In Defense of Google

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emmadavis | Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

Filed under: Editorial Page, Technology

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Lately the tone in online conversations discussing Google seem to have taken a turn for the negative. The search engine giant dealt with the backlash of an employee abusing his power and invading user privacy. They rolled out a new function to their household-name search engine that sparked a lot of concern over established methods of marketing through Google. They’ve received criticism on a number of their newer free services offered to users of existing Google properties. Still, I find myself defending my devotion to Google as an online tool almost daily. Here’s why.

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Many users of Google’s search engine have begun questioning the security of their private information when logged in with a Google username. What most fail to realize is that the fear-mongering related to information banking is just that: fear-mongering. Google collects user data in order to improve the way the search engine performs for each individual using it. Personally, I consider this to be a benefit of the service and an example of the fine infrastructure of Google’s search: the more you use it, the more streamlined your search results become. For the average user looking for information this can only be helpful; for advertisers, it means more relevant content being matched to text and display ads and ultimately a better performing marketing machine at your disposal.

One Bad Apple…

With regards to David Barksdale, the programmer employee who illegally accessed user data in order to listen in on Google Voice messages and read the emails of several younger ‘friends’, I believe firmly that one case is not indicative of the whole of Google’s ethics. Barksdale was a self-proclaimed hacker who may have been a poor hire but is no different than any other bad apple at any high-profile company. Google has since terminated Barksdale, who used information gathered normally to ensure site functions for personal reasons. In order to prevent future security issues it does not surprise me that Google has remained mostly quiet on the subject. While instances like this certainly can hurt a company’s reputation, I don’t believe that the average Google employee would ever violate his or her privilege to information in this way.

Google Instant: An Instant Conversation-Starter

It’s true also that in the midst of the bomb being dropped about Barksdale’s invasive activity, Google was already engulfed in the buzz surrounding its new entry in search engine performance, Google Instant. Many marketers questioned what Google Instant would mean for the many webpages out there designed with search engine optimization in mind. I’ve seen no tangible difference in my traffic and performance data in the past week since Google Instant has been functioning. If you have, as I outlined in my previous blog post, Google Instant Search Myths Debunked, you may have been playing the under-the-table game of blackhat SEO. While it’s possible that Google Instant will negate certain strategies that some marketers used to use to improve search rank, site owners who have always optimized their sites for Google in the right ways will only see an improvement in the quality of traffic directed to their site through Google Instant.

Complaining About Something Free? Really?

Finally, I want to make a point about Google’s free services. I first met Google in sophomore year of high school in Spanish class. Thank you, Señor Puchól-Salva. Since then I have eagerly consumed every new Google product to hit the web; I only wish I had secured my own firstname.lastname Gmail address earlier. When I got my first job out of college and learned how to make and publish ads with Google AdWords, my love for Google was reinvigorated. It’s amazing to use a web-based product that has been designed in a polished and (mostly) smoothly functioning manner that is offered for free. I consider AdWords free because you’re spending only on your own ad budget – there is no user fee associated. Since that first job I have tried out just about every free Google service that is offered to me. Some have stayed with me (Google Maps, used every day on my iPhone) while others (Google Wave, for instance) have not stood up to the test of time and users. Still, how can so many people be upset at Google’s constant introduction of interesting new internet tools and communities, for free? If the services provide you with something useful, then use them. If not, then don’t. In the grand scheme of the internet, I truly believe that Google wants only to improve the experience of its users. Sure, they have banked some serious profit since appearing on the scene back in the late ‘90s, but can you blame Google’s founders? They hit upon an amazing opportunity to provide something that almost everyone in the world can find useful in some way or another. The power of Google’s branding is just a testament to the simplicity of the original product. I personally can’t wait to see what Google Me is like, whether it succeeds or fails as a new entry in the social networking sphere.

So, in this questionable time of insecure social networks, disappearing online privacy, evolving internet usage and the shaky future of online advertising as we know it, I ask that you pull your head from the sand and don’t believe the hype about Google. Ultimately I trust that they believe their motto of “don’t be evil” and remember it daily. With constant headlines about abuse of power running rampant in so many industries, can’t we just be happy to use (or not use) Google’s suite of innovative internet services for free?

I know my opinion about Google can be unpopular; what do you think about the recent negative press surrounding Google lately? CEO Eric Schmidt has stated that the buzz surrounding Google Instant was a “huge PR win” and other ‘bad’ press they’ve received has only served to drive revenue higher, so it could be true that bad publicity doesn’t exist. Leave your opinion in the comments, and get in touch if you’d like to learn more about how the ever-changing Google landscape can help your company succeed.

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