Google V. Our Trust

Leaving Google is going to be a lot of work…and compromise. But it’ll be worth it since they just turned full heel on us all.

Mike Vardy

My soon-to-be Podcasting Co-host1 dropped a bomb on Twitter. He is leaving Google in light of some of their recent, questionable decisions. He is slowly but surely going to unravel as much of his life as possible from their services. And from my understanding, his life is rather raveled in them.

Between recent privacy changes (which I agree with Ben Brooks on, it isn’t a problem for me) and Search Plus Your World (which I agree with MG Siegler on, it’s a relevancy problem for Google as well as a ethical issue for me), many of us can’t help but question Google. So much of this just feels like the strong-arm tactics we saw from Microsoft in the ’90s.

Showing themselves this kind of favoritism not only weakens their core service, it’s an indication that Google is willing to go far beyond leveraging their power in search. They are willing to mortgage it.

So much of my life is spent in Google. It’s spent there because I trust them with my data. My life is deeply entwined in their services; they are at the core of how I manage my communication, my scheduling and my network. They are my foundation. Sure, they are reading my emails, my search results and probably have a camera hidden somewhere in my house, but I knew that was the deal when I signed up. They serve me up ads, I get amazing services at low to no cost. Good for the goose…

But if Google is willing to risk what they’ve built in search, you have to stop for a second and ask: what’s sacred to them? We’re all big kids here, and we understand that they’re a business and not our buddy pals, but it certainly shows what kind of company they plan to become and worse yet betrays who they’ve always been. And that, I’m not sure I can continue to trust… but to be completely honest, I’m not sure I’m willing to unravel from it either. I’ve spent a lot of time getting my act together, building up a foundation for getting things done and Google plays several key roles in that structure. That may not seem like a big deal to others, but to when it’s something you’ve lacked for most of your life, you don’t give it up all that easily.

I’m not proud to admit it, but Google has me exactly where they want me… so deeply entwined in their services that I’ll just turn a blind eye whatever nonsense they try to pull. Just as Google is willing to leverage everything for dominance in social media, I can’t help but wonder if my own desire for their services will drive me to ignore their actions. Sure, in theory I can use all of Google’s services except search, where they make their money, but that seems like a pathetic and hypocritical attempt at “taking a stand.” And while I seriously admire Mike’s stance, I can’t help but remember Quit Facebook Day and question the futility of leaving either (then again, I’m probably just rationalizing staying). Hopefully the FTC does something, hopefully enough people with Google speak out and they back off a bit, but to be honest, I doubt it.

So at the end of the day, here’s the question… is Mike Vardy a man of morals? overreacting? Or just one of the first of many?


  1. oh, yeah, I’m going to be doing a podcast with Mike Vardy… SURPRISE!  

40 Responses to Google V. Our Trust

  1. My only thought is on what Vardy is doing is… What if they change back or at least accomodate users in some form due to negative user feedback? Seems like a ton of work for not knowing fully where all this is going. Just my 2 cents. Much respect to him for taking a stand. Braver than I.

    • That’s a great question and one I’d love to know @MikeVardy:disqus ‘s answer on. That said, if no one takes the stance, it’s a given that they wont back off. 

      My approach is wait and see as well, but if you look at that last link. It seems pretty darn clear what that writing is…

      • While we may not know where this is ultimately going, I really doubt Google is going to radically change course on this.

        I know it’s going to be a ton of work, but I think that having all of my eggs in Google’s basket isn’t wise. I may not be able to completely unravel from Google, but I think I can do quite a bit. Any effort is worth it for me at this point.

        Follow my weblog to see where this goes. Although I’m sure Michael will keep you posted with the end results…

        • Looks like I’ll be doing a follow up piece at some point :) I agree, it will be just like SOPA. Even if it goes away for a while, it will come back in some other form with some new name. They want this and they are going to make it happen at all costs. Yet still, I’m so dependent on their services…

          You’re stronger than I am, good sir!

  2. great post, Michael.  this is a huge issue.  there is a LOT of incentive for everyone — users and tech companies — to make this work; Google is not the only one testing the boundaries on this right now.

    • No, they’re not, but what they are doing is diametrically opposed to what they once stood for. I don’t know if you read this quote from Larry Page, but it’s pretty blatant hypocrisy: http://daringfireball.net/linked/2012/01/23/lacy

        • I hear you and I would imagine his years of experience have changed him. I never mind pivots, I never mind big changes, I struggle with utter contradictions of a core belief. It speaks volumes to what is and will continue to be sacred to a person and to a company.

  3. But here’s the deal. You’re not the customer. You’re the product. So they really don’t care how you feel about it. They only care about growing their products so they have more to sell to their customers. I’d be really surprised if enough people unraveled their Google lives that it would affect them. Of course, no one really expected AOL to lose market share, either.

    I struggle with this and with privacy on Facebook for opposite reasons. The stuff I put online is totally cool with me to have there. If I don’t want it out there, I don’t put it there. Maybe the point is not everyone is savvy and they are using data of our grandparents and children, who don’t know the risks. But, for me (and it sounds like you, too) I know the risks and am OK with it.

    • I have no problem being the product, I do however struggle with anticompetitive behavior and crappier search results. I agree that most won’t quit them outright, but I’m already starting to see more traffic coming from alternative sites like DuckDuckGo. Keep in mind, search is where they make their money. If people use it less, in favor of better results, they will have to reconsider. 

      When I put something into a search box, I want the most relevant result for me, not the most relevant result for the search engine.Also, don’t forget, when it comes to Google Apps, I am a customer. I don’t pay a ton, but I do pay. Bottom line, I hated it when Microsoft pulled this crap with browser bundling in the late 90’s and I hate Google bundling (and bungling IMHO) search and social. 

    • How is Michael not Google’s customer?

      I am. I have a Google Mail account which I use every day. Ditto Google Voice, Google Music, and YouTube. I’m also own a smartphone and a tablet, each powered by Google’s Android operating system.

      I’m grateful for their privacy policy changes, because it will be one policy across the dashboard and not individual policies as it is today.

      • Do you pay for any of that, Ari? Your phone, yes, but that money goes to HTC, Motorola, LG or whomever, not Google. When Gini says you’re the product, I’m fairly certain she means that the advertisers are the customer. They’re paying for access to you. You provide that access through the adoption of Google’s free services.

        • Even if I don’t pay I’m still a customer due to the fact that I am using their product. I still require support and search for answers, expecting to find them or be provided them when they are not available.

          • I still can’t help but draw a line between customer and user. Their true customers are those who purchase adwords. We’ve benefited because of those customers. I just question if we are quickly reaching a point where that balance of benefit is about to tip. And if it really tips, it will not be in our favor.

      • Even when you consider that I’m a Google App customer, I know that those costs are significantly mitigated by the benefits to my data being inside Google’s system. We are, to a certain extent, a commodity to them. I knew that when I got into it and I was ok with it as I respected what they did with that data. 

        That said, I do struggle with seeing myself as a full blown customer for many of the services I use. Am I a customer of Google Reader? Am I a customer of Google+. No, I don’t believe I am. There is nowhere I can go, no one I can talk to if I have a problem. What I am is a user and if you don’t treat your users well, they leave you.

          • I completely disagree with you. If you were their customer, you would. Adwords customers have a CS department as do paying Google Apps customers. They service their customers, they don’t service their users.

          • I’m confused, Michael. You write that you’re so deeply entwined in Google’s dashboard that you’re turning a blind eye to their nonsense.

            Yet, you’re arguing with me you’re not their customer and you’re demanding phone numbers, email addresses, and other contact methods beyond what’s at http://www.google.com/contact/ for you to have service inquiries promptly responded.

            I agree Google needs to improve its customer service department, but that’s been an issue on the interwebs for years. Will the status quo be improved now? Look at Facebook; they point everything out at https://www.facebook.com/help/?page=220217228006012 which is no better: view this, view that, fill out a form as a last resort. And who knows when/if that form submission is replied.

            But if you’re turning a blind eye to the company’s privacy policies, why insist upon improved customer service? Isn’t it apples and oranges?

          • I’m not insisting on better service at all. I’m explaining that they give service to their customers and leave their users to fend for themselves. Earlier on you equated users with customers, I fundamentally disagree with this. You are not their customer. You’re not Facebook’s either. You are only a user.

            In the cases that you are a customer (e.g. Adwords, Apps for Business) you get service. They are never going to support their free services with free customer service, nor would I expect them to. After all, I’m only a user in those cases.

          • I’ve talked to account reps before and they are peaches. You just pay for a level of service, free is free but hey have fun in the forum. 

  4. I know people who deleted their Facebook accounts — and then brought them back.

    I deleted my Foursquare account 16 months ago — and then brought it back.

    I doubt anyone can truly separate from Google. Will he now search only on Bing and never view a YouTube video?

    • I think @TheMikeVardy:disqus ‘s made it pretty clear that he knows how hard this is going to be and isn’t sure how fully he can unravel. I also don’t think he is doing this to organize some kind of a movement. He is uncomfortable and is speaking with his data (wonder if that’s going to be the new definition of speaking with your wallet as things progress). 

      The biggest shame of all will be if we stop questioning the ethics of companies like this just because they are hard to leave.

Leave a reply