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Customer Review

131 of 166 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great at ancient history, not so great at current events, May 30, 2011
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This review is from: In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives (Hardcover)
If you want a good history of Google's early years, this is the book for you. The author, a Google booster, had unparalleled access to current and former Google employees and presents more information about the history and development of the company than has reached print before. If you're interested in the causes of Google's recent stumbles, though, the author's hagiographic approach gets in the way of understanding. Here are a half dozen "evil" approaches from the "don't be evil" company that simply are not adequately explained.

(1) Google went into the China market and self-censored itself based on what it understood the Chinese autocrats wanted it to do. It didn't get out of China until the Chinese government launched a sophisticated hack that not only broke into and stole Google's top secret code, it stole the gmail contact lists of Chinese dissidents. Why didn't Google recognize the slippery slope of the rationalizations that allowed it to participate in this charade, especially co-founder Sergey Brin, who had escaped from a similar regime?

(2) Google was initially in favor of the positive public good of "net neutrality" when it was trying to break into the field, but suddenly it's no longer in favor of such neutrality for wireless. Why the about-face?

(3) In its book scan project Google initially took the legal position that what it was doing was fair use, and the author makes clear that the legal community thought it would win on this point. (p. 362). Yet ultimately Google bought into a suggestion from the Writers Guild of America that Google should become the designated internet bookstore for copyrighted books that are out of print and that it should create a registry to determine who should be paid for the books. Not coincidentally, Google would have profited handsomely by this arrangement. The only explanation the author proffers is that "it was a foregone conclusion that [co-founder] Larry Page would sign on.... It was his personal history and that of Google that determined that he embrace the scheme." (p. 362). This tautology is no explanation, and of course a federal judge has now rejected the settlement, a fact that occurred too late to get into this volume.

(4) On the Wi-Fi-street view project, again the author has no explanation as to why Google cars roaming the street sucked up all unprotected communications to and from the internet, other than "the engineers working on the Wi-Fi street view project noticed that someone had written useful code and implemented it." (p. 343). What?

(5) Google implemented a social networking application based on gmail that automatically gave everyone access to your entire email contacts list, and showed the frequency with which you communicated with each contact ("Buzz"). The $8 million privacy settlement that Google entered into a few months ago didn't make its way into this book. How could the "don't be evil" company be so tone deaf on privacy? Again, the author doesn't offer any clues.

(6) The most problematic issue has resulted from Google's purchase of internet ad king Double Click. After the purchase, without letting any of us know, it substituted its former privacy-conserving policy of keeping track of our web browsing only when we clicked through to one of Google's advertisers, to a new policy of keeping track of us every time we visit a web page that either has a connection to Doubleclick or contains Google ads, whether or not we click on the ad. All Google has to do to keep track of ALL of our individual web browsing is to match this up with the search data that it keeps for each of us for 9 months. What guarantee do we have that Google won't do that in the search for the type of profits it was looking for in China, in the book search project, and everywhere else? The author just doesn't say.
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Showing 1-10 of 14 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 31, 2011, 8:58:24 AM PDT
This reviewer had my attention until he started talking about China! OK. Google was outsmarted by China. Get over it!

Posted on Jun 27, 2011, 1:28:41 PM PDT
Leslie says:
Great points. Lots to think about.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 1, 2011, 8:37:33 PM PDT
Britt Park says:
I believe that the reviewer's point was not that they were bested by a very large, very powerful government, but that they took the moral low ground, at the very beginning, of pandering to a repressive totalitarian regime. Make no mistake, Google is not a benevolent company. To be fair I don't think they are entirely consciously malevolent. They simply have a great deal of power, operationally unlimited financial reserves, and the arrogance that is the inevitable result of rapid and spectacular business success.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 1, 2011, 8:59:09 PM PDT
I don't agree. In my opinion Google's original calculation was well intended. They figured that if the people of China had access to Google the benefits would out weigh the detriments. They might still be right. It is difficult to maintain an information blackout in the presence of telephones and the internet.

Posted on Oct 30, 2011, 12:40:46 PM PDT
TivoGuy says:
Sounds like you were looking for an exposé about Google, not a history of them...

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 6, 2012, 1:23:08 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 6, 2012, 1:24:16 PM PST
There needs to be an expose. They are too big. And @ Purdy - did you see the results of being outsmarted. People will die. It's tough being responsible for other people's well being, especially when other people don't want you to. Spoiled. Absolute power etc..

Posted on Sep 2, 2012, 1:31:02 PM PDT
S. S says:
Good points. Can you recommend a better book covering the history of Google?

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 2, 2012, 4:39:07 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 4, 2012, 12:08:46 PM PDT
In my opinion this is by far the best book on Google. The talk about Google taking the moral low ground is nonsense. In that Google has any effect on China at all, it is because of Google's power and the power of the internet. If Google gives up its power, that won't help the Chinese people.
As for the benefits to the Chinese people, it's just the usual effects that telephones also have. Each communication device chips away at the (Chinese) government's monopoly on information.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 4, 2012, 7:56:14 AM PDT
I would liken Google thinking that the Chinese people can't live without them as along the lines of trying to understand why Rich people think the majority of homeless people WANT to be homeless.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 4, 2012, 12:03:24 PM PDT
Analogies can sometimes be very personal things. Your analogy has no traction with me at all.
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