Sunday, September 21, 2008

Google Evil? It's More (And Less) Likely Than You Think

Slashdot reports on a mistake by Google which resulted in an entire domain being blacklisted by Firefox which uses Google's list of bad website for its anti-phishing filter. The top comment by on the website encapsulated an increasingly common reaction towards Google:

"In my mind giving this power to Google is the most objectionable thing related to the company. I know somebody who has had his legitimate business ruined because Google mistakenly added his site to this list. Why? Because it was hosted on the same physical server as a truly objectionable web site.

People need to stop childishly sneering at Windows users and take their focus away from Microsoft. The terrible Goliath is clearly Google now. Even when it's not being evil it causes trouble just by being *clumsy*."

Whether or not you agree with this sentiment, there is still an undeniable kernel of truth to it. Google is now more powerful than Microsoft, the traditional big, evil boogyman of the computer industry. While Microsoft flails about trying to convince people that it is still relevant which weird ads, Google has quietly built an advertising and software empire which affects all of our lives. People instinctively use Google to search for information so much that the word has become a verb in popular culture. The ads on almost every website on the Internet are powered by Google. I personally use Google every day. I'm typing this blog post in Google's Chrome web browser and it will be posted on Google's Blogger website. And when I'm not at my computer, I still access Google on my cellphone. Clearly, Google is no longer the little company started by two graduate students at Stanford running on a computer made of Lego.

Because of this power, when Google makes a mistake, it affects people heavily. A couple of months ago, Google decided that I was a spammer and now I have to solve a CAPTCHA every time that I want to post something on my blog. Some of the twisted, mangled words that make up the CAPTCHAs can be surprisingly difficult to recognize. This can be discouraging at times and as a result, I'm posting a lot less these days. On the hand, spam blogs are a very real problem and Google would be doing a poor job if it didn't try to do something to stop them from proliferating.

As Google continues to grow larger and more powerful, it is natural that people will grow to distrust it. And the consequences of mistakes at Google will become more serious. I doubt if Google will ever be as "evil" as Microsoft whose hardball tactics are notorious in the software industry and which has been fighting off federal anti-trust and patent infringment suits for almost a decade. But Google's actions whether good or evil now have a very direct effect on people and often that effect can be felt directly in the pocketbook. With all this at stake, it's natural that people are going to get upset at Google even as they continue to use its seach engine and software every day—just like Microsoft.

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