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July 22, 2011 7:14 AM   Subscribe

Don't Be Evil -- a somewhat philosophical review of two new books about Google.
posted by empath (20 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
This was a really great article! Thanks for posting.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 7:59 AM on July 22, 2011


Fascinating. I would not have made the connection to McNamara & the whiz kids, but it's a troubling thought now that it's in my head.

This review reminded me of The Master Switch, which I read this spring. It's all about the tension between openness and control in electronic communication from the early 1900s to the present; lots of history to counter any idea of technological/social inevitability one way or the other. (Google and/vs Apple are the main focus of a chapter towards the end; I found myself wishing he had included Facebook in the discussion.)
posted by epersonae at 8:56 AM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Google are accidentally evil, Facebook became accidentally successful, Apple are intentionally evil and successful.
posted by RyanG at 9:38 AM on July 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


How do I get the article as a single page?
posted by johnasdf at 9:49 AM on July 22, 2011


This article annoyed me. I used to work for Google, so you can certainly take this with a grain of salt, but it seems to me the author falls squarely into his own classification of Google pessimists. He seems happy to point out problems, but I don't see him providing any solutions. Unless he believes they have no solution, in which case this article is just a bunch of empty griping.

I wonder how many times the author used Google in researching this article.
posted by A dead Quaker at 10:18 AM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


He seems happy to point out problems, but I don't see him providing any solutions.

I must not be a google pessimist, because my solution is: don't use google. I quit my gmail account, switched away from Blogger, got a different RSS reader (one under my own control) and changed my search engine. It's really not hard.
posted by DU at 10:26 AM on July 22, 2011


He seems happy to point out problems, but I don't see him providing any solutions. Unless he believes they have no solution, in which case this article is just a bunch of empty griping.

Well, I think the problem is that the ultimate point of this article is to be a book review, not an article about Google per se. Unfortunately, he tends to wander off sometimes where it's not clear if he's talking about Google for the sake of talking about Google, or because he's highlighting the contrast in these two books. I think your frustration might stem from the fact that while he set out to write a review of these books, it often sounds like he's writing an op-ed piece. I do think he could've kept the connection to the books more in the foreground of the article.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 10:34 AM on July 22, 2011


DU, what search engine do you use? Google's kind of ubiquitous and apparently much better at being useful for finding things. I would be interested to hear if anything is around that's a viable substitute.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 12:18 PM on July 22, 2011


I quit my gmail account, switched away from Blogger, got a different RSS reader (one under my own control) and changed my search engine. It's really not hard.

Not snarking, I'm genuinely curious: do you also block Google Analytics and the various ad servers Google runs? In toto, Google sees something like 95% of web traffic.
posted by roll truck roll at 12:19 PM on July 22, 2011


Just to reiterate, I'm not trying to belittle you. I'm very sympathetic to criticisms of Google, but at a certain point I just threw up my hands and decided it was too hard to avoid (at least in my personal life, if not my professional life).
posted by roll truck roll at 12:21 PM on July 22, 2011


Whatever one thinks of the Sulzberger family that controls the Times, the journalistic tradition to which they belong has produced certain norms—say, that newspapers carry certain social responsibilities

news to me
posted by LogicalDash at 12:39 PM on July 22, 2011


Evgeny Morozov and RSA Animate – The Internet in Society: Empowering or Censoring Citizens?
posted by homunculus at 12:42 PM on July 22, 2011


He seems happy to point out problems, but I don't see him providing any solutions.

Maybe he thinks it isn't his role to tell Google how to run their business, because he's just evaluating the way things seem to stand.

I really don't understand this line of criticism. It's good and important to diagnose problems. Not providing advice at the same time doesn't detract from that. Especially since the advice he could provide in the space of a brief article would likely be so formal as to be useless in practice.
posted by kenko at 1:23 PM on July 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Some months ago, I accidentally realised that Google's motto has been mistakenly understood as a promise. In fact, it isn't a promise, it's a command, and the complete motto is: "Don't be evil, we are watching you."
posted by Skeptic at 1:40 PM on July 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


Even if we trust Google's current management, I wonder: what happens when they get old and die? Google will probably be a lot bigger then, too.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 2:45 PM on July 22, 2011


The brief mention of Google's efforts in Africa was interesting to me. I'm currently reading a book about Henry Ford's effort to set up an American-style city in Brazil to supply rubber for tires. Since you've probably never heard much about this project--I certainly hadn't until I read the book--you can tell how Ford's story ends. I'm not saying Google's efforts will do the same, but it does make me wonder about self-interested corporate development projects.
posted by immlass at 3:38 PM on July 22, 2011


Well, I think the problem is that the ultimate point of this article is to be a book review, not an article about Google per se.

That's part of it. Only the introduction and the fifth part of the whole thing really discusses the books. I don't like opinion pieces that masquerade as book reviews.

Maybe he thinks it isn't his role to tell Google how to run their business, because he's just evaluating the way things seem to stand.

I'm totally fine with him evaluating Google, but he mostly seems to be critical of the company. But as far as I can tell, most of the criticisms are:

"Don't be evil" is a stupid motto.
Google's algorithms are not perfect and it claims they are, but it won't release them so we can't tell.
Autocomplete might be slanderous in some cases.
Google is doing stuff in Africa that is intended to be beneficial but which the media should cover.

These are mostly valid points, but compared to the benefit Google offers people, I'd say they're fairly trivial. But then the author draws conclusions like this:

"But one can certainly blame the people at Google for always drinking their own Kool-Aid, and therefore failing to recognize the irreducibility of concepts such as privacy to purely quantitative components. As they expand and enter new industries and regions, their ignorance of the political and social realms could cost us dearly."

So there's all this HURF DURF and implication of impending doom weighing the whole thing down, and I don't think it's deserved. Maybe the Google executive team are all psychopaths biding their time (I don't deny it's a possibility), but so far they've seemed reasonably trustworthy.
posted by A dead Quaker at 4:45 PM on July 22, 2011


I wonder how many times the author used Google in researching this article.

Well it's doubtful he used Bing.
posted by the noob at 5:30 PM on July 22, 2011


Viable search alternative: duckduckgo.com (for text, not images or books). Searches default to SSL if available.

With some nice topical features (try 'electronic music') that G only wishes it had.
posted by Twang at 4:04 AM on July 24, 2011


> do you also block Google Analytics and the various ad servers Google runs?

You bet. Adblock Plus and NoScript, easy peasy. And I'm not anti-Google, just a particular combination of pro-privacy and and anti-waiting.

Also, I'd much prefer that the slogan was "Don't do evil." There's less room for equivocation in that slogan. Good people and organizations can still do evil, so please just don't do evil at all.
posted by NortonDC at 1:18 PM on July 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


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