As Google has grown to dominate internet search and online advertising, the company has repeatedly lobbied against legislative efforts to protect copyright owners from piracy in the name of keeping the internet “open” and “free” from censorship. During the debate over SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act) the company led the astroturf charge against the proposed bill saying:
Like many businesses, entrepreneurs and web users, we oppose these bills because there are smart, targeted ways to shut down foreign rogue websites without asking American companies to censor the Internet. So tomorrow we will be joining many other tech companies to highlight this issue on our US home page.
Despite the hyperbole, many of those who create content for a living understood that Google’s campaign was not born out of a desire to protect the greater good, but rather to protect it’s massive online advertising profits that risked being diminished should illicit websites be subject to takedown. During the SOPA hysteria Google played puppeteer in orchestrating the movements of not-so-grassroots campaign to defeat the legislation. Sadly, few who opposed SOPA took the time to understand Google’s role in encouraging and sustaining online piracy (along with other nefarious online sites offering counterfeit products and pharmaceuticals) and, while the bill had its flaws, thanks to Google and other tech-driven memes, there was little interest in building consensus about how to effectively and reasonably attack the growing problem of online theft.
As was pointed out by Scott Cleland in a Forbes piece, for Google, organizing opposition to SOPA was a business decision, pure and simple:
Google led, orchestrated, politically-framed and set the political tone for much of the Web’s opposition to pending anti-piracy legislation, SOPA/PIPA, because rule of law and effective enforcement of property rights online represent a clear and present danger to Google’s anti-property-rights mission, open philosophy, business model, innovation approach, competitive strategy, and culture.
So, today, when I read this account in Wired.com about Google’s insistence that those who purchase a Google Glass (“Explorer” edition) be prevented from selling, loaning, or transferring them to another person, I had to laugh. Let me get this straight, when it comes to creative content online (including pirated material)–it’s fine to sell, loan or “transfer” it to another (and make money by doing so thanks to Google’s AdSense) but if I want to sell or loan my Google Glass to my pal, I can’t???? Hmmmm….crazy, but apparently true according to the Terms of Services published by Google.
According to the LA Times:
Google says that these terms are specifically for the early version of Glass, so they may change by the time the device goes on sale to the general public. But for now, Google says it simply wants the first users to use the device, not anyone else.
So, it’s OK for Google to decide what happens to their products, but it’s not OK for creative artists to decide what happens to theirs? Guess what’s good for the Creative Goose ain’t OK for the Google Gander. In both instances what seems only to matter is Google’s bottom line. No surprise really, but their hypocrisy is truly a sight to behold.
Google’s philosophy is one of openness, or so they claim on their blog:
At Google we believe that open systems win. They lead to more innovation, value, and freedom of choice for consumers, and a vibrant, profitable, and competitive ecosystem for businesses. Many companies will claim roughly the same thing since they know that declaring themselves to be open is both good for their brand and completely without risk. After all, in our industry there is no clear definition of what open really means. It is a Rashomon-like term: highly subjective and vitally important.
I guess their belief in “open systems” doesn’t apply to tangible goods. When it comes to property rights, Google’s approach is indeed “subjective.”
Jonathan Rosenberg, Senior Vice President, Product Management who wrote the post goes on to add:
So if you are trying to grow an entire industry as broadly as possible, open systems trump closed. And that is exactly what we are trying to do with the Internet. Our commitment to open systems is not altruistic. Rather it’s good business, since an open Internet creates a steady stream of innovations that attracts users and usage and grows the entire industry.
And here’s the kicker:
Finally, we must always give control to the user. If we have information about a user, as with IBA, it should be easy for the user to delete that information and opt-out. If they use our products and store content with us, it’s their content, not ours.[emphasis added] They should be able to export it or delete it at any time, at no cost, and as easily as possible. Gmail is a great example of this since we offer free forwarding to any address. The ability to switch is critical, so instead of building walls around your product, build bridges. Give users real options.
Yeah right, give users “real options” except when it comes to selling or sharing their super-cool, nifty (and expensive) Google Glass. I’d be fine with Google dictating licensing terms for their products, if only they were fine with me doing the same. Hypocrisy, thy name is Google.