a look.
While ‘Don’t be evil’ isn’t the official Google slogan, it is known as its corporate ethos. It was originally suggested in a meeting by Paul Buchheit, the man who created Gmail.
Buchheit said he “wanted something that, once you put it in there, would be hard to take out.” The slogan was included in the prospectus of Google’s 2004 IPO. The full text reads: “Don’t be evil. We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served – as shareholders and in all other ways – by a company that does good things for the world even if we forego some short term gains.”
In the company’s 10 point corporate philosophy, the sixth point reads: “You can make money without doing evil.” So the company is keen to stress it’s a force for good.
Face blurring on YouTube
The new face blurring feature on the Google-owned YouTube is the latest example of this. When you upload a video, you’ll have the option of blurring out your fizzog, hiding your identity. It’s aimed at protestors and activists, helping them speak freely about issues like oppression without fear of persecution. The idea came about following an observation by human rights campaigners WITNESS that no site offered the technology. And it’s a worthy addition.
As well as looking out for the politically controversial, it’s aimed at protecting children – you can safely upload vids of your kids without revealing their identities to the world.
But that’s not the only area Google has been a force for good of late.
This was a campaign Google launched earlier this month at a Global LGBT Workplace Summit in London. It aims to influence government policy in countries where people are discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation. Its first targets are Singapore and Poland.
Google’s Mark Palmer-Edgecumbe told the summit: “Singapore wants to be a global financial centre and world leader and we can push them on the fact that being a global centre and a world leader means you have to treat all people the same, irrespective of their sexual orientation.”
The idea is that by leading the way, Google will spur other companies into action to put pressure on the governments to change their discriminatory policies.
You’d have to be pretty backwards in your thinking to argue with the intent.
Perhaps Google’s most controversial revelation of recent months concerns the gathering of information for its Street View project. (This happened a few years ago, but only came to light recently.) As the cars passed unsecured Wi-Fi networks to take snaps for use in Street View, they gathered confidential info like passwords and emails. Google originally claimed the incident was an accident, saying one rogue engineer harvested the data in case it was useful for a future Google project. But recently it emerged that multiple employees knew about the data breach.
The Federal Communications Commission in the US produced a report detailing who knew what when, and its British counterpart – the ICO – is looking into whether to prosecute. So maybe it’s not all benevolence over at Google HQ.
Too big to avoid evil?
Others have criticised the company for its dominance of online search, and increasing expansion into other areas. Can a company of Google’s size and power really be all good?
The European Competition Commission is investigating whether the company uses its dominance of online search to promote its own products and services ahead of others. Joaquin Almunia from the Commission told a conference last month: “By early July, I expect to receive from Google concrete signs of their willingness to explore this route.” If Google refused, there was mention of it facing a fine of up to $4 billion.
So, the accusation goes, if you search for a phone, say, the results will be skewed in favour of Android over iOS or Windows Phone. And similarly with other Google’s products and services.
Google’s Eric Schmidt has previously denied ‘cooking’ anything, meaning the company hadn’t fiddled the results in any way.
The Motorola acquisition
But the company is also being investigated over its buyout of Motorola. It took over the US phone company to make use of its vast patent portfolio, but some claim it’s not licensing industry standard technologies on fair terms. Hence it’s being probed by the Federal Trade Commission in the US.
The patents include those that let Google licence technologies that help operate 3G, Wi-Fi and video streaming. They’re known as FRAND patents – fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory. They basically help everyone’s technology work with everyone else’s, so are pretty crucial. Anyone not licensing them on fair terms will have a huge advantage.
Again, this one’s still running, so we’ll have to wait and see the outcome.
Google is a huge company, and is under the same commercial pressures as others. Products like the Nexus 7 may be aiming to claw back market share from rivals like Apple, but they also mean low prices for us consumers, which has to be good news.
With Project Glass and Google Now, it’s making huge strides in how we interact with technology. But because of its size, any wrongs it perpetrates effect huge numbers of people, so should justly be condemned. Such was the case when it changed its privacy settings earlier this year, to bring together personal data from YouTube, Gmail, and more of its services.
We’ll have to wait for the outcome of the FRAND patents from the Motorola acquisition, as well as the probe into its search rankings, to see if Google has fiddled anything.
But consider this: one of Google’s fiercest critics was Rupert Murdoch, who tweeted concerning the Street View data harvesting case, accusing Google of having “hacked millions of home computers in UK.” We know, it’s a bit rich coming from him. As the old saying goes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.