December 21, 2004
Google paranoia - again

Dave Winer is Google Paranoid. Which is to say that he has been predicting a Big Brother effect on the use of Google's massive collection of data for so long that any non-positive news on Google openness can serve as an "I told you so". This isn't news and he's not alone. Based on the experience of Microsoft (or worse - Enron and others) everybody expects big corporations to serve only their own interests and harm the public interest in doing so. Concerns are a good thing. The only problem with this particular concern is the absence of evidence that Google's management is really a bunch of evil money grabbers.
The latest bit of paranoia doesn't originate with Winer, but with Scott Rosenberg and surprisingly (to me at least) the otherwise levelheaded Jon Udell chimes in a little later.
The story itself belies the scepticism. Supposedly it's a story about stewardship over the Google Library project, with prima facie legitimate concerns on Google's right to control the material. But Rosenbergs story itself details how all the data produced will also be made available to participating universities free of charge, no questions asked. What's not to like? More than one company will have access to the data, so there's no evil Google data monopoly. The world at large will have a lot more access to data, and if a problem comes up with Google's use of the data the world will still have gotten digitized version of a lot of texts essentially for free outside of Google's control. In addition, as I pointed out earlier this seems to me to be an effort in parallel to Amazon's "Search Inside" - where were all the concerned voices when Amazon introduced that feature? Clearly this is paranoia first and legitimate concern second.
The only case of clearly sub-par performance of Google in terms of policy was the decision to go along with chinese censorship. In all other cases they outperform the competition policy wise. GMail is a good case in point. It's as far as I know the only mass market webmail that has a full POP3 interface to boot so you can maintain your own copy (and therefore ownership) of your email. And that's free. It's hard to do webmail better than that wrt. to ownership of data. If other companies were held to this kind of standard, the software world would be a happy place indeed. Winer's high profile role in repeatedly hammering in this message is even more ironic considering his awful track record as steward of RSS. Rarely has the weapon of ownership of something previously promised to be free been wielded quite so bluntly.
To me it feels as if Google, simply by saying that governance and policy is an issue for a company, has opened up this particular way of attack. By acknowledging that this is important Google is, ironically, more subject to this kind of criticism than competitors offering the same minds of services without offering any answers to questions of governance and policy.

Posted by Claus at December 21, 2004 11:29 PM | TrackBack (0)
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