Google: Just Be A Little Evil

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Spencer Critchley
Jan. 26, 2006 10:51 AM

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Just days after Google Inc. refused a US Justice Department demand to turn over data on its customers' searches, the company has revealed it will cooperate with China in censorship. The Google marketing department is no doubt ready with a re-engineered company motto:

Just Be A Little Evil.

Maybe Google has in fact taken a cue from the US government, which also has a new motto: We Don't Torture People (As Much As We Could).

This corruption of Google's once idealistic mission points out an important trend to which we are all party: Increasingly, the commonweal is under the stewardship not of governments, not of citizens, but of large companies.

In the old days, the stuff of politics was physical property. Most contests, including, of course, wars, were ultimately about real estate. But as more value has come to reside in ideas and networks, political (not just economic) power has begun to shift to the corporate entities that own or control access to intellectual property. In the future, wars over physical territory are likely to be reserved for losers and terrorists. Grabs of information are where the high stakes action is likely to be.

Another area where you've got to admit our government is on top of the trend: We Data Mine You Because We Care.

The trouble is, none of us, and in particular none of the vote-deprived Chinese, voted for Google. And yet to some degree we are all becoming subjects of Google. Through gmail, Google currently controls all of my email messages, and yes, I am kind of uncomfortable about that. I won't feel any better if Google ends up handing over search results to the Alberto Gonzalez Justice Department (Motto: We Put The Justification In Justice).

To protect democracy from creeping irrelevance, we're going to have to work out new mechanisms of citizenship. To some extent the free market gives me a "vote" on Google's behavior in that I can choose not to use gmail. But the market is not always all that free. To forego using all Google services would be to handicap myself, and if I wanted to vote similarly against Microsoft, I'd have a big problem.

Google may well occupy a Microsoftian position in the near future. Or rather, if Google is going to partner with entities like China, a position that could, in retrospect, make Microsoft look folksy.

Spencer Critchley is an award-winning producer, writer and composer with experience in digital media, film, broadcasting and the music business.