Google Is Fast, Powerful, and Popular, but Is It Evil?

By | Nov 30, 2012

If you're looking for the world's foremost search provider, it's Google all the way. Microsoft runs a distant second with Bing, and recent acquisitions show that Larry Page's company wants to do more than just provide results for consumers queries. But the company's foray into cloud computing, smartphones, and social sites has other technology firms worried. Jeremy Stoppelman, CEO of review site Yelp, called some of the search provider's practices "evil," while Microsoft contends its competitor is playing far more naughty than nice this holiday season.

Yelp! That Stings!

There was no response to Stoppelman's words from the search giant, but that's not really a surprise considering the question asked at a recent Business Insider conference led him in that direction, an article at CNET reports.

While the Yelp CEO didn't call out Google as totally bereft of moral integrity, he believes some of its methods aren't entirely above board; for example, ranking its reviewers higher than those of competitors, including Yelp. Stoppelman makes the point that any powerful business faces market backlash, but that doesn't mean it needs knee-jerk government controls. Private sector scrutiny, however, is always a good idea.

Yelp has already fended off a takeover attempt from Google while inching its way into the public market, and Stoppelman hopes to avoid problems like those plaguing Groupon and establish a "city-by-city" approach to create depth. The strategy seems to be working, but the CEO worries that sites with too much power - and which don't use it responsibly - can harm the industry.

Bah, Humbug!

That's the message Microsoft is sending to consumers about Google, according to a recent Canadian Business article. Starting November 28, the Redmond giant has been running television ads about recent changes to shopping results listed by Google; now, any merchants that want their product listed in the shopping section have to pay for the privilege.

Although sponsored links are nothing new for the search giant and businesses still aren't required to pay for listings in the general search database, Microsoft, maintains the shopping results change betrays public trust and the company's commitment to provide organically ranked results instead of generating revenue. As a result, the Windows maker is warning consumers they may get "scrooged" when using the top-ranked search engine.

The Moral Dilemma

For midsize IT, the question of Google's moral fiber isn't something keeping them up at night. It does, however, raise some concerns. The site has come under increasing fire for ranking its own results higher than competitors', even as it tries to acquire some of those same companies. Part of the antagonism coming from Yelp and Microsoft is easily tied to a sense of corporate displacement: No one likes being #2.

But in the long term, these kinds of practices may change the nature of IT. Admins typically assume an ethical playing field exists in the technology world, since software solutions and search results aren't by nature moral choices. The rise of global corporate giants, however, along with the commoditization of IT, make "good" and "evil" relevant factors in technology decision making.

Consider the recent upswing of intellectual property (IP) lawsuits as a parallel example. This kind of litigation was rare in the technology market until a few years ago, but almost every recent dispute comes with a judge, ill-informed jury, and public scrutiny; criticisms are shifting from a purely legal framework to one of morals and ethics. Sure, Google plays fair enough for the moment, but what happens if it controls the IT world?

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

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