You can get new post notifications through RSS, email, Twitter or Facebook

Google hatred

Posted by Graeme in Economics,Internet,Wrong at 6:37 am on Wednesday, 29 April 2009

The usually intelligent Willem Buiter has written a great example of the irrational hatred that Google seems to sporadically evoke. He attacks them with a list of charges, all of which are easily refuted.

Comparison with Microsoft

A lot of people claim that Google is the bad new monopolist, taking Microsoft’s place. Apart from the fact that I am not convinced that MS have vacated their place, the market position and behaviour of the two companies is entirely different.

  1. Google has a market share of about 70% for its most successful product, much less for its other products. MS has 90%+ for its two most successful products
  2. MS has frequently entered into exclusive agreements with distributors (the PC manufacturers) to lock out rivals. Google publicly supports laws that prevent it from doing that same.
  3. >Microsoft has offered discounts to distributors who do not sell rival products
  4. Microsoft consistently uses FUD, astroturfing and other misleading marketing. Google does not.
  5. Microsoft benefits from large network effects, Google does not.
  6. Customers face costs in switching from Microsoft products. This is not true for Google’s core products. I usually use Google, but it takes only an instant to search Yahoo, MS, or Ask instead. I keep using Google because it is the best.
  7. MS locks in customers though deliberate non-interoperability (tactics such as embrace, extend, extinguish and its manipulation of the ISO voting process). Google consistently supports open standards and open source.


First, he claims Google encourages breaches of Youtube, Google News and Google Books as examples. Google has a perfectly reasonable policy on Youtube, which, if any veers too much towards trusting claims on copyright — for example, by taking down material that falls with fair use/fair dealing exemptions.

It is clearly economically impossible to check every upload manually. The only solution would be to get out of user generated content altogether. So Youtube should be shut down: and, by implication, so should all other video sharing services, photo sharing services (like Flickr) and wikis (like Wikipedia). So should forums, discussion groups, etc.

As for Google News and Google Books, they operate just like any search engine does, except that Google displays some books, which it has paid license fees on, in their entirety. So, this time his demand boils down to ban all search engines.

As he apparently objects to search engines, I suggest he asks the FT (who host his blog) to stop Google from indexing his blog by the simple expedient of adding ”/maverecon/“ (just one line of text, 11 characters long) to their robots.txt file. The same applies to Murdoch and all the others who object to Google News: there is an industry standard way of indicating what you do not want indexed, why do you not use it?

In the course of all this, he sneakily slips in his opinion that breach of copyright is morally equivalent to theft as an incontestable fact. I am rather more pre-free markets on this particular issue than he his, and have grave doubts about whether state mandated monopolies are a good idea. It does not matter which of us is right: he is wrong to present his opinion as the only possible one, especially as so many of his fellow economists disagree with his opinion more strongly than I do.


Next come the privacy issues. Starting with Google Street View. In a country where CCTV cameras follow everything that happens outdoors, how can he possibly regard rarely updated still photos with faces obscured as a threat to privacy? If you do something in public anyone may see you or photograph you. That is what ”in public“ means. Of course, the government could make it an offence to photograph anyone anywhere without their permission: I am sure that would be a boon to, for example, policeman beating up protesters.

The risk to privacy posed by Streetview is essentially that of being seen in public. It cannot track of search any individual: just those who have the bad luck to be somewhere they do not want to be seen when the Google photo van drives past. No greater a risk than of being seen there by the wrong person.


Cookies are the biggest red herring, and his objects are hypocritical to boot: his own article is on a site that sets a lot of cookies. Merely by reading two blog posts, I have got no fewer than 18 cookies

Personally, I do not object to cookies per se. As anyone who runs a website know, they are very useful They allow the site operator to gather statistics on visitors, they are by far the best way to offer services that require a login, they are the only way to offer any session based service without a login.

If you do find cookies in general objectionable, any web browser that supports cookies allows you to turn them off. Modern web browsers also allow you do turn cookies on or off on a site by site basis, to delete cookies when you shut down your browser, to ask you individually about each cookie a site tries to set, etc.

The opt out options offered by Google etc. are complementary to this, allowing you to opt out of an aspect of their sites that some people find intrusive, while still allowing the other uses of their services. The only way they can possible implement this is by setting a cookie.

Once again, all this ignores a much more significant threat to privacy. Google can, if you do not turn off cookies, track what you do on its own websites. Internet Services Providers and collaborators like Phorm (see the Open Rights Group website for more) track and record very website you visit. Governments do the same, and monitor every email and instant message you send as well. Google is supposed to be the big threat? It seem more like a distraction from the real issues to me, together with a bit of special pleading for the newspapers obsolete business models.

Comments disabled

Sorry, comments are closed