It’s a New Year, so do you think Google might want to renew their resolution “Don’t Be Evil”?
Sadly, it wouldn’t matter. They never really meant it in the first place.
When explaining their company motto in 2004, Google’s founders promised the company would not profit at other people’s expense. But as one critic later wrote, “they should change their slogan to ‘evil are us.’ It seems like every time you turn around they are doing something that is at best questionable and at worst anti-people.”
“Evil are us” is indeed the misanthropic truth of Google’s business. And we’ve got new evidence to prove it in the latest update to The Timeline of Sandal and Strife.
This episode features even more antitrust intrigue, both domestically and abroad. It continues the saga of surveillance capitalism and disregard for people’s privacy and data security. It shows Google has a similar disdain for its own employees as it has for the public. It displays more evidence of Google’s one-way relationship with free expression. Environmental hypocrisy makes an appearance. It’s an All-Star game of misdeeds and lies.
And, since Google hasn’t suddenly gained appreciation for intellectual property, there are new anecdotes about failing to pay creatives their due. Honestly, this constant stream of callous action from one of the world’s largest tech companies has us feeling like we’re living in a post-apocalyptic version of Groundhog Day.
June 22, 2021
The EU announced today that it is investigating whether Google uses its dominance of the digital ad market to stifle competition, such as by requiring competing ad services to use Google’s own services to buy ads on YouTube. “We are concerned that Google has made it harder for rival online advertising services to compete in the so-called ad tech stack,” said Margrethe Vestager, the European Commission’s executive vice president for competition policy. If guilty of anti-competitive behavior, Google could be fined up to 10 percent of its global revenue, which totaled $181.69 billion in 2020. We will give you a moment to pick your jaw up off the floor.
July 7, 2021
A bipartisan group of 36 state attorneys general is suing Google for violating antitrust laws in the way it operates its app store. This antitrust suit – already the third one that states have filed against Google – challenges the company’s plan to charge app developers a 30 percent commission on sales of digital goods or services through the Google Play Store, starting in September. Among other things, the suit says that Google controls 90 percent of the Android app market. In one scheme, Google offered to pay rival Samsung to forgo exclusive deals on high-revenue apps like Fortnite. The payoff proposal backfired since Samsung didn’t accept, yet provides damning evidence of Google’s efforts to stifle competition.
July 13, 2021
Not to be outdone by Australia, France fined Google $593 million for disobeying an April 2020 order to negotiate copyright licenses in good faith with news publishers. The French competition watchdog objected to a Google digital copyright deal because it excluded compensation for current uses of press content online, as well as the use of press images. Later, on December 9, Google would (reluctantly) cough up the cash. Let’s hope there’s more where that came from.
August 6, 2021
In documents unsealed August 5 from Epic’s antitrust lawsuit against Google, Epic alleged that Google considered ending its troubles with Epic by buying the company. Epic, at the time, was working to make Fortnite available by direct download so that it wouldn’t owe commissions to Google Play Store. Epic also alleged that Google tried another anti-competitive tactic: offering a “special deal” if Epic would put Fortnite on the Play Store. Google must have learned its negotiating skills from The Godfather.
August 13, 2021
Giving support to the theory that Google has antipathy for not just copyright but (other people’s) intellectual property generally, the U.S. International Trade Commission issued a preliminary ruling August 13 that Google had violated five patents held by streaming speaker company Sonos. If full investigation bears out the initial findings, then Google’s Home speaker and several related products will be impacted. Stay tuned for more (please forgive us).
August 31, 2021
South Korea passed legislation today making it unlawful for large app-store operators to require use of their in-app purchasing systems. Non-compliant companies could be forced to forfeit three percent of their South Korea revenue. The law is being called the “Google power-abuse-prevention law.” Can the U.S. get that law, too, please?
September 10, 2021
According to a U.S. whistleblower, Google could owe as much as $100 million to employees in 16 countries, where laws demand equal compensation for temporary workers. Google discovered it was underpaying them in December 2020 but worried that correcting the errors would cost too much money and attract negative attention. Therefore, it resolved to pay new temporary workers appropriately in 2021, while continuing to cheat existing ones. Although the United States lacks pay-parity laws, lying to investors – by failing to disclose a significant legal liability, for instance – is still a crime, which is why the whistleblower went to the Securities and Exchange Commission. If a company fails to care for its employees or investors, should we really be surprised that it fails to care for the public?
September 17, 2021
In the run up to Russian elections, the Google Play Store removed an app aimed at coordinating votes against Vladimir Putin. Created by followers of Aleksei A. Navalny, the app was taken down at the behest of Russian officials. In order to serve their bottom lines, platforms like Google continue to operate in oppressive countries, where they submit to authoritarian demands to delete content or block access. Meanwhile, they deflect complaints about their shoddy content moderation by wrapping themselves in the cloak of free expression. You can still smell their dirty money, though.
September 18, 2021
According to an antitrust investigation by Indian officials, Google has engaged in several kinds of anti-competitive behavior. The tech giant inhibited factories from making devices that compete with Google’s, required pre-installation of Google’s own apps, and exercised arbitrary power in the Google Play Store. In the government report’s own words, Google is “one-sided, ambiguous, vague, biased and arbitrary.” The tech giant appears reliable in only one way: it self-preferences in every market.
September 24, 2021
As documents filed in court show, Google knew Chrome’s “Incognito” feature was misleading internet users, which strengthens a pending lawsuit. In 2019, a marketing director warned CEO Sundar Pichai that its description of the Incognito browsing mode as “private” was problematic. Instead of clarifying that Google tracks Incognito users, Pichai chose to avoid public discussion of the topic. Now, plaintiffs want Pichai and his adviser to testify, but their lawyers hope to prevent depositions. Maybe Pichai should just go to court in Incognito mode.
September 29, 2021
Google likes to claim it is environmentally conscious, which makes things awkward when it wants to build another water-chugging data center. Residents of The Dalles, Oregon, are asking how much water Google would need from the local aquifer to keep equipment cool. They are concerned that climate change is threatening Oregon’s water stability and don’t believe that Google’s plans should be allowed to go forward. Ironically, Google refused to share the information on its water usage, saying the data was private and confidential. Google apparently just wants everyone else’s data to be public.
September 29, 2021
Since April 2021, Google has allowed approximately 200 malicious Android apps onto the Play Store. Without consent, these apps subscribed unsuspecting users to paid services – potentially amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars stolen from the pockets of Android users. Cybersecurity experts at Zimperium estimate that criminals infected 10 million devices before Google took the apps out of the store. Guess Google should have looked that “GriftHorse” (Zimperium’s name for the exploitative code) in the mouth.
September 29, 2021
U.S. officials, mainly state attorneys general, have already brought four antitrust suits against Google in the last year, and the DOJ is preparing another. And, on top of that, there are the cases brought by European Union regulators. Undeterred, Google is reportedly making changes to its algorithms so that search results increasingly keep users on Google search or send them to YouTube, rather than referring them to competing sites. For example, query answers, price comparisons, and product reviews may show up right on the search page even more than they do today, and suggested links may prioritize retailers, blogs, and reviews from YouTube. On Google, it seems you can check things out any time you like, but you can never leave.
September 30, 2021
Google has become aware of two “zero-day” exploits affecting Linux, macOS, and Windows users of Chrome. “Zero day” means that hackers discovered the software flaws before developers could issue patches. These were the twelfth and thirteenth zero-day exploits Google has acknowledged this year. Google did not reveal much information about the flaws – which is common practice to avoid giving unaware hackers new ideas – but categorized the risks as “high.” One of the flaws is of a type that hackers had relied upon repeatedly in prior months.
October 2, 2021
Which is worse: when Google intentionally exploits your data, or when it adds “features” making your data vulnerable for others to exploit? According to Forbes, Google has “put Chrome’s 2.6 billion users at risk of ‘surveillance, manipulation and abuse’” by allowing third parties to determine when you are not actively using your device. Apple, Mozilla, and others have expressed concern that hackers may co-opt your device when you aren’t paying attention. Looks like Chrome users need to worry not just about the devil they know – Google – but also about all the devils they don’t know.
October 19, 2021
After 18 months of asking YouTube to enforce its policies against animal abuse, the nonprofit organization Lady Freethinker is suing the platform for breach of contract and notifying the Department of Justice that YouTube illegally spreads “animal crush videos” (read the law). Disturbingly popular and often monetized with ads, the videos show animals being tortured or subjected to dangerous situations, sometimes but not always before rescue. Although YouTube claims it does not want to host such videos, they refused Lady Freethinker’s application to the Trusted Flagger program in April 2021. Now, Lady Freethinker will go to court to defend a damning yet irrefutable allegation: “YouTube has chosen to put profits over principles.”
November 10, 2021
Agreeing with antitrust commissioners, the EU General Court says Google owes a $2.8 billion fine for giving its price comparison tool an unfair advantage over those of competitors. As the Court wrote, “The conduct in question was adopted intentionally, not negligently.” Two other antitrust cases are pending in the EU. If Google loses all three, then they will owe over $9 billion.
Cleaning Up the Mess
As the May 13 Axios/Harris poll proves, Google is losing the trust of its users, and losing it fast. Could it be the case that the company, its once-unassailable reputation tarnished, finally makes the systemic changes needed to right this sinking ship?
We will believe it when we see it.
Look at the years-long, staggering volume of wrongdoings laid out on this timeline. The countless harms Google has inflicted, and the pathological inability to address these harms in any meaningful way.
This mayhem is the direct result of specific choices made by a company who values growth and profitability over the well-being of its users. Google won’t change its ways because Google can’t change its ways. It has, as The New York Times recently wrote, a “cynicism” toward its own customers, choosing “to opt customers in to data collection schemes,” drawing up “dense terms of service policies that give users little recourse but to accept”, and seeking “to trick users through crafty design elements.”
And, “when they don’t like the laws that customers’ chosen elected representatives pass,” the Times continues, “they’ve shown they’re willing to spend hundreds of millions to overturn them.”
This blithe disregard for consumers’ desires is the inevitable result of decades of permissive or nonexistent government oversight, but that era seems to be coming to an end. We the people, and our elected leaders, need to work to end it faster. Sen. Klobuchar’s Social Media Privacy Protection and Consumer Rights Act is a step in the right direction. Our elected officials are finally as fed up as we are, and the window to structurally change Big Tech for the better has never been so wide open.
We encourage you to reach out to our leaders in Congress and let them know that reining in Google and holding it accountable must be a priority going forward. Let’s keep the pressure on.
Google will not clean up the pieces of our society they shattered. It’s up to us to put things back together.