Can We Trust Google?

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I consider Google to be a great company. I have many friends who are Googlers. I am dependent on many Google services and products.

But if you’ve gotten the sense that Google has been flailing around in a seemingly uncoordinated fashion lately, like a chainsaw run wild, you’re not the only one. And I’m not talking right now about their nightmare “Dragonfly” Chinese censorship project or the righteous rising tide of their own employees’ protests.

Let’s talk about the users. Let’s talk about you and me.

Some of Google’s management decisions are chopping Google’s most loyal users to figurative bloody bits.

Google has fantastic engineering teams, world-class privacy and security teams, brilliant lawyers, and so many other wonderful human and technical resources — yet Google’s upper management apparently still hasn’t really grown up.

To put it bluntly, Google management in key respects treats ordinary users like disposable bathroom paper products, to be used and quickly disposed of without significant consideration of the ultimate impacts.

There’s a site out on the Web that calls itself the Google Graveyard — they list all the Google services that have appeared and then unceremoniously vanished over the years, leaving seas of disappointed and upset users in their wake.

Today Google apparently announced that they’re pushing up the death date for consumer Google+ to April. Just recently they said it was going to be next August, so loyal G+ users — and don’t believe the propaganda, there are vast numbers of them — were planning on the basis of that original date. Google is simultaneously citing a new minor G+ security bug and is apparently using that as an excuse. But we know that’s bogus, because Google simultaneously notes that this minor bug only existed for less than a week and there was no evidence of it being exploited.

Google just wants to dump its social media users who aren’t on YouTube. No matter the many years that those users on G+ have spent building up vibrant communities on the platform. We know Google isn’t killing the essential G+ technical infrastructure, since they plan to continue it for their enterprise (paying) customers.

Who knows, maybe Google will next announce that consumer G+ will shut down 48 hours from now.

Let’s face it, you simply cannot depend on Google honorably even sticking to their own service shutdown dates and not pulling the plug earlier — users be damned! Who really cares about the impacts on those users, right?

You want another recent example? Glad you asked! Google over the last handful of days suddenly, and with no notification at all, started removing a feature from Google Voice, causing the way incoming calls are treated by the system to suddenly change for users employing that option in call screening. Because Google didn’t bother to notify any Google Voice users about this in advance, users only found out when their callers started expressing confusion about what was going on. I’m in useful discussions with the Google Voice team about this situation, and Google asserts that most users didn’t choose a mix of options that were affected by this.

But that’s not the point! For those users who did use that option set, this was a big deal, a major disruptive change that they were not told about (and in fact, still have not officially been informed about as far as I know), leaving them no opportunity to take reasonable proactive actions and limit the negative impacts.

The list of similarly affected Google products and services goes on and on.  Google adds and removes features and changes user interfaces without warning, explanation, or frequently even any documentation. They kill off services — used by millions — on short notice, and even when they give a longer notice they may then suddenly chop months from that interval, as they have with G+.

Some might argue that users who don’t pay for Google services shouldn’t expect much more than nuthin’. But that’s garbage.

Vast numbers of persons depend on Google for many aspects of their lives. In many cases, they would happily pay reasonable fees for better support and some guarantees that Google won’t suddenly kill their favorite services! Innumerable people have told me how they’d happily pay to use consumer G+ or Google Voice under those conditions, and the same goes for many other Google services as well.

And yet, except for the limited offerings in “Google One” and media offerings like YouTube and Music premium services, essentially the only other way to pay for standard Google services is through Google’s “G Suite” enterprise model, which is domain-centric and far more appropriate for corporate users than for individuals.

Google knows that as time goes on their traditional advertising revenue model will become decreasingly effective. This is obviously one reason why they’ve been pivoting toward paid service models aimed at businesses and other organizations. That doesn’t just include G Suite, but great products like their AI offerings, Google Cloud, and more.

But no matter how technically advanced those products, there’s a fundamental question that any potential paying user of them must ask themselves. Can I depend on these services still being available a year from now? Or in five years? How do I know that Google won’t treat business users the same ways as they’ve treated their consumer users?

In fact, sadly, I hear this all the time now. Users tell me that they had been planning to move their business services to Google, but after what they’ve seen happening on the consumer side they just don’t trust Google to be a reliable partner going forward.

And I can’t blame folks for feeling this way. As the old saying goes, “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.”

The increasingly shabby way that Google treats consumer users in the respects that I’ve been discussing here has real world impacts on how potential business users view Google.  The fact that Google has been continuing to pull the rug out from under their most loyal consumer users has not been lost on business observers, who know that even though Google’s services are usually technically superior, that fact alone is not enough to trust Google with your business operations.

Google works quite hard it seems to avoid thinking much about these negative impacts. That’s part of the reasons, I believe, why Google fights so hard against filling commonly accepted roles that so many firms have found to be so incredibly useful, such as ombudspersons, ethics officers, and user advocates.

In some ways, Google management still behaves as if Google was still a bunch of PCs stacked up in a garage. They still have not really taken responsibility for their important place in the world.

Personally, I still believe that Google can turn around this situation for the better. However, I am forced to admit that to date, I do not see significant signs of their being willing to take the significant steps and to make the serious changes necessary for this to occur.

–Lauren–

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4 thoughts on “Can We Trust Google?”

  1. I really think it’s an upper management problem.
    They are disconnected and have no understanding about real users.

  2. And I still miss a statement what happens to Blogger comments linked to G+. Or how to migrate them with the original commentators vanishing in April.

  3. Google is a ship lost in the sea..
    Nobody will use a new Google service, when they discard “old” products every day.

  4. I’ve concluded that they can’t be trusted, and given up. The only Google services I’m still using are Drive (because I get a load of space free) and Calendar. I’ve even ditched Gmail.

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