Not All Google Critics Are Bigots

September 5, 2009
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Jeff Jarvis wrote a post today entitled “Google bigotry,” in which he asserts that:

Google has an image problem – not a PR problem (that is, not with the public) but a press problem (with whining old media people).

He then goes on to launch a tirade against a Le Monde journalist whose offense was to say she was writing “an article about Google facing a rising tide of discontent concerning privacy and monopoly.” He proceeds to stereotype the French as having “national insanity” of Google bigotry. I’ll leave analysis of irony as an exercise to the reader.

But the true irony is that Jarvis has a point. While I haven’t done a rigorous analysis, my impression is that there has been a sensationalist press overreaction against Google, singling out Google for behavior for which all other companies get a pass. As even one of the most vocal Google critics admits, “Google’s [privacy] policies are essentially no different than the policies of Microsoft, Yahoo, Alexa and Amazon.” Moreover, some of the newspapers criticizing Google as parasitic are the same ones who once turned – and still turn – to Google with open arms as a source of traffic – when they could easily cut Google off by

Jeff Jarvis wrote a post today entitled “Google bigotry,” in which he asserts that:

Google has an image problem – not a PR problem (that is, not with the public) but a press problem (with whining old media people).

He then goes on to launch a tirade against a Le Monde journalist whose offense was to say she was writing “an article about Google facing a rising tide of discontent concerning privacy and monopoly.” He proceeds to stereotype the French as having “national insanity” of Google bigotry. I’ll leave analysis of irony as an exercise to the reader.

But the true irony is that Jarvis has a point. While I haven’t done a rigorous analysis, my impression is that there has been a sensationalist press overreaction against Google, singling out Google for behavior for which all other companies get a pass. As even one of the most vocal Google critics admits, “Google’s [privacy] policies are essentially no different than the policies of Microsoft, Yahoo, Alexa and Amazon.” Moreover, some of the newspapers criticizing Google as parasitic are the same ones who once turned – and still turn – to Google with open arms as a source of traffic – when they could easily cut Google off by configuring robots.txt. Granted, the newspapers are now locked into a prisoner’s dilemma, but they should at least take some responsibility for putting themselves in that position.

That said, there are lots of legitimate reasons to criticize Google, specifically concerning privacy and monopoly. While Google may not have engaged in any illegal or unethical practices to get there, it now hold a position as the primary gatekeeper the internet for a substantial majority of Americans, as well as much of the western world. On the content creation side, site owners don’t ask “What Would Google Do?” – rather, they ask how Google will index their sites. Meanwhile, on the consumption side, the broadening scope of Google’s role in ordinary people’s lives is legitimate cause for concern about privacy. It’s not insane or bigoted to raise these issues.

Moreover, Google claims to hold itself to a higher standard than other companies, so it’s not that surprising that people actually do hold them to it and criticize it when it falls short. Still, that’s no excuse for exaggeration or outright hallucination.

As I commented on Jarvis’s blog, I don’t think he’s the most credible judge of Google’s critics. He responded in kind. Touché. I accept that exchanging personal attacks doesn’t advance the argument. Perhaps more detached voices can chime in.

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