Google knew YouTube ‘did evil’ – but bought it anyway

Do no evil? Google execs knew YouTube was in the wrong, but swallowed hard and bought it anyway, emails disclosed to a US court show. In 2006 execs at the Chocolate Factory were aware that the startup was less than wholesome, describing it as a “rogue enabler of content theft” whose “business model is completely sustained by pirated content” – in emails now made public. They acknowledged it would raise ethical questions.

In October the same year, Google acquired the video site for $1.65bn. The cynical calculation meant swallowing a few principles.

Google Video business product manager Ethan Anderson wrote to Patrick Walker, a senior Google executive:

“I can’t believe your [sic] recommending buying YouTube. Besides the ridiculous valuation they think they’re entitled to, they’re 80% illegal pirated content.”

To complete the purchase, Google’s definition of evil needed to become as flexible as The Invincibles’ Elastic Girl. David Eun, content manager at Google wrote:

“As Sergey [Brin] pointed out, is changing a policy to increase traffic knowing beforehand that we’ll profit from illegal downloads how we want to conduct our business? Is this Googley?”

In other documents, YouTube’s co-founder Steve Chen declared that YouTube should

“concentrate all our efforts in building up our numbers as aggressively as we can through whatever tactics, however evil”.

And so Google rewarded evil: Chen received Google stock worth $310m from the acquisition. It has since increased in value. YouTube investor Sequoia Capital realised over $500m from a mere $9m investment. If you’re wondering just what technological innovation or original idea Google was supporting – you’ll be scratching your head for a long time. The value of YouTube was its collection of other’s people’s stuff.

The emails are a devastating indictment of Google’s ethics – and the Chocolate Factory must have anticipated the damage the disclosures would cause. Overnight Google launched a spoiler, leaking a batch of emails alleging that Viacom uploaded its own material to the site. It’s embarrassing, for sure, but not in the same ballpark – Viacom’s property is Viacom’s property to do what it likes with.

Google to mobile phone industry: ‘Fuck you very much!’

"It’s Google’s autistic approach to relationships," one senior phone exec told me this week. "They don’t know what hurt they’re doing, and they don’t care."

It’s nothing personal, guys. Today, some of the biggest tech companies in the world, who thought they were Google’s closest partners, will begin to understand how, say, copyright holders have felt for some time now. For the first time, I suspect, they’ll be enjoying that recurring tingle of amazement and disbelief that (as Chris Castle explained here), Google would even try and pull off such a stunt. It took EMI Publishing six months to realise that Google had claimed digital rights to its songs, for example. But even if the decision to shaft its closest Android partners and biggest customers is an aberration, a one-off, a fling that Google will later regret – then the size of the parties involved means it’s going to have lasting repercussions.

Even before Google started competing with it head on this week, the mobile industry was already wary of the Mountain View Chocolate Factory, and its inclination to hoover up every morsel of service revenue. Now complaining about that may be a bit hypocritical, you might think, if you look at how much of a transaction operators such as Docomo have traditionally retained, and how much they want to keep now. But look at the alternative, Google told the networks and device makers. That Mr Jobs doesn’t leave anything on the table. And besides, we Do No Evil.

 

Read more at The Register.

Google abandons Search

It’s hard to explain to people new to the web since 2004 – the Digg kids – the effect that Google had on the internet at the turn of the decade. They can’t conceive the Before and the After. Google was miraculous, and so much better than the competition that they effectively gave up trying to compete with it. But Google’s PageRank also unleashed social and political fads which reverberate right through to this day.

Much of the junk science of the web comes from Googlemania of this period. New institutes and venerable academic departments today all drink from the seemingly bottomless well. It permeates into Birtspeak 2.0, and you can see it in the Thumbs Up and Thumbs Down you see in Comments, for example. The mini-industry called “Social media marketing” wouldn’t really exist without it, either.

Google kindled the idea that the Web was a democracy, a great big voting machine. But only Google was uniquely qualified to divine these intentions – only Google had the capability and know-how to discern the ‘Hive Mind’. Google said so itself; its PR blurb explicitly made the connection between a New Form of Democracy and its own innovation, the “uniquely democratic nature of the web”.

For a couple of years, PageRank™ worked wonders. Then reality began to mess things up. What had worked well for conferring authority to peer-reviewed academic papers didn’t work quite so well in the wild. As Google grew, the importance of appearing in its rankings also grew. SEO and dirty tricks became big business. (See Meet the Jefferson of Web 2.0.)

This was first pointed out by your reporter in 2003, and it was manifest in two ways. Firstly, via the ease with which a small group of motivated people could hijack search terms, thanks to the dense interlinking nature of blogs. (A more perfect machine for rigging PageRank has yet to be invented). This was Googlewashing. And secondly, the ease with which spammers could clog the system with noise. The period also saw the migration of large amounts of information to the web in a searchable format. The real-time chatter from protocols that had previously been beyond the reach of search engines – such as AOL chatrooms – found its way into its Google. The result, by mid-2003, was a system that was broken.

You may recall that it was heresy at the time to doubt the quite magical technical ability of Google to get it ‘right’. The bandwagon of Web 2.0 had barely started to roll – it wasn’t christened until the following year – but there was already serious money on riding on it. But it was an even greater heresy to question the moral authority that the technology utopians had by then conferred on Google.

For Google wasn’t just ranking web pages, but adding to the human epistemological cannon – it was telling us what was wrong and right – filtered and legitimised through the people-powered Hive Mind. Thanks to the now-burdensome “Don’t Be Evil”, it constantly reminded us of its impeccable moral credentials.

Well, as you may have seen, PageRank™ is now dead. Google has given up on the job of ranking pages – it can’t cope any more – and outsourced the task of evaluating the job to the user. Needs must, and so it will make a virtue of the very feature that helped destroy the index – real-time noise. As Danny Sullivan points out, this is very big news indeed. I think it’s even bigger than Danny thinks it is – with an extra penthouse layer of bigness on top – for all the social and political implications mentioned above.

By outsourcing the ranking of pages to the hoi polloi, Google is saying that is no longer in the business of ‘arbitrating’ democracy. This is now the job of hordes of roaming single issue fanatics, voting pages up and down. You could say the internet has returned to its primordial soup.

Continue reading “Google abandons Search”

Google's vanity OS is Microsoft's dream

No one will be happier than Microsoft about Google’s vanity venture to market computers with a Google-brand OS. It gives us the illusion of competition without seriously troubling either business, although both will obligingly huff and puff about how serious they are about this new, phoney OS war. Since both of these giants are permanently in trouble with antitrust regulators – they’re at different stages of IBM-style thirty years legal epics – that’s just the ticket for them both.

Google’s failure to dent the Microsoft monopoly will simply notch up another failure for Linux (whose fans are quite happy to work for The Man, as long as it’s not the Man from Redmond) – and it’ll do nothing for consumers. How so? Because the computing problems we’ll have tomorrow will still be the same ones we have today.

…Read more at The Register

Obama administration joins Google

Steve Jobs may have engineered the most audacious reverse-takeover in tech history when Apple “acquired” NeXT in 1996. Within a year, Jobs and his NeXT colleagues had purged Apple executives from all the key positions (although the chief accountant remained – which may tell you something about chief accountants). But that’s small beer compared to Google’s acquisition of the Obama Administration.

…Read more at The Register

Google's doing to Twitterbook what it's doing to copyright

Google has two prongs to its long-term strategy, but Wave, the “digital dashboard” it unveiled last week, casts light on a third.

One strategy is to drive down the value of copyright material on the internet to zero. Google has a ruthless and calculating view of the real value of stuff. It reasons that if all we do on the net is talk to each other, then it’s merely fulfilling the role of a switchboard operator at a Soviet-era state monopoly telco – connecting us, while listening in. That’s a pretty unglamorous business, it doesn’t save the world… and hey, where’s the money?

The YouTube experience has taught Google that the value of “user generated content”, of the “new era of creativity” is as close to zero as a rounding error – while quite irrationally we continue to throw money at DVDs, CD box sets of stuff we already have, Susan Boyle, and even ringtones. That’s all copyright stuff. They are clever people, and this hasn’t escaped their notice.

The other strategy is to drive down the value of the “access networks” to zero. Unable to offer innovative value-add services of their own, the ISPs and mobile networks become interchangeble suppliers, merely undifferentiated suppliers of bits. Hence the “Net Neutrality” scare. Google didn’t invent “net neutrality”, but it lost little time in taking advantage of it, to its own ends. No company in the 25-year history of the net had ever dared propose a technical rulebook for what the net’s operators could and couldn’t do – until Google started to write legislation.

In both cases the entertainment and network “industries” have been the timid architects of their own demise. The networks well may be becoming commoditised bit pipes without Google’s assistance, and the content businesses – by refusing to take elementary steps such as synchronising releases across markets, and monetising P2P file sharing – may too see the value of their assets disappear. But it doesn’t harm Google to speed things along a bit.

Take the two together and you’ll start to see why Google is building those vast power-guzzling data centers. With copyright holders and last-mile service providers unable to realise value, those data centres aggregate all that’s left. Google becomes the internet company by default.

…Read more at The Register

"Journalism can and should bite any hand that tries to feed it, and it should bite a government hand most viciously"

Google, the nemesis of newspapers, was at the Congress yesterday, to turn a blonde deaf ear to their troubles. The company’s pin-up VP of products Marissa Meyer described quite a bright future to the Senate’s commerce committee – but it’s a bright future for Google, and people with a lot of time fiddling with their computers. Also testifying was creator of The Wire David Simon.

Let’s contrast how each of them addressed the crisis.

Meyer said Google’s policy “first and foremost” was to respect the wishes of content producers, but offered nothing in the way of new business partnerships. Instead, she gave them a short but haughty lecture on how they should present their stories – they should become more like Wikipedia:

“Consider instead how the authoritativeness of news articles might grow if an evolving story were published under a permanent, single URL as a living, changing, updating entity,” she said in her statement. “We see this practice today in Wikipedia’s entries and in the topic pages at NYTimes.com. The result is a single authoritative page with a consistent reference point that gains clout and a following of users over time.”

So instead of publishing 50 stories a day, the implication is that publications should only publish 50 a year – tweaking those 50 constantly, in the hope they wriggle up through the Google search results. Yes, that’ll fix things.

She also said they should offer more scope for mash-ups. At both ends of the news chain, then, you have people fiddling – instead of writing (at one end) and reading (at the other). That’s very Web 2.0, and you couldn’t get a clearer statement that Google doesn’t really understand what news is for. (It’s merely the stuff that goes between the BODY tags, silly.)

The creator of The Wire and former reporter David Simon said he found the phrase “citizen journalism” Orwellian. He added:

“A neighbor who is a good listener and cares about people is a good neighbor – he is not in any sense a citizen social worker. Just as a neighbor with a garden hose and good intentions is not a citizen firefighter. To say so is a heedless insult to social workers and firefighters.”

Continue reading “"Journalism can and should bite any hand that tries to feed it, and it should bite a government hand most viciously"”

Newspapers: David Simon vs Google

Google, the nemesis of newspapers, was at the Congress yesterday, to turn a blonde deaf ear to their troubles. The company’s pin-up VP of products Marissa Meyer described quite a bright future to the Senate’s commerce committee – but it’s a bright future for Google, and people with a lot of time fiddling with their computers. Also testifying was creator of The Wire David Simon.

Let’s contrast how each of them addressed the crisis.

Meyer said Google’s policy “first and foremost” was to respect the wishes of content producers, but offered nothing in the way of new business partnerships. Instead, she gave them a short but haughty lecture on how they should present their stories – they should become more like Wikipedia:

“Consider instead how the authoritativeness of news articles might grow if an evolving story were published under a permanent, single URL as a living, changing, updating entity,” she said in her statement. “We see this practice today in Wikipedia’s entries and in the topic pages at NYTimes.com. The result is a single authoritative page with a consistent reference point that gains clout and a following of users over time.”

So instead of publishing 50 stories a day, the implication is that publications should only publish 50 a year – tweaking those 50 constantly, in the hope they wriggle up through the Google search results. Yes, that’ll fix things.

She also said they should offer more scope for mash-ups. At both ends of the news chain, then, you have people fiddling – instead of writing (at one end) and reading (at the other). That’s very Web 2.0, and you couldn’t get a clearer statement that Google doesn’t really understand what news is for. (It’s merely the stuff that goes between the BODY tags, silly.)

The creator of The Wire and former reporter David Simon said he found the phrase “citizen journalism” Orwellian. He added:

“A neighbor who is a good listener and cares about people is a good neighbor – he is not in any sense a citizen social worker. Just as a neighbor with a garden hose and good intentions is not a citizen firefighter. To say so is a heedless insult to social workers and firefighters.”

Continue reading “Newspapers: David Simon vs Google”

Google cranks up the Consensus Engine

Image from Google's 2006 analyst presentation

Google this week admitted that its staff will pick and choose what appears in its search results. It’s a historic statement – and nobody has yet grasped its significance.

Not so very long ago, Google disclaimed responsibility for its search results by explaining that these were chosen by a computer algorithm. The disclaimer lives on at Google News, where we are assured that:

The selection and placement of stories on this page were determined automatically by a computer program.

A few years ago, Google’s apparently unimpeachable objectivity got some people very excited, and technology utopians began to herald Google as the conduit for a new form of democracy. Google was only too pleased to encourage this view. It explained that its algorithm “relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the web by using its vast link structure as an indicator of an individual page’s value. ”

That Google was impartial was one of the articles of faith. For if Google was ever to be found to be applying subjective human judgment directly on the process, it would be akin to the voting machines being rigged.

For these soothsayers of the Hive Mind, the years ahead looked prosperous. As blog-aware marketing and media consultants, they saw a lucrative future in explaining the New Emergent World Order to the uninitiated. (That part has come true – Web 2.0 “gurus” now advise large media companies).

It wasn’t surprising, then, that when five years ago I described how a small, self-selected number of people could rig Google’s search results, the reaction from the people doing the rigging was violently antagonistic. Who lifted that rock? they cried.

But what was once Googlewashing by a select few now has Google’s active participation. This week Marissa Meyer explained that editorial judgments will play a key role in Google searches.

Continue reading “Google cranks up the Consensus Engine”

'Parasitic' Google feels TV's wrath

Your reporter holds TV executives in as much esteem as a flesh-eating virus. But even in the uniquely clueless world of television, they’re finally waking up to Google’s ‘parasitic’ nature. C4 chief Andy Duncan has become the latest to awake from his slumber. The problem? Duncan’s “cure” will probably only make Google stronger.

Duncan says that Google sucks billions out of the UK economy without making so much as a 30-second trailer in return. Duncan followed Michael Grade – who used the ‘P’ word – in voicing the criticism.

“Google should pay for content that it uses. The burden of responsibility should be on it to identify the people whose content it is using and make sure they are being paid for it, rather than expecting other people to point it out,” Duncan said.

Duncan also argued that because Google books so much advertising revenue it should regulated. This is muddle-headed and misses the point. In fact the call for regulation is likely to make Google stronger – at C4’s ultimate expense.

Contrary to what the company says, Google is in fact quite keen on regulation – when it hampers Google’s opponents. Continue reading “'Parasitic' Google feels TV's wrath”