John Gruber and Ian Betteridge got into a discussion recently about Apple, Google, hypocrisy, and hyper-competitive nature (I made a Readlist for it here, which I will update with any future discussions). It’s an interesting read no matter on which side of the fence you rest (or, if you carefully walk across the top of it as I sometimes do). It’s no secret that I prefer the Apple side of the fence most often simply because I prefer their business model. I am often impressed by the cool new toys that Google creates (I think Glass is awesome, even though it represents a dangerous invasion of privacy—I think it has little value in daily life, but is perfect for family vacations, experimental film-making, and other activities that deserve to be captured). My concern always comes not from the things Google makes available to users, but the strings attached to using those tools. As such, I often work very hard to distance myself from those toys until I can see the negatives as clearly as the positives.
I’ve been classified as a Google-hater before. I think that’s unfair. I don’t trust Google to do what’s right in their pursuit of the future, but I think their goal of bringing the future to us today is admirable. It’s their methods I often question. I’m excited about the use of “big data” to help users find answers to the information that they seek. But, because they make their money on advertising, I don’t trust that they’ll give me the most relevant answers over the most profitable. I’m also excited to live in an area of the world that will have access to Internet at speeds we could only dream about for years.
This isn’t to say that Apple doesn’t do things that irk me, as well. The key difference is that Apple has never made me feel as though they don’t care about my privacy. Are they perfect? Definitely not. But, they’re better than almost every other company out there at making a product I love and that suits me. And I sincerely hope that Google can one day be a company that returns to that same level in my life.
All that said, a comment from Mike Knopp on Ian’s final post was worth reading as it summed up very succinctly my concerns:
Google isn’t evil because they are anti-Apple, they achieved that all on their own.
I have to completely agree with Dbabbage. I have no interest in dealing with a company whose entire business seems to rely on them using *me* instead of me paying to use them (their product).
Is Google hypocritical? I believe that they are, but also believe that they aren’t likely aware of it. From listening to Page speak, I truly think that he truly believes what he says.
My response to that is a very old, and cliched quote, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Sayings don’t become cliche by being false. I see Google’s business model as the apple on the tree of knowledge or Pandora’s box. If the world accepts their offer the consequences will not be good. At least not in my mind, but in people like Page’s mind, I guess things are different.
After all, if you use Google’s products be very aware that Page’s view of privacy is, “If you don’t want people to know about it. You likely shouldn’t be doing it.”Think about that the next time you are looking up medical info on something you don’t want people knowing about or looking for a new job. Page thinks that these things should be public knowledge. Do you?
Do I think Google is evil? No, I don’t. I think they view privacy in a vastly different way than I do and that the consequences for that world view have not yet fully played out. Sadly, by the time they do, we may not be able to put the safeguards in place that we should be building today. As to the hypocrisy, that’s for others to decide. I don’t know what Larry Page believes, only what he says out loud. It could be carefully crafted PR bullshit, or it could be exactly what he feels. It’s up to us to decide where our cynicism ends and our hope for a technological utopia begins.