Thursday, January 19, 2006

Google does no evil

Wow, Google's corporate pledge to "do no evil" doesn't seem to just be a token expression. They really are conducting business with a conscience, and crazily, none of it seems to be at odds with the desire to turn a profit. Today, there were not one, but two stories of Google over at BoingBoing taking a stand for what's right.

The first was the revelation that the Bush administration asked major search engines to turn over the search queries of all their visitors over a one-week period. (Not the search queries of suspected terrorists or child pornographers - yours, mine, your neighbor's, your mother's. Average American citizens.) Out of the four search engines queried (that we know of), three search engines simply rolled over and handed them the searches their visitors made: Yahoo, AOL, and MSN. (This last one should not be too surprising, since Microsoft even cooperates with the Chinese government to "out" Chinese bloggers critical of police massacres.) Google, on the other hand, has gone so far as to refuse to comply with the subpoena. There are business-related reasons for doing so, such as the fact the results could be valuable for corporate espionage, but all in all, I'm impressed they'll go head-to-head with the Bush administration to maintain their users' privacy.

The second story is about Google flatly refusing to pay "protection" to BellSouth, who basically is trying to leverage its position as an Internet provider to extort money out of corparate sites by having them bid to ensure their site loads faster than the competition. Google refused to play along, and said "Do your worst!" Again, there are business reasons to do this - if they pay up, they'll find themselves being shaken down by every ISP in the nation. But again, it's the right thing to do morally, too - the only way BellSouth could ensure that Yahoo loads faster than Google would be to purposely interfere with Google's traffic by scanning packets as they come through their Internet backbone and slowing them down. If that's not illegal, it should be. It's certainly unethical.

So it's looking like Google is a lot like Ben and Jerry's in their synergy between what's right and what's profitable. Let's hope it keeps up, because while that synergy remains, we're all better off.


Byron said...

It's more than just Americans. There isn't an easy and fool proof way to split the American search requests from any other requests from the English speaking world.

And what exactly does it prove anyway, and how will it help the "Bush Administration" to fight Child pornography?

CC said...

Good point - the data is from more than just Americans. And although the legislation they're trying to push through will only have jurisdiction in America, it will nonetheless have wide-ranging implications for Internet traffic for other countries as well, if it passes.

I don't think they're trying to fight child pornography with this. That's already solidly illegal. They're trying to fight access to legitimate adult content, at least from my understanding of it. The angle they're playing is that there shouldn't be adult material available through search engines, because kids might stumble upon it and be scarred for life. Thus, they want the search terms to try to make a case about what kids might be accidentally exposed to.

But you're right - the data they asked for proves nothing to help their claims. They have absolutely no way of knowing (or showing) that any search criteria that get entered into Google were actually entered by a kid (let alone the age of the kid), so they couldn't make any claims about kids being exposed to inappropriate material through that data.

Besides, just with any other media like television, video games, and print, it's up to the parent (not the government, please) to keep tabs on the media their kid consumes, and to educate their kids so that they don't go around downloading a lot of hardcore porn. And I'm not speaking out of my ass here - as a dad, I'm willing to take on that responsibility to keep the likes of Jesse Helms and John Ashcroft from making the decision about what's right for my son. I'd much rather take on the burden to oversee his media consumption as a child so that he has the freedom to choose his own media as an adult, than to have everything locked down to G-rated content for the rest of his life. I value my son's future freedoms.

The subpoena sounds more like a fishing expedition to me, or maybe they're building a case for legislation aimed at adults. Either way, I'm glad Google's fighting them on it, because I don't want the government taking a step closer to watching over my shoulder as I web surf like they do in China.

Anonymous said...

That's fine... for now. Google is, regardless of the current management, a corporation. A publicly traded corporation. What happens when Rupert Murdock and/or Bill Gates and/or favorite evil billionaire buys them or gets controlling interest? Then, Google becomes evil. What are the ramifications? Do they start extorting? Do they censor content that's politically unappealing? Granted it's a bit far-fetched, but information is power, Google has a lot of power, and I could see it easily falling into the wrong hands.

What we need in "Gnuoogle": something like an Open-Source, distributed Google with an Open Source license. Much like SETI at home, have a distributed Search Engine where (a) the information does NOT lie in one place, so it's difficult/impossible to have a centralized repository (b) Use some form of encryption so that even if you have something, it's hard to get to (c) No one "owns' the information.

The system has to be secure (so that abuses are difficult), distributed (so the info isn't in one place),
open (so that one entity doesn't own it, it's owned by the public) for it to work. I predict that in the next 5 years
(maybe 10), Google will become "evil", or at least, not good. Since google is so much a part of everyday internet life, we need a "public" Google.

CC said...

What we need in "Gnuoogle": something like an Open-Source, distributed Google with an Open Source license.

I wholeheartedly agree. Let's create one.