April 02, 2011

Google's Integrity - and Missing the Point of a Story from "In The Plex"

Greetings. A bunch of people have been sending me the same story excerpt details from Steven Levy's new book on Google, In the Plex, and asking for my comments.

The incident in question, as recounted by the book, relates to Eric Schmidt, Google CEO (until this Monday, when Larry Page assumes that role). In brief, the claim is made that Schmidt once requested that certain Google search results regarding his political contributions be removed from the Google Search index.

The New York Times says Schmidt denies that the incident ever occurred.

Obviously, I don't independently know the facts. If the circumstances described never happened at all, then any related discussion is essentially meaningless fantasy.

But Google critics are assuming the story is true, and seem to be conveniently
(and perhaps purposely to provide fodder for their anti-Google campaigns) missing the most important aspect as reported.

For the really noteworthy part of the story isn't a request to remove search results per se. I get emails almost every single day from people asking me how to remove search results from Google for all manner of reasons. My answer is always the same. You can't remove Google search results on demand -- and that's a damned good thing.

In fact, by far the key point of the story about the claimed removal request is that it was not accepted, was not approved, and the supposed results in question remained in the Google Search index.

There are firms where such a request from the CEO would be viewed by underlings as an order from God, to be obeyed immediately and without question.

Not so with Google, according to this Levy story. Google comes out smelling like a rose, its search integrity intact and solid.

Of course, such a point of view is inconvenient for those Google competitors and others who are desperately attempting to prove that Google's search algorithms are somehow unfairly rigged. But this saga says that even Google's CEO couldn't bias the results -- the algorithms' ethical guardians firmly saying no.

This speaks volumes in favor of Google's institutional integrity and ethics -- positive attributes that have become all too rare among large companies of late -- as demonstrated by the near depression triggered in part by Wall Street greed, for example.

Google isn't perfect. No firm is. But for those critics who insist that no powerful company is really ever concerned about ethics, or right and wrong, Levy's tale -- whether true or merely apocryphal -- should be serious food for thought.


Posted by Lauren at April 2, 2011 01:45 AM | Permalink
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