The session “Which Way Google” started off with the challenges faced by the search engine giant Google regarding information and privacy and the direction it was likely to take in the future. The panel constituted of-
Moderator: Chris Sherman, Executive Editor, Search Engine Land
- Jeff Jarvis, Blogger & Author, BuzzMachine
- Steven Levy, Senior Writer, Wired Magazine, Author of In The Plex: How Google Thinks,Works, and Shapes Our Lives
- Marc Rotenberg, Executive Director, Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC)
The chatty session began with a comment made by Google founders. Chris said, “Larry and Sergey say that Google is out there to make people smart. Others say Google is making us dumber because it’s so easy to use. Which is right?”
Steven then responded by saying that Google has changed people and the challenge is how we adapt to that change. He disagreed on the point that Google makes people dumber. It makes things easier for those who are actually dumb.
Marc then stepped in the discussion and agreed with both Chris and Steven. He said that, “Both statements are true. I am reminded of the early days of Wikipedia. Wow. How old you feel right now?! Anyways, people were afraid that kids were using Wikipedia as a source. The thing with Wikipedia is that you interact with it. If something there is wrong, you fix it. It puts demands on the user.”
Jeff then made a conclusive statement by saying that people are smarter now. He showed a mockvideo that showed a user's willingness to hand over their data.
Chris said that the concern here is what is Google doing with all the information that it has gathered. He said, “What’s your take on that? Google’s doing a great job gathering information but are they good stewards? Should we be concerned?”
Marc further elaborated that Google has a lot of information and even the government comes to them for the information. So what is needed here is a very high legal standard so that even the government shouldn’t be able to get information from Google unless it’s absolutely necessary.
The second part of the discussion then moved on to the relationship between Google and the national security agency. The interest that NSA had in Google following the China hack in 2010. Then NSA worked with Google on new security standards. What is the current relationship of NSA with Google? Well, it is an unanswered question as NSA said they could neither confirm nor deny the same.
Steven then made the observation that internet has a plethora of information and Google is the key to get it. He has believed that Google should take more responsibility of information that comes up in the search results. He identifies this as a core privacy problem with Google. In the case of Facebook, it's just the opposite, you put the information, and then it gets displayed.
Marc added a quick note on Steve’s point. He told that somewhere in Spain people have ordered Google to take down sensitive information about them. Google is fighting this order however.
Steven then explained his thought process behind his book. He said that, “Google and Facebook allow people to be public in a way we haven’t been able to before and I fear if we go too far trying to prevent against certain fears we have with technology, we could cut off some of the power that we have. It’s easy to say you should have a right to be forgotten, but how far does that go? We have to tread carefully on saying what should not be public.”
He said that there are tools provided by Google for controlling your information. But is that enough?
Steven further said that if Google just claims to be the linker to some information, and not responsible for the same, doesn’t work. If the internet companies knew how much information they were giving up, see that relevant add, they might not be in for the deal only.
Marc then confessed to being a skeptic about a lot of this. He spoke of the bygone DoubeClick era where they did online advertising without knowing the user. Then DoubleClick acquired a public database firm and could link these nonuser identified accounts with real users. Marc said that when this happened they immediately filed an objection and DoubleClick backed off. The issue of privacy on the internet arose then. He compared Facebook to a radio dial, that turned back on you when you turned it. He said, “Nothing is clear, nothing is stable, nothing is transparent. Google has acquired the technology to do facial recognition but, up until now, have not done it. Is it inevitable that facial recognition will become part of the day to day experience?”
Marc then answered this question by saying that Google said that would cross the creepy line, however, Facebook is on to it.
Jeff then brought out the other side- the benefits of face recognition. He gave the example of the disaster in Japan, where people could find lost children- or identify terrorists before they get on the plane.
Marc then insisted on having a debate against how its used before we deploy it.
Jeff underlined the fact that technology is neutral. It is the usage that should concern us. We must not forbid technology.
Marc then stated that he knows very few people who have an interest in regulating technology. Why? Because they want to know what companies are doing.
Steven then spoke on Street View and how people dislike it. The people believe that it gives burglars information they wouldn’t have otherwise. Where as some people use it as a way to check out the neighborhoods before they move into them.
Marc again emphasized on who was using the technology. He said, “If some French cars were coming into neighborhoods and taking photos of people’s houses and cars, people would not be okay with that.”
Jeff had a counter view that if one can stop Google from taking pictures then the media can be stopped too. This led to Marc reacting furiously and he said that where Street View was concerned every country outside the US has agreed that it shouldn’t be done.
Steven then went on to the Google Book Search and said that his book being scanned does not concern him.
Marc had the counter view that the lawsuit on Google was not about scanning. He said that even Microsoft had active scanning, but they didn’t take the copyright of authors without their consent. But Google did. Google's dominance is a concern here.
Steven then said that is Google didn't do it, somebody else would.
Jeff then spoke from Google's point of view, he said, “Why should Google have fewer rights than others just because they’re Google? Google is obviously facing a number of legal concerns right now. Which are the most important ones? Will they change what SEOs do for a living?”
Steven then replied to Jeff by saying that SEO's had changed. He said that Microsoft and AT&T needed to be thanked for bringing these concerns to regulatory groups. He said, “Google has to take this very seriously. They’re sending Eric Schmidt to Congress next week to deal with this. There are important issues that the SEO industry deals with every day that are the forefront of this regulatory issue.”
Marc then said that there are multiple concerns before Google. He said, “There was their settlement with the online drug industry that people took notice. There’s the implementation of the Google Buzz settlement that makes Google have to create a privacy program. Most significant, the focus is on monopoly practices and the antitrust investigations.”
Marc further said that one needs to assess how big Google is in different areas. It is a problem for the company as they can't escape their success.
Jeff then went on the observe that people are both fascinated and revolted by success. This is the reason for the love- hate relationship with Google. He said, “Google is portrayed as Godzilla but sees itself as Snuffleuphagus. Their biggest issue is morally, where they have the power of God.”
Steven supplemented the God complex by recalling the incident where the an error in Google led to Yahoo's traffic soaring. The message- Google wants their competitors to know that they are only one click away. Steven said, “We keep talking about search neutrality. His observation is t hat there is on standard Google search result because they’ve done so much personality. How do you say there should be neutrality when the results are custom tailored?”
Jeff then raised the first question in everybody's mind- Does that kill the SEO industry? He said that with different results, there is no way to prove your return on investment. He said, “ The business battle is over signal generation. The notion that there is one search result is a false nostalgia like it was good when we only had three television channels.”
Marc quipped back by pointing out Jeff as a content promotion guy and not a big fan of SEO. He said that Google tries to raise issues so as to remain in the front line. He gave the example of the defaults pointed out in YouTube by Google before its acquisition. He said, “ They looked at the defaults of YouTube before the acquisition and found the default ranking was hits, user rankings (stars), and then relevance (in that order). Post acquisition, relevance became the default and you had to change your settings to get back to hits or rankings. That’s the first half of the story. Post the change, if you did a search using the term [privacy] in YouTube’s search, Google’s videos came up in the top five. If you use any of the alternative metrics, the number drops to 1 or 0.”
Steven then raised a big question- “With Larry coming back as CEO there have been some changes. Google has killed more products in the last month than he can remember them doing in forever. Is Google changing direction? Is this a good thing?”
He said that Google is trying to get back to the original directions there. It will have certain things that they had discontinued. The Google (Larry Page) thought process is:
- Coherent product strategy
- New products coming in but he wants to get away fat.
- Google can't operate as it has as a clunky bureaucracy.
- It is looking for headstrong people against bureaucracy
Marc and Steven then discussed the acquisition of Zagat, and they concluded that Google takes reviews as an important signal and they need to keep the culture of Zagat going.
And What About Google+?
Marc said that Google will not be able to capture a significant segment of the social network service. Jeff further said that according to him Google+ is not a social network- Twitter is about broadcasting, Facebook is about publishing and Google+ is about sharing.
Steven then said that Google doesn’t think it’ll knock off Facebook. It however, wants a part of the social revolution. He observed-
- Google+ wanted to be more real-time (hangouts)
- Worked on improving privacy (Circles)
The Session ended with a question that was answered in a way to make people smile, if in irony. Here it is-
Question-What will the hot topics be in 5 years?
Answer- How we get back from space in the Google spaceship.
Mull on the Google power, while we come back with another session update from the SMX New York 2011.Which Way Google: SMX New York 2011 - Day 1!,