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Editor's Note: Is Google Evil, or Just Naughty?

Aug 01, 2008, 23:00 (22 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Carla Schroder)

by Carla Schroder
Managing Editor

Is it really that hard to do the right thing, all on your own without being forced to? It seems to me that after a person makes their first billion dollars they might sit back, relax, and think about how to improve the planet a little bit. Oh sure, go on some fun shopping sprees first. Buy an island, fuel up the stretch Hummer, zoom around in the private jet, buy a magnum of Dom Perignon and mix it with Mountain Dew, throw a big party on the big yacht...and then maybe think about some of the tough problems and what to do about them.

There is a principle of noblesse oblige, which translated literally is "nobility obligates". Another way to say it is "To whom much is given, is much expected." I'm not particularly hardcore on the concept- if a person wants to live a life of idle fun, fine with me. I do prefer that people refrain from damaging others. Especially people whose official motto is "You can make money without doing evil."

I've been leery of Google for a long time. At first it was cool- a Web search engine that worked well, unlike the motley collection of search engines available way back when, such as Yahoo, Lycos, AltaVista, and so forth. But it didn't take long for the rot to set in, and Google became the biggest data collector and data miner on the planet. Do you have any idea what they know about you? No, and they won't tell you. Their billions are based on collecting and selling your personal data- do you get a cut of the swag? Did they get your consent? No and no.

Irony or Hypocrisy?

The Google empire is built on Free and Open Source software. I'm not sure if that's ironic or hypocritical- maybe both; perhaps it's just plain perverse genius, exploiting a community based on openness and freedom to exploit the world.

Now we have Google Street View, which Google justifies with this rather weasely argument:

"Plaintiffs' privacy claims fail, among other reasons, because the view of a home from the driveway that can be seen by any visitor, delivery person, or telephone repairman is not private...Unless there is a clear expression such as a gate, fence, or 'keep out' sign indicating that the public is not permitted to enter, anyone may approach a home by a walkway, driveway, or any other route commonly used by visitors, without liability for trespass." "
Surely even billionaire geniuses understand the difference between people in your neighborhood having a view of your home, and plastering photos of it on the Internet for the world to see and to be recorded for posterity. And of course they do- they just don't care. Having basic respect and consideration for people gets in the way of exploiting them. Then they use spammer's logic to justify their actions:
"... Google's preferred solution to the problem is for people to use "the simple removal option Google affords."
Opt-out is a corrupt principle, not to mention impossible- we could spend our lives opting out of this junk. Opt-out means "We know you won't like this, so you don't get a choice." Billionaire geniuses can afford to shield themselves, and exempt themselves from their own abuses. Are Sergey Brin's and Larry Page's homes and family on Street View? Nope.

Scott McNealy is famous for saying "You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it." But as far as I know, Sun never implemented any wholesale invasions into people's privacy the way Google does. Though it does illustrate a certain mindset, which is "I got mine, too bad for you." Wouldn't it be a refreshing change of pace to hear something a little more farsighted and humanitarian, like "This new technology era brings unprecedented opportunities for our basic rights and considerations as fellow humans to be trampled into oblivion. I will use some of my considerable resources to fight for laws to protect us, and to create tools to help everyone protect themselves. I may even give serious consideration to not behaving like an evil overlord my own self."

Of course you'll never hear that from the billionaires. Because making money is a lot easier when you don't care how you do it.

References

Google Corporate Information
Opt-in or opt-out? Street View case echoes privacy debate
Google: No Such Thing as Complete Privacy
Sun on Privacy: 'Get Over It'