Monday, January 23, 2012

What Happened to Don't Be Evil?

Don't be evil?
Google is changing. It was and still is one of the amazing success stories since they have built a highly profitable business based on their search service. In addition to making a boat load of money, Google attracted a lot of positive karma by providing fantastic service and by proclaiming their mantra “Don’t Be Evil”. Ten years ago, they even lived by it.

But, fast forward to January 2012. Google is now a publicly traded company with the typical Wall Street pressure of quarterly earnings. Search-based advertising is still a giant money-making machine and Google keeps innovating by coming up with new ways to make advertisers part with their budgets - i.e. local search, mobile search or map based search. But an important thing has changed since - Google now has competition!

Google’s mission, as stated on their Web site, is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. That’s a noble goal that benefits mankind while allowing Google to make a ton of money along the way. But Google is not true to their mission anymore. For instance, there is a lot of information on Facebook and Twitter and Google is deliberately not searching for it. Is the information on Twitter not part of the “world’s information” that should be universally accessible and useful?

A few days ago, Google escalated this game to another level when it changed its search ranking algorithm to prioritize the information found on its own social network, Google+. This prioritization has little to do with actual relevancy which is supposed to be at the heart of the search ranking algorithm. Instead, it artificially promotes Google’s own fledgling social network which represents another source of advertising revenue for Google. Information posted on Google+ ranks relatively high, often even higher than Web sites to which it points to. Information posted on Facebook and Twitter is not available at all.

This was when Google discovered it had competition.

Now, let’s consider advertising - Google’s primary revenue source. Advertisers who want their content to be visible in Google search will have no choice but to promote that content in Google+. As a result, Google+ will enjoy more traffic and more user interactions while fueling Google’s revenue engine. Pretty clever, actually. Well, diabolically clever if you ask me. By unjustly promoting its own content and suppressing content from its competitors, Google is double-dipping by cross-promoting two of its services. No, Google can’t claim that this is not evil.

This is very evil, indeed. Google has sold out its beliefs. Instead of providing customers with the best possible experience, Google delivers the experience that maximizes its revenue. What’s next? A YouTube video will rank higher than a more relevant video on the Discovery Channel’s web site? You bet! What Google’s doing to Twitter is no different from what Microsoft did to Netscape back in the 90s. Microsoft ended up as the target of a huge anti-trust lawsuit that has had a massive impact on Microsoft’s pace of innovation. Google is marching down the same path now and nobody will like the end of it.

Curiously enough, it is none other than Microsoft that provides Bing, the search engine that can stand up to Google. I’m not trying to portray Microsoft as the angel while calling Google the devil. But Bing can search information on Twitter and while it doesn’t appear to be searching Facebook today, it probably could since Microsoft has a stake in Facebook. Bing still has a relatively small market share compared to Google but that could change.

Because now, Google is evil.


  1. I appreciate your perspective, Lubor. I've been avoiding Bing - for no particular reason - but I'm going to start using it exclusively for the next couple of weeks to form an opinion. I realize of course that my switching allegiance will not make any difference whatsoever to Google's revenue, but I'm hopeful it will bring me a tiny bit of good karma. -jh

  2. Great post, Lubor. And I agree with John H...I think I'll try the same.

  3. The Wall Street Journal published an article today that backs up your argument, Lubor: "Con Artist Starred in Sting That Cost Google Millions." According to the article, "Google agreed to pay a $500 million forfeiture last summer in a settlement to avoid prosecution for aiding illegal online pharmaceutical sales. Google acknowledged in the settlement that it had improperly and knowingly assisted online pharmacy advertisers allegedly based in Canada to run advertisements for illicit pharmacy sales targeting U.S. customers." The article clearly suggests that money (and the desire for more of it) was the motivation for Google's sales team to support these illegal advertisers.

  4. Thanks for the comments, John and Scott!