posted by Mohit Ranka on Thu 17th May 2007 15:07 UTC
IconA recent Google acquisition of DoubleClick for a whopping USD 3.1 billion has turned many heads. The recent past certainly does not fit into Google's traditional non-aggressive attitude towards acquisitions for monopoly in the market. DoubleClick Inc., a spearhead in ad-serving, is only one of many companies acquired by Google. A comprehensive list can be seen here. Beside Google's acquisitions, this article will also explore some changes in Google's philosophy and potential threats to web community.

The Google Philosophy - When Founded

Apart from some often repeated corporate cliches, the main philosophies that used to make Google a non-corporate organisation are given as:

You Can Make Money Without Doing Evil

The very hyped statement by the founders, that made Google look so good, and Microsoft well, not so good, has been Google's key work philosophy. Google capatalized on Microsoft's negative corporate image in the end user mindset by this statement and acting accordingly, at least for a couple of years.

You Can Be Serious Without a Suit.

The statement which reflects Google work culture. Flexlible working hours, pets allowed in the workplace, twenty percent of working time for a project of your own are the few of many attractions one gets while working for Google. This made Google the best place to work for.

No Pop Up Ads

The plain and simple interface with just the text relevant ads, without any pop-ups or graphics-intensive ads, won the hearts of users throughout the world.

Actually Google put so much focus on publicising as being 'good', that it became a synonym of goodness.

Google Criticism and Controversies

Google's every action at every point in time has been highly critiqued. Here are a few controversies that occured in the recent past.

Google Book Search

Google book search is Google's very ambitious project to digitize all the information available in text with the help of five university libraries. There has been a lot of chaos from very start over this issue, as people feared the potential infringement of copyright issues by Google.

Other Copyright Issues

A number of organizations have used the Digital Millennium Copyright Act [.pdf] to demand that Google remove references to allegedly copyrighted material on other sites. Google typically handles this by removing the link as requested and including a link to the complaint in the search results.

There have also been complaints that Google's Web cache feature violates copyright. However, Google provides mechanisms for requesting that caching be disabled. Google also honors the robots.txt file, which is another mechanism that allows operators of a website to request that part or all of their site not be included in search engine results. The U.S. District Court of Nevada ruled that Google's caches do not constitute copyright infringement under American law in Field vs. Google [.pdf] and Parker vs. Google [.pdf].

Agence France Presse and Other Disputes

In March 2005, Agence France-Presse (AFP) sued Google for USD 17.5 million, alleging that Google News infringed on its copyright because, "Google includes AFP's photos, stories and news headlines on Google News without permission from Agence France-Presse". It was also alleged that Google ignored a cease and desist order, though Google counters that it has opt-out procedures which AFP could have followed but did not.

According to the Canada Free Press, "Google Inc. is now attempting to remove all postings of Agence France-Presse material from its site, although AFP spokesmen say that even if this is done, the lawsuit will continue. It seems that the basis of the lawsuit is just the abstract notion of copyright without any real damages to justify the action." The article concluded, "It would be a sad day for those who look to the Internet for news if AFP is successful in limiting what Google can display. AFP's lawsuit, if successful, is bound to have a major impact on how news is delivered on the Internet."

On February 21, 2006, in a similar lawsuit involving adult online site Perfect 10 [sexually explicit, see disclaimer], a U.S. District Court Judge ruled that Google's image search function had violated the law by copying, without permission, photographs created by Perfect 10.

Google China Dispute

Controversy has occurred over Google's decision to adhere to the Internet censorship policy in mainland China, colloquially known as "The Great Firewall of China". Google.cn search results are filtered so as not to bring up any results concerning the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, sites supporting the independence movements of Tibet and Taiwan or the Falun Gong movement, and other information perceived to be harmful to the People's Republic of China. This is interpreted by some activists as against the "Don't Be Evil" corporate philosophy of Google.

Google News Controversy

In early 2006 Google removed several news sites from its news search engine because complaints were received about various articles that were critical of Islam. These included The New Media Journal. Other sites removed included MichNews and The Jawa Report.

These sites remain accessible from Google's main search page as normal, but are no longer included in Google News. Google responded by stating that "We do not allow articles and sources expressly promoting hate speech viewpoints in Google News, although referencing hate speech for commentary and analysis is acceptable".

Page Rank System

Google's central PageRank system has been criticized. Some call it "undemocratic". Common arguments are that the system is unfairly biased towards large web sites, and that the criteria for a page's importance are not subject to peer review. PageRank is a largely automated system which is impartial in so far as it knows no personal bias. However, Google's system also relies on a certain degree of human oversight, and use of company names on Adwords. Furthermore, the deletion of critical sites from Google results (for example, sites critical of Scientology) is decided by individual human beings according to company policy. It remains unclear whether any process could assert the importance of a page in a way that would draw less criticism than the current PageRank system.The system is also susceptible to manipulation and fraud through the use of dummy sites.

Gmail - No Deletion Policy

Google's Gmail privacy policy points out that your email will be retained even after you close your account: "The contents of your Gmail account also are stored and maintained on Google servers in order to provide the service. Indeed, residual copies of email may remain on our systems, even after you have deleted them from your mailbox or after the termination of your account."

This stired a wave of anxiety among Gmail users, and suggested some potential evil use of the information by Google. However, Google maintained that no individual shall be reading the e-mail and a crawler is used to generate relevant text based ads as per the content of the e-mail.

The YouTube Controversy

Youtube.com, a subsidary of Google Inc. and a major video sharing website, has been the centre of controversies since its inception. Youtube has been banned in more than five countries, mainly due to copyright infringement allegations. On April 16, 2007, Google's CEO Eric E. Schmidt presented a keynote speech at the NAB Convention in Las Vegas. During the Q&A, Schmidt announced that YouTube was close to enacting a content filtering system to remove infringing content from the service. The new system, called "Claim Your Content," will automatically identify copyrighted material so that it can be removed.

Once again Youtube is under controversies, by claiming the user content in their new Terms and Conditions.

"By submitting the User Submissions to YouTube, you hereby grant YouTube a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the User Submissions in connection with the YouTube Website and YouTube's (and its successor's) business in any media formats and through any media channels."

DoubleClick Controversy

Google's association with controversial companies, continued with the recently proposed acquisation of DoubleClick. DoubleClick has been accused of gathering user information without their prior knowledge, acknowledgement or agreement. DoubleClick's modus operandi includes setting up a cookie which is set to track the user visits to different websites and record what commercial advertisements they view and select while browsing.

Google-Turning Evil?

Google was established by two stanford Phd's, Sergey Brin and Larry Page with a clear mission in their minds: Help computer users find exactly what they want on the Internet. A plain, simple search engine that was both powerful and intuitive. More sophisticated techies and press came to appreciate Google's computational elegance and algorithmically achieved efficiency. Within months, Google became one of the most popular sites on the Web - and not long after that, "Google" became a verb. Today, Internet users spend about 15 million hours a month on the site. Google.com logs more than 28 million visitors each month, nearly as many as Yahoo! and MSN. Nearly four out of five Internet searches happen on Google or on sites that license its technology.

From the start, Google's informal motto has been "Don't Be Evil" and the company earned cred early on by going toe-to-toe with Microsoft over desktop software and other issues. But make no mistake. Faced with doing the right thing or doing what is in its best interests, Google has almost always chosen expediency. In September, Google handed over the records of some users of its social-networking service, Orkut, to the Brazilian government, which was investigating alleged racist, homophobic, and pornographic content.

So the question is not whether Google will always do the right thing; it hasn't, and it won't. It's whether Google, with its insatiable thirst (Google is not known to delete any data they have ever collected ) for your personal data, has become the greatest threat to privacy ever known, a vast informational honey pot that attracts hackers, crackers, online thieves, and perhaps most worrisome of all, a government intent on finding convenient ways to spy on its own citizenry.

Every search engine gathers information about its users, primarily by sending us cookies or text files that track our online movements. Most cookies expire within a few months or years. Google's, though, don't expire until 2038. Until then, when you use the company's search engine or visit any of the myriad of affiliated sites, it will record what you search for and when, which links you click on, which ads you access. Google's cookies can't identify you by name, but they log your computer's IP address; by way of metaphor, Google doesn't have your driver's license number, but it knows the license plate number of the car you are driving.

And Google knows far more than that. If you are a Gmail user, Google stashes copies of every email you send and receive. If you use any of its other products, Google Maps, Froogle, Google Book Search, Google Earth, Google Scholar, Talk, Images, Video, and News, it will keep track of which directions you seek, which products you shop for, which phrases you research in a book, which satellite photos and news stories you view, and on and on. Served up a la carte, this is probably no big deal. Many websites stow snippets of your data. The problem is that there's nothing to prevent Google from combining all of this information to create detailed dossiers on its customers, something the company admits is possible in principle. Soon Google may even be able to keep track of users in the real world: Its latest move is into free wifi, which will require it to know your whereabouts (i.e., which router you are closest to).

Google insists that it uses individual data only to provide targeted advertising. But history shows that information seldom remains limited to the purpose for which it was collected. Accordingly, some privacy advocates suggest that Google and other search companies should stop hoarding user queries altogether, but we can only hope that Google does not use its collected information for unethical corporate benefits, as their is nothing more dangerous than a gaint with power and will to do the evil.

Disclaimer: "http://www.perfect10.com" may contain sexually explicit material, which may be illegal in some countries and/or offensive to some individuals. The reader is advised to view the source website only if the local law and regulations permit it.

About the author:
Mohit has recently completed his bachelors degree from VIT, Vellore. He is passionate about blogging and is widely known as a freelancer. Recently an admission in an high iq society www.highiqsociety.org has made him interested in becoming a mensa.
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