Saturday Aug 09, 2008

Evil Google vs Evil Microsoft

I suppose a lot of people are starting to ponder and comment on this so let me just join in all those that are...

Google often espouses the motto Do No Harm, giving an impression that it cares about what it does and the world around us. It is, however, a corporate entity, out to make money, just like Microsoft.

In IT circles, Microsoft is the company everyone loves to hate and while in many places you won't never be fired for buying Microsoft, it's just as likely in that same place for people to bitch about Microsoft. Why do we hate Microsoft? Software quality aside, they have employed and gotten away with business practices that many other companies wish they could. They force us to use their products and make it hard for competitors to develop software that can compete on an equal footing with it. Thus they're evil and we all hate them.

Google, on the other hand, doesn't sell software per-se, it sells advertising. In order to make the sale of that advertising relevant, they need to have some clues as to what we might be interested in. No good giving us ads for surfboards if we're in Nevada browsing the web for car engine parts. The more they watch what we do, the more they can learn about us and ideally make the advertising better, right? While this is all done in a somewhat subversive manner at present, through the use of cookies, web bugs, etc, how many people would say "yes" to someone looking over their shoulder while they surfed the 'net, just so that they could hand them better adverts?

Not content with just providing search capabilities, Google has reached out and gotten involved with mapping. Google earth is a great product, letting you zoom around the globe like a bird. Free of advertising, right? Not now. In the beginning there was very little location data. Now when I fire it up, by default it is showing me where motels are, places of interest, etc - advertising. Ugh. Get it off my map! But they haven't stopped here with their mapping - they've taken to the streets in cars and gone about taking photographs everywhere they can. In doing this, they, as a company, have quite clearly crossed the "evilness" line: they've ignored "no tresspassing" and "private" signs and ventured onto private property, without permission.

While some might want to blame individual drivers for going where they shouldn't, ultimately someone higher up the food chain has made a call about where to go and where not to go. From comments being made on the WWW, their stance appears to be "photograph as much as we can get away with." As a business, the way in which Google approaches what they do is starting to sound a lot like Microsoft and rather than play nice with everyone, they're out to exploit whatever and whomever they can.

So while we've all been focussing on how evil Microsoft is and looking to Google (perhaps) to save us from Microsoft, I'm starting to wonder if this is really a good idea. If I was faced with having a choice of free software from Google that came with ads or paying Microsoft for it (without ads), I think I'd have to give the finger to Google and pay Microsoft for it. Whilst Microsoft may have nefarious business practices in order to get their goods to be #1, they don't drive up and down streets invading the privacy of me and everyone else on the planet. The evil of Microsoft stops at the shopfront (or the DVD/CD.) The evil of Google knows no boundaries.

So rather than having one large, evil, mega IT corporation to hate, maybe we now have two of them...

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avalon

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