Even as Google has become the most coveted place to work, to the extent that even their cafeteria gets media coverage, it’s also getting increasingly negative attention as a potentially sinister force. The New Yorker recently published an article with rather vague speculation at the way Google might take over the world. Now, we hear that Microsoft is trying to buy Yahoo so they can together fight Google. (Isn’t it funny that Microsoft is seeing another company as the big, bad world-dominator?) More and more, people are starting to wonder, “What exactly is Google up to?”
But given that we can’t read the minds of Sergey Brin and Larry Page, perhaps what we should be looking at is the conflict-of-interest inherent in Google’s business model. Google’s stated mission as a company is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. But are Google’s customers really the individuals searching for information, or are they the advertisers who actually increase Google’s revenues and stock value? To be fair, Google makes a respectable effort to separate advertising from “legitimate,” as in “non-jerry-rigged” search results. But after ten years, the Google search experience is pretty much the same as it’s always been. Has Google been working really hard on tools to help people find better information faster, or has it been working really hard on tools to help advertisers better target potential customers?
Google doesn’t have to be evil to be troubling. It may have started out with the purest of intentions, but it’s hampered itself with the conflict-of-interest at the heart of its operations. Law professor Tim Wu, as quoted in the New Yorker, said it straight, “I predict that Google will end up at war with itself.”