February 17, 2010 5:59 PM

Ich Bin Ein "Googleiner"

With sincere apologies to the members of the Google Nation, let me be clear about my last post.  I was not "hating on" Google.  My only point was to try to mollify some of the "irrational exuberance" that emerged on the Net (and in the press) as a result of Google's understated "announcement" of its plans for a broadband experiment.  For those that didn't read my last post, one week ago (Wednesday, February 10th), Google stated on their corporate blog that they would like to build a fiber network to deliver 1 Gigabit speeds to anywhere from 50,000 to 500,000 homes.  Most ensuing stories on the Net and in the press reported on/reacted to this announcement as if the project was already under construction.  

For those who want to believe in the existence of a "Google-Claus", I strongly recommend the dose of reality that you can get from reading Harold Feld's post from yesterday, where he does an excellent job of providing a detailed account about Google's success through the years of "bluffing" and "slow-playing" regulators and network operators in order to get network operators and their end-users to front the cap-ex to support the transmission speeds that will enable Google to offer more services with which to economically advance their business.  There is little reason to believe that this announced "experiment" will bring Google any closer to being a broadband ISP than any of their previous rhetoric.  

On the other hand, Google has been quite straightforward about their business plan, which is to create applications that allow them to capture more and more customer information that they then "monetize" through (essentially) resale to advertisers. Therefore, I come not to bury Google, but to praise them . . . for their honesty in dealing with users of all their services, including Google "Buzz" (which coincidentally was really launched on the same day that their broadband network plans were announced).  In a reaction that is surpassing strange, the outrage on the Net and in the "blogosphere" over Google Buzz is comparable to the enthusiasm surrounding Google's 1 Gig "broadband network."

But why do I say the outrage about the Google "Buzz" product is as perplexing as the enthusiasm over the non-existant, broadband network?  Well, it's simple.  Google has never been in the business of being a telecom network operator.  In fact, if Google has read the newspapers over the last 10 years--and it's clear they have--we can assume Google knows that entering the retail broadband Internet access market (even at efficient scale) is very often a good way to make a small fortune (out of their current large fortune).  To the contrary, though, Google is in the business of obtaining and selling Internet user information.  

On this point, Google could not have been more clear with users of its products.  Only two months ago, Google's CEO, Eric Schmidt, told Americans--on a national cable network--in a statement that was widely repeated, something to the effect that if consumers don't want people to know what they're doing online, then they shouldn't be doing it [at least not using Google services] in the first place.  To underline a point, shortly thereafter, one of the founders of Google's major search partner--Mozilla Firefox--encouraged users to switch to Microsoft Bing for privacy reasons

In short, if consumers decided to continue to avail themselves of Google's "free" services (like Gmail or Google Search), even after Google's December clarification that consumer privacy concerns take a back seat to Google's policy of using consumer information generated by use of its products for its commercial purposes, then it's a little difficult to understand all the "outrage" surrounding Google's Buzz product.  When one considers that many of these same critics are also arguing for rules to keep the Internet "open", the complaints are even more difficult to indulge.  Do these outraged privacy watchdogs really want an "open" Internet, or just an extension of the "Nanny-state" that relieves them of any personal responsibility with respect to how they use the Internet?  

On this controversy, Google is in the right.  They've given consumers enough information to make up their own minds.  If consumers choose not to use this information, then what is the point of an "open" Internet?  What is Google's incentive to continue to innovate and provide "free" services to those customers that have nothing to hide, and are happy to trade information for applications?  

If we regulate Google's online behavior, next thing you know, we're regulating the ability of legitimate Nigerian businessmen to use the Internet to raise capital--just to get at the few fraudsters that abuse the gullibility of some Internet users.  But how does this "outrage" do anything to promote commerce, jobs, innovation and openness?  It doesn't, and it's about time for the "Internet police" to dial back the schadenfreude, and lay off the last guardian of the open Internet.

Leave a comment