When you're as big and ubiquitous as Google you have to accumulate some enemies along the way. The mega-search engine we all love to hate is right now balancing ten significant issues both legal and philosophical. From Harvard law students to Rupert Murdoch, Google has even gone after superpowers the likes of China.
These issues won't be going away any time soon. In some areas, the problem is just the lack of a legitimate competitor to buck Google's foothold in some many aspects of our daily lives. In others, Google is testing the boundaries of data collection. I'm sure it's common practice for a company of Google's size to push the envelope as often as it does - but fortunately the market and regulatory agencies acting as the de facto checks and balances keeps us abreast of just how far out of bounds the "Big G" is straying from time to time.
The Search Engine giant has faced several challenges prompting many to say it needs to be stopped before it totally controls revenue generation of the Web. For a while, it seemed like Google didn't deserve to be the target of all these attacks. After all, wasn't Microsoft the 'Darth Vadar' of the Internet? Well it appears like Luke, Google may be infatuated by the Dark Side as well. Here is my list of the Top Ten Battles, Blunders and Lawsuits facing the King of the SERPs! (please vote at the end of the blog for your favorite BB or L)
1- Google vs ISPs (or I know where that's coming from)January, 2009 - February 10, 2010
In the war between Google and Internet service providers, the search giant teamed up with New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute and PlanetLab Consortium to create Measurement Labs. This was a server platform and a series of software tools to measure broadband speeds, and whether or not your ISP was filtering BitTorrent traffic and a diagnostic tool properly.
Because M-Labs’ tests records the user’s IP address, upload/download speed and packet headers, researchers can also tell what ISP someone uses and where they are coming from. Get enough of this data and it could be useful in figuring out a real view of broadband competition.
In a Gigaom blog titled, "Google Battles ISPs" it's noted that this is not "a gift for us, but a strategy in an overall fight to control revenue generation on the web. After all, Google doesn’t want to have to bow to the ISPs, and the last mile is one key section of its infrastructure it doesn’t yet control."
On February 10, the company announced that it's getting in the game for real with the launch of a fiber-based ISP service itself that will offer 1Gbps speeds at "competitive prices" to select markets. Let the games begin.
2- Google vs Murdoch (or who's stealing my cheese?)November, 2009
What do you get when you cross legacy newspapers with an arch conservative right-wing publisher? Rupert Murdoch, that's who! Last fall, I covered this story which I called "Pirate Murdoch Claims Search Engines Arrrhh Stealing His Material." In a new twist as how to not play nice with Google and the other top search engines, Murdoch's controversial approach might either become a new business model for other newspapers to emulate.!
The Iconoclast of News Corp. accused Google and other search engines of stealing his company's content by linking to it in search results without paying. He called Google a "content kleptomaniac" and indicated that the 'jig was up.'
The content produced for Murdoch's Wall Street Journal and the New York Post might just become a little harder to find if his news syndicate has their way in blocking search engines from finding them.
Can Murdoch really block Google's webcrawlers? Aren't those little bots inscrutable? Do you think Murdoch will be successful in pirating his material out of the hands of Google et al? In turn, Google has since released two tools to appeased the mogul somewhat. 'Living Stories' and 'Fast Flip' could set Google and news outlets and publishers up for some form of a pay system where users can obtain teaser information before they are prompted pay for a subscription. While this revenue model is currently not in place yet, Google continues to tread lightly in its battle of wills with the Titan of the Tabloids.
3- Google vs China (or I might just pick up my marbles and go home)
Google's challenge of becoming its own world power was put to the test in another ongoing battle of wills - this time with the Chinese government. Google threatened to pull-out of the country following an attack on Google's servers in Mid-December that targeted the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists.
The question comes down to whether or not Google is taking on a huge risk by publicly trying to shame a superpower the size of China into lightening up on its censorship policies? In essence what the company appears to be doing is acting like a sovereign state itself. Only Google could assume that type of posturing. However, if world powers like the US have been unsuccessful in addressing human rights issues with this country in the past, what makes Google think its clout has any more power? For more on this story, see "Google Is No Secretary Of State When It Comes To Diplomacy."
4- Google Books Lawsuit (or who owns the rights to the written word?) February, 2010
Dating back to 2002, Google Book Search began scanning millions of books from university libraries and letting users search and read portions of the books. That led some rights holders to sue the search and advertising giant in 2005 to obtain a portion of the profits from the ads that accompany those results.
The two entities agreed to a proposed settlement late last fall, but opposition to the agreement has steadily grown over the ensuing months. The settlement gives Google a waiver to copy, display and sell millions of books that are out-of-print but still in copyright. Critics, which include academics and Google competitors say that amounts to an unfair monopoly
Yahoo, Amazon, Microsoft, the Obama administration and dozens of others don’t think Google’s proposal passes legal muster.The Justice Department claims Google’s proposition turns copyright law on its head and alters the “Copyright Act’s specific delineation of exclusive rights to authors.”
To appease copyright concerns, however, Google has agreed to place the proceeds from the sales of these millions of orphaned works in a trust so that rights holders could come forward, collect their royalties and either sign up for Google’s book program or walk away.
5- Google / Iran War (or Iranians taking lessons out of the Chinese playbook)February, 2010
Apparently Iranians won't have the opportunity to try their hand at the new Google Buzz. The telecommunications wing of the government has announced that Gmail will be blocked permanently in Iran. Google mail has been used to coordinate anti-government protests, along with Twitter and Facebook. In exchange, the government will offer their own email system – which they promised the citizenry was secure.
Similar to Google's issues with the Chinese, the Google / Iran War is just another front in the worldwide information war and has been brewing ever since the failed “green revolution” last year. Shutting down Gmail won’t stop the new youth movement in Iran, though.
The Gmail shutdown - and a clampdown on Internet access overall happened amid widespread demonstrations against the Iranian government surrounding the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution that occured on February 11.
6- Google Buzz Class Action Suits (or do they have their head in the clouds?)February 18 & March 5
Google was hit on March 5 with a second class-action lawsuit over its new Buzz social networking service.This case was filed in federal district court in Rhode Island on behalf of Cranston resident Adranik Souvalian. Like other Gmail users to find fault with Buzz, Souvalian alleges that Google shouldn't have publicized his contacts without first obtaining his consent.
This lawsuit comes on the heels of one filed on February 18, by Harvard law student Eva Hibnick.
Since then Google has revamped Buzz, making it more privacy-friendly. Among other revisions, the company now merely suggests followers, rather than automatically creating them. But critics say that's not enough. Many want Buzz to move to an entirely opt-in system that doesn't even automatically make suggestions for followers.
Despite the very real privacy problems posed by Buzz, it's not at all clear that either of the two people to come forward as plaintiffs could prevail in a lawsuit. Plaintiffs typically have to show that they suffered some sort of economic or other tangible injury to prevail in a privacy lawsuit. So far, neither Hibnick or Souvalian has alleged they suffered injury as a result of Buzz.
Nonetheless, Google might well be inclined to quickly resolve these matters expeditiously, if for no other reason put the privacy issues to bed or run the risk of appearing hypocritical when fighting the Chinese government over invasion of privacy issues (see #3 above).
Others have also pointed out how this type of problem could dampen how users view cloud computing. According to a TopTechNews report that describes Google striking a deal with the City of Los Angeles to outsource e-mail for 30,000 LA municipal employees, Google stated that "the cloud" was safe and that users could trust their most critical data with the search engine giant.
"The Buzz debacle has considerably diminished the credibility of their position," said Scott Menter of Shire Ventures, a California-based consulting firm. "While I don't see consumers fleeing Google or Gmail en masse as a result of this issue, it's likely to have a chilling effect on future corporate IT deals," and cloud computing in general. (See more on this topic at: "Google Buzz Class-Action Lawsuit Could Cause Cloudburst?")
7- Xerox Sues Google & Yahoo (or who's patently lying?)February, 2010
Google and Yahoo are often up against 'nuisance' lawsuits by small firms that have no chance of winning. But now, the two search companies are facing a much greater charge leveled at them by Xerox, which has a hefty legal defense team to fight this one out over the long haul.
Susan Decker, spokeswoman for Xerox claims that Google and Yahoo have infringed on two patents it holds: "One patent, issued in 2004, is for a way to automatically generate a query based on keyword searches - the second patent, issued in 2001, is for a way of updating pages based on user reviews."
The suit, filed Feb. 19 at federal court in Wilmington, Delaware, seeks cash compensation and an order that would prevent Yahoo, Google and Google’s YouTube from further using the patented Xerox technology without permission.
This could turn into quite a messy legal battle, where the operation of AdSense, AdWords, Google Maps, Google Video, YouTube, the Yahoo Publisher Network, Yahoo Search Marketing, Yahoo Shopping, and the Y!Q Contextual Search tool could all be at stake.
8- European Commission & Antitrust Complaints (or sticks 'n stones...)February 24,2010
The European Commission has received antitrust complaints about Google from three companies: UK's Foundem, ejustice.fr, France's legal search engine and Microsoft's Ciao by Bing.
Google says the complaints are based on Google demoting their rankings because because they are competitors. According to a Wired report they justified Google's actions by saving, "if that's really the the case, that would be like saying Target doesn't give preference to a third party toilet paper company because they want to promote their own toilet paper. Target certainly has the right to promote their own toilet paper over another company's."
“This is the beginning of an inquiry - in all likelihood it will not go anywhere. The Commission has not expressed any hint of guilt,” Google senior competition counsel Julia Holtz told reporters on a conference call, according to Reuters.
In response to those allegations, Google patted itself on the back by acknowledging “how important rankings can be to websites, especially commercial ones” and highlighting the enormity of the task of ranking hundreds of millions of search results in under a second.
So, why aren’t these vertical search engines ranked higher? According to Google, that’s because they simply aren’t very good.
9- Italy Courts Find Google Guilty (or, you expect us to review every video?)February 24
Privacy as we know it is being re-defined on the Internet and in the courts as we speak. How we view privacy today versus ten years ago has changed greatly due to the Web 2.0 environment of user-generated content. How we will view it ten years from now will be different yet still.
Three Google executives have been convicted of privacy violations for allowing a video of an autistic boy being abused to be posted online. An Italian court issued the three Google executives a suspended six-month sentence in a case that has been closely monitored for its implications regarding Internet freedom.
On February 24, Google spokesman Bill Echikson issued a statement that Google was going to appeal Judge Oscar Magi's decision in Milan which sentenced David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer, Peter Fleishcher, its global privacy counselor and George Reyes, Google's former CFO.
“This verdict is a great disappointment. It attacks the very principles of freedom of expression on which Internet was built,” said Google spokesman Bill Echikson. The rest of his statement can viewed here. see video
The ground-breaking legal pronouncement followed the posting of the distasteful video in the “fun videos” section of Google Video in September 2006. It was taken down two months later, after receiving 5,500 online views, as a result of an official complaint by the charity ViviDown, which represents the interests of Down Syndrome individuals. The charity became involved because one of the handicapped boy’s tormentors made a joking reference to the organization in the video.
See more on this case at "Should Google Fight For Internet Freedom Or Privacy Of The Individual?")
10- EU Cautions Google StreetViews (or who's on Candid Camera?)February 26
Once again, privacy issues are front and center with Google. In a letter sent to the search giant this week, the European Union's privacy watchdog told Google that it should warn towns and cities before it snaps photos for its online Street View maps. The EU also told the company that it should cut the time it keeps the original photos online from a year to six months.
In response, Google said it already posts updates on its Web site about the itinerary of its Street View cameras. The company also addressed privacy concerns, noting that the photos are all of public places and are typically several months to a couple of years old. In addition, the company blurs identifiable images, such as faces and license plates, and will remove a specific image if requested.
So, there you have the current update of Google vs The World. It's a tough job being number one. But the venerable search engine conglomerate has proven over the course of the last decade, its up for the challenge and will not be taken down by anybody or anything. But where does that leave the user? While Google is not at fault in all of instances cited here, it is worrisome for many of us who rely on their service delivery to be constant, consistent and without interruption. And on the flip of that, we feel that need to constantly be kept in check, less they become more of a monopoly than they already are.
Take our POLL at vote for which "Battle, Blunder or Lawsuit" is the most troublesome for you. And post a comment if we left one out - or more importantly - if between the time this was blog was posted and the time you read this - if another flare-up with Google occurred some place in the world, make sure you let us know that as well?