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5 reasons to hate Google

Sean X Cummings
5 reasons to hate Google Sean X Cummings

It is a company that is loved, and yet surprisingly hated -- if not despised -- by some. It is the friend whose little strange habits and quirks we once cherished. But now they annoy and grate on our nerves. It is a company that we have held up as a shining beacon of hope -- the giant killer. The company that could stand against Microsoft and the great evil empire.

But alas, the company is but the latest victim of the same pedestal on which we elevated Microsoft years before. Beware that pedestal, for it provides a perch that only looks downward. Sometimes when companies ascend to it, they start to believe they are separate, better versions of humans.

They start to believe their own hype; in that moment, they become lost.

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There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance, between self-assuredness and hubris, and unfortunately Google is straddling that line. Why the perceptive shift in attitudes toward Google? What has the company done other than bring us fantastic tools? Tools, like Android, that have changed entire industries. Tools, like search, that have provided insight into the most remote corners of the world. Why is the simmering of discontent bubbling so intensely under the surface?

While researching this article, I was wholly surprised by the intensity with which people in the industry describe their dealings with the search giant. Where does it come from? Often, there is no single cause -- just an attitudinal shift that, when experienced en masse within a company, can have devastating effects on external perceptions. It could be something as simple as an arrogant statement heard in a bar: "I work for Google, asshole -- what do you do?" (I have heard several variations of this in San Francisco). Such a statement is designed to separate the speaker from others and infer inferiority on the listener. It's a sad reflection of someone whose bitterness from being picked on in high school is rearing its ugly head. Part of the attitudinal shift we're dealing with in this article comes from that separation -- and yet myriad other things as well.

But before I start listing reasons to hate Google, a note of temperance: Whatever personal story you have with Google -- be it good, bad, or indifferent -- let us all cut the company a break. It is but a precocious 12-year-old. And although many of the employees score off the charts on tests of mental intellect, many are emotionally inept. But their hearts are really in the right place. They are attempting to manage insane growth the best way they can, and "do no evil" really appears to be their intent. And intention is extremely important. It is at the core of separating evil from ignorance. Sometimes the company makes mistakes, and because of its size, those mistakes and decisions are amplified.

Read on to learn about five company practices that are currently pissing people off. Then tune in later this week for five more. As you'll see, you do not have to do evil to be a bit of a prick.

There are unintended consequences to Google's success and approach to business that are insidious. Because its core business is so damned profitable, the company can dabble in other segments (that might or might not be core to its long-term strategy). In so doing, the company perverts the economics of that market.

Google Wave is the next big thing! Oops, I'm sorry -- it's Google Buzz (for now).

In the meantime, anyone that was going to compete with Wave gave up on that. After all, how do you compete with free, unlimited resources? Now that the company has ceded the market back, how long does it take to re-energize? I'm not saying Wave is or was the answer. But if you believed in that approach, Google set the market back by a year or two and snuffed out the oxygen from anyone who might have pursued a competitive approach.

One could argue that there's something similar going on with Google Docs. Before Google got into the space, there were a few interesting startups that were trying to build a business. And then along comes Google. However, it could be argued that the company is investing just enough in Docs to make it work in a tolerable way. Is there any reason, given Google's access to engineering talent, that Docs shouldn't be the functional equivalent of Word and Excel by now? Rather, it's a shadow of those programs, and Google is not closing the gap -- nor does the company talk about a roadmap or timeline to do so.

By contrast, those startups had aggressive plans to be able to match and surpass Office due to the continuous improvement nature of the cloud. Yes, those startups could build the better mousetrap, but the world won't beat a path to their doors because that path goes through -- and is trampled by -- Google.

"We tried. It didn't work. We got bored." This approach is not healthy for market evolution.

I hate Google for that.

First of all, if you are lucky enough to get to work with a salesperson at Google, you are among the proud, the few -- the people with insane gobs of cash to spend. The rest of the poor souls wander around aimlessly seeking guidance. In fact, Google's utter lack of support for anyone with a budget less than $20,000 a month is notorious. The only good result cascading out of this situation is that oodles of SEM people are employed throughout the country to support the small businessperson's efforts. In fact, this may be Google's single largest contribution to the economy. Thousands, if not tens of thousands of people, are employed as a direct result of Google's inability to service everyone.

That might change, however. On April 5, Google introduced free AdWords support via 1-866-2Google. Between Monday and Friday, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET, current AdWords advertisers can speak to a real, live, carbon-based life-form.

Let's say, however, you or a client gets banned from AdSense, and you want to find out why. Can you call someone? Nope, that number's only for AdWords. Can you email someone? Nope. What do you do? You have to post to a forum and hope someone answers. Even if you do get a good answer, you still can't do anything about it.

Case in point: A person I know who will remain anonymous (pay attention here, Google -- anonymous) had a site that showed Google's ads for years. Google sent him a ton of tchotchkes to indicate he was a great publisher. But one day in August, he stopped seeing Google ads. No email, no notice. Nothing. He had to post to a forum and wait for an "expert" to weigh in. That person suggested that the site was banned because it potentially had adult content. A user instructed him to use a form to appeal the likely ban. No answer. Another user gave him a link to a form to re-send the ban notice. No answer. Six months later, after being told it could take a few weeks to hear back: nothing. Google obviously has enough business that it can totally ignore long-time customers. If this was any other network, he would have a rep with a name, email address, and phone number.

I hate Google for that.

What if you are spending enough money to "count" and, thus, have a rep? In that case, I wonder if salespeople at Google go through some evade-and-deflect school to learn how to avoid any question that does not give the company more money. If you're actually knowledgeable about the search business, from SEO to SEM and competitive offerings, you are often left in a black hole. Luckily, in my career I've had some very good salespeople at Google -- ones who were upgraded from the fresh-out-of-school luddites with 4.0 GPAs and no clue about what clients are trying to accomplish with their businesses. But it took me awhile to get there -- and close to a $1 million monthly spend with Google for that privilege.

However, I have heard several stories people asking their Google reps a question, and receiving a complete Stepford-wife non sequitur. Example:

Question 1: Can you tell me why session-based results are hitting us so hard?
Question 2: My client is in Palo Alto. Why have you just outsourced its management to India?
Question 3: Why is this landing page getting a Quality Score 8 and this one a Quality Score 9? What's the difference?
Answer to Questions 1-3: Have you tried Google TV yet? Display is going to be huge.

... and I hate Google for that.

Google gets countless resumes each day. How does it decide who works there? How does it decide who will help the company be the best? It makes hard decisions. It weeds people out based on numbers, using those numbers as a proxy for how they will help the company. Grade point average (GPA) is one of the numbers it considers. But what if that GPA is 20 years old? Is the proxy to determine future value to the company as valid as it is for someone straight out of college? Google seems thinks so -- and that is where it fails.

Let me explain.

Mine is but one story of countless that were forwarded to me when I reached out. Google has recruited me no fewer than seven times over the past five years. The company recruited me based on industry experience and my 20-year career. But my GPA, from Cornell University almost 20 years ago, doesn't qualify me to work there. I get an "I'm sorry" from a 20-something internal recruiter (who was in diapers when I graduated) when I disclose my GPA. It makes no difference that I've been in high IQ societies since before the recruiter was born. Or that I built a search-engine technology from scratch. Or, most importantly, that there have been numerous successes directly attributed to my involvement on projects, teams, and brands since graduating in 1992. A 20-year-old GPA disqualifies me. And that was a bitter pill for me to swallow.

I waited years to reveal the above information, as it is humiliating for me to do so -- to believe that I was not "good enough" or failed in some way. I was at first angry, then sad, but over time the bitterness has dissipated. Granted, I still get to roll my eyes when I pick up the phone and it's a recruiter with a great opportunity at Google.

The experience has since become a lesson for me. For years, I too used my intellect to separate myself from others, without considering them as whole people. I put people in the "other" box as a way to feel better about myself. But it was just a reflection of my own insecurities and emotional retardation.

So how does this hurt Google?

Google is hiring the same types of people -- all thinkers and no feelers. Uni-cultures create market-based companies, not creative ones. Market-based companies will take existing products or ideas and make them the best and most efficient products, but they do not really understand need-states of consumers or how to develop the kind of products that revolutionize. They are innovators -- and damn good ones -- but they are not creative.

Without more background diversity in the humanities, a uni-culture breeds a like-minded reliance that isolates a company. Evolution has proven that diversity in a system wins. And as Google continues to grow, it should heed that advice.

Most of what Google develops is to feed the monster of search -- to surround it, insulate it, and protect its single-source revenue stream. But what if, as is happening in mobile right now, search doesn't monetize? What if search remains relevant, but becomes considerably less profitable? What if there is a short-term spike in profitability because of the multiple-screen-habit in-between technologies -- but then it collapses? What if the thing Google is feeding dies? The company has no other viable source of income. If one company with a better mousetrap comes along, Google's entire enterprise collapses.

The more mobile our society becomes, the more we need that better mousetrap.

Google is, and always has been, a one-trick pony when it comes to making money. Worse yet, the fundamental idea for how to make money on that product was not even Google's -- it was GoTo.com's.

Google has been unable to diversify its revenue stream with the most significant brain trust ever assembled in human history. And this is a problem.

The in-or-out game that Google exhibits in its hiring practices is breeding discontent and anger. It provides incentive for some to "take them down," and it makes them considerably more vulnerable. And a vulnerable Google puts us all at risk.

I hate Google for that.

People type things into Google that they wouldn't tell their spouse, physician, or shrink. At Ask.com, when we introduced AskEraser (which allowed you to surf anonymously), we had to specifically stipulate, "When AskEraser is enabled, your search activity will be deleted from Ask.com (not third-party) servers..." See that little "third-party" bolded? Guess who that is? Ask.com is Google's largest distributor of AdWords in the world. Did we want to prevent Google from storing data when people used AskEraser? Yes -- but there really wasn't any way we could force Google to do it. We asked; the company said no.

Why is this concerning? All you have to do is look at AOL. On August 4, 2006, AOL Research released a compressed text file on one of its websites containing 20 million search keywords for more than 650,000 users over a three-month period, intended for research purposes. AOL pulled the file from public access by Aug. 7, but not before it had been mirrored and distributed on the internet. AOL itself did not identify users in the report; however, personally identifiable information was present in many of the queries. Because the queries were attributed by AOL to particular user accounts, identified numerically, an individual could be identified and matched to their account and search history by such information. The New York Times was able to locate an individual from the released and anonymous search records by cross referencing them with phone book listings.

In January 2007, Business 2.0 magazine on CNNMoney ranked the release of the search data No. 57 in a segment called "101 Dumbest Moments in Business." Read more about the AOL Search scandal here.

If Ask.com could introduce AskEraser, why doesn't Google? If the company stands for "do no evil," why not give consumers the choice? However, even more concerning was Eric Schmidt's best answer when questioned on CNBC as to what Google might eventually do with that data (and the concerns around its privacy). To paraphrase, "Maybe people shouldn't enter anything they're concerned or embarrassed about." Seriously, Eric? Are you really that clean? It's spookier than behavioral targeting.

Google has the option to give consumers a choice to be anonymous, and it chooses not to. I hate Google for that.

I know. Now you're thinking, "He's gone too far." But hear me out.

Google makes a big deal about its charitable AdWords grants. And for the charities, it is a boon. The charities, which desperately need help, get grants to help gain visibility. Seriously, what could be so insidious about helping people? We should all give more to charity.

Well, Google really isn't giving anything to charity. Essentially, all it is doing is introducing "funny money" into the economics of the auction system, where the company keeps all the proceeds.

These programs are often managed by the least sophisticated marketers, who have very low incentives to keep their "spends" down. This costs Google nothing, but it requires all commercial players to raise their bids to maintain visibility, thereby raising Google's revenue. It is like Sotheby's putting shills in the audience of its auction house, giving them money, and allowing them to bid up the price on the items up for auction. If the shill wins? No sweat, the company could just put it right back up for auction later. Funny money.

The charitable intent of the program (I am giving Google the initial benefit of the doubt here) has very unintended consequences. I wonder if the company claims the grants on its taxes. Seriously, wouldn't you like a system where you could donate money, make more money back on the donation, and then have the balls to actually deduct the original donation on your taxes? I do have to give the company credit and bow down before the god of capitalism; the economics of that model are brilliant.

What about Google's house ads? When Google is always No. 1, you have to bid like the No. 1 player just to stay in the No. 2 slot. For this, I actually cut the company a break. Broadcast networks have been doing this for years. They continually introduce house ads for other shows or things they promote. The difference? Usually they have to pay for the right to broadcast the event or show. Google pays for -- oh yeah, funny money again.

I do not hate Google for this. I just dislike the perversion of the economics that results from it.

Stay tuned for Wednesday's follow-up article, "5 more reasons to hate Google." And in the meantime, please feel free to kick off the conversation in the comment section. 

Sean X Cummings is chief digital strategist at Suite Partners.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.


to leave comments.

Commenter: Chandler Nguyen

2011, July 19

i thought we could erase the web history or turn the cookie off so that Google won't store our search behaviors? At least i think we can delete all of the search behaviors store on our Google account under Web Search, no?

Commenter: Maciej Fita

2011, April 12

I think often times people hate Google because they don't embrace the changes the company and its tools go through. The changes are great for users people just have to learn how to roll with the punches.

Commenter: Nick Stamoulis

2011, April 12

One of my biggest complaints with Google is how they handle their local listings. I've had clients submit their various store locations only to have all of them rejected! Google assumed that someone was trying to spam the system. While I appreciate that there are people trying to spam Google places, what do legitimate businesses have to do to make sure all their locations are accepted?

Commenter: Ted Morgan

2011, April 11

The big issue that we have seen with Google ourselves is that as they try to figure out their strategy with regards to mobile they are stepping on many other businesses without regards for relationships that are already in place. There has been a lot of talk lately about whether Android is open or closed. That is really up to Google to decide, but when they do change direction they can't retroactively go back and try to break contracts that existed during their prior strategy which Google now feels threatens the new strategy. That is what happened to our signed contracts with major handset manufacturers and because these company rely so much on Google's free stuff (underwritten by arguably monopolistic profits), they have to cave to Google's demands. While certainly aggressive and heavy handed, we believe these actions are also illegal.

Probably the biggest issue is the impact Google's new efforts have on entrepreneurship in general. If there is a company that can spend an unlimited amount of money to enter a new hot area, give away valuable services for free and tie other products to their adoption, it makes it nearly impossible for first mover startups to build anything of value. Your opportunity is very limited if Google can use their market size to take your business or, in our case, force signed customers to dump you. Why will VCs ever venture in key areas that Google might have designs on? Obviously, there is nothing wrong with being a strong competitor but when monopoly profits are used to underwrite predatory pricing against young companies and contracts are changed week to week, the entire startup model is at risk.

Commenter: Steven Comfort

2011, April 11

The GPA hurdle for front-door entry into Google is a well-known one, but I see three problems with your thinking on the topic:

1) Google hires plenty of people with humanities degrees (they're just rarely engineers).

2) You seem to be arguing that people with high GPAs are not creative (or that people with lower GPAs are more creative).

3) Google gets some lower-GPA diversity via employees who enter with an acquisition (but certainly they're a small percentage of total employees).

I agree with you that it's a bit silly to be 20 years removed from university and be judged on your transcript versus your work history -- but the transcript is at least a level-ish playing field to evaluate across...