Google and the future of trust

Looking for the capitol of Iowa? What about directions to your son’s baseball game? Got a bet on how old Brooke Shields really is?

The answer is Google—a noun that we’ve lovingly transformed into a verb and quickly equated with “the search for knowledge.”

Much to the founders’ delight, I’m sure. Larry Page and Sergey Brin created Google with a goal to simply make information more accessible. In a true American “boot straps” kind of story, these two Stanford PhD candidates started a little research project that soon became known around the world as “Google.”

Garage start-ups are not a foreign thing to us, but Google is different. Somehow, its origins seem clean to us. Its disinterest in bankrolls seems genuine – its altruism real. The impromptu “don’t be evil” motto is literally engraved on its walls.

This week I read Ken Auletta’s excellent new book Googled, in which he says,

“Naïveté and passion make a potent mix; combine the two with power and you have an extraordinary force, one that can effect great change for good or for ill. Google fervently believes it has a mission. ‘Our goal is to change the world.’ Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt, told me. ‘Making money, he continued, is a technology to pay for it.’

For good or for ill is the question.

Ironically, this was not a good week for the Google empire. Earlier this week an Italian court convicted three Google executives of violating privacy protection when it refused to take down a YouTube video showing teenagers bullying an autistic boy.

On Friday, Microsoft came out swinging, voicing concerns about Google’s online dominance. The European Commission is looking into complaints against Google from three European Internet sites, one of which – a Microsoft subsidiary.

I can hear Microsoft now, saying, “Hey Google, don’t worry we kept the hot seat warm for you.”

In the past, Google has enjoyed a tough coating of trust on our part. We use Gmail at home, Google Docs at work, Google News when we wake up, YouTube before we go to bed, and Search about 27 times a day. We essentially donate our most intimate information so that Google can refine its product and make a buck. To us, however, it’s a free service that makes our lives infinitely better. And we love Google for it (I’m not being facetious here, I really love. Google.)

Despite my appreciation for all things Google, my reading this week of Auletta’s Googled has led me to at least question our allegiance to a company who verbally promises its best intentions and sticks our secrets in “the cloud.”

How many antitrust, anti-privacy allegations will it take to dent its armor? I’m not urging Google the giant to be blasted – what would I do without it? (Again, not sarcasm, really.) I’m just curious how this mega-brand does it. Can we find more Larrys and Sergeys with genius aspiration and selfless ambition – and bottle it.

I’m sure if it’s possible, Google will get around to it.


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