Evil?

I’ll admit that today’s screed is a bit more narrowly focused than it is on some days. That said, it’s about a business that touches us all and a business practice that might serve as an example.

English: Google Logo officially released on Ma...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You might know that one of Google’s informal mottos is “don’t be evil.” More formally stated (as it is in their business code) it’s:

Do the right thing: don’t be evil. Honesty and Integrity in all we do. Our business practices are beyond reproach. We make money by doing good things

It also made their IPO documents:

Don’t be evil. We believe strongly that in the long-term, we will be better served — as shareholders and in all other ways — by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short-term gains.

So far, so good.  What’s bugging me and many others today is Google’s announcement that they’re going to be encrypting all search data.  They started doing that on a smaller scale almost two years ago (you can read my post on it here).  For those of us who are in the business of helping companies understand how and why people come to their digital businesses, it made life difficult.  If you’re engaged in search engine optimization, it put a dent in your abilities as well.  However, at the time, Google said it was a measure taken to protect user privacy (for users signed into a Google account) and it wouldn’t affect much of the data.

Fast forward.  It HAS affected a lot of the data and yesterday’s announcement means ALL the data about how people were searching and found your site is gone.  Some are calling it the day SEO died.  I think it’s evil.  Why?  Because you CAN get the data – you just need to pay Google for it.  Their idea of privacy is bullcrap. You can’t offer privacy, but still SELL the data to AdWords advertisers.   There’s also some rumblings that they’re doing this to protect against the NSA program but if the data is still available I can’t see how that would work.  Business practices beyond reproach?  I think a neutral party might say not so fast.

I respect that Google offers a lot of free services, most of which are among the best offered anywhere.  But dumbing down how businesses can make the web a better, more usable place hurts everyone.  Part of why Google and other search engines work is that many of us work hard to be sure our content is discoverable by and clear to the search engines.  This could make search results less accurate.  It also means the ads Google serves will be less well-targeted.  It also means that while big companies will continue to pay for expensive services that offer workarounds, start-ups and smaller businesses will suffer.

I come down on the side of this being evil.  You?

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