My fickle relationship with Google

Consider this — certain brand preferences are so rooted in us that it feels natural as breathing when we use one of these rooted products.

When I buy peanut butter, it’s always going to be Jif. When I buy something online, my go to is Amazon. When I buy spices, they will be McCormick.

And when I search online, I use Google.

Google
Why is Google right for searching but not for being in your home?

Thing is, I recently wrote a blog blasting Google Home. For those that don’t know, the Home is Google’s answer to the Amazon Echo: a stand alone, voice-activated speaker. It will play music you request, complete tasks rooted in its interface (like turning off your lights), and answer any trivial question you wish to ask it.

I remain steadfast in my claims about Google Home. I still don’t trust the tech giant because I feel like it is always collecting and storing information on me and housing it in its servers.

Surely, I am not paranoid to suggest that. Right?

But then my mind comes back to this:

Google is unrivaled when it comes to search engines. 

Admit it. It’s Google and everyone else.

When I find someone using Bing or Yahoo!, I feel pity for them. Don’t you feel the same? I wouldn’t be surprised if these noobs still had a Hotmail account and frequented AOL from a dial-up modem.

So then, if I don’t trust the intentions of the market leader, why the heck is it my preferred default search engine?

Easy.

It always has the answers I need. It provides me the most relatable search options without the clutter. What’s more, it’s smart.

Therefore, being smart means using the Google search engine as I need it. It also means recognizing its power and not inviting it into my home imbedded in a speaker that’s always on. That’s not smart.

Google Home is a scary proposition

I don’t always trust Google.

Let me take that back. I don’t trust Google at all.

Call it paranoia, fear or any other similar word you can find in the thesaurus. But a company that wants to store all my data is a company in which I am leery.

I am apprehensive of ever signing up for a Gmail account or using Google Docs or any of the company’s free programs. Free isn’t really free when it means risking your privacy, is it?

That’s why when Google announced Google Home last week, the red sirens blew up in the back of my head.

Google Home is “Always On.” That’s a scary idea. 

In case you don’t know what Google Home is, it’s Google’s answer to the Amazon Echo. If you don’t know what the Echo is, it’s a voice activated speaker. When signaled with the spoken word “Alexa,” it awakens and provides an answer to your command or question. You can ask Alexa to play a certain song, what the temperature is going to be tomorrow, or anything else you could think. It’s a snazzy device to have around the house.

Google Home
This Google Home device scares me more than the Amazon Echo.

There was a concern that Amazon could listen to what you were doing at any given time. But Amazon has held steady that the device can only listen to you when you clearly give it a command. And it doesn’t always get those commands right, so I am not worried. Plus, you can also turn off the microphone at any time. I trust Amazon’s brand enough to believe that to be true.

Yet, I don’t trust Google.

Think about this. The company that controls 90% of all web search traffic and collects all of your data each and every time you use it has now constructed a device that already knows your browsing history and can potentially listen to your interactions at home with “Always On” technology.

I’ll give that a giant, “No thank-you.”

The power of Google is relentless. And I’m sure the Google Home device is revolutionary. But knowing Google is behind it means I’ll never have one in my home.

The confusing Google Alphabet structure

Google announced that it is forming Alphabet to be a holding company of sorts for all of Google’s many and varied businesses. The explanation for this new venture is that Google wanted to separate its money-making businesses from those still in development. That way, the thinking goes, it will be more transparent to Wall Street.

Okay fine, but I don’t really see how creating a parent company is any different than what Google has now and Alphabet is certainly not a better name. YouTube, for example, is not known as Google or even YouTube by Google. It is simply YouTube and the same can be said for Android.

For the sake of simplicity and focus, why add an additional name to confuse matters? The Google division of Alphabet will most likely always dictate what the other business units can and can’t do. The money Google makes has a direct relationship to what, where and how far the other moonshot ideas can go.

That is the way it always has been with Google. Or do I now call it Alphabet?

Adding to the complexity.

I understand the financial desire to break apart disparate businesses. But the reality is that companies already do that with adding complexity. Sony reports the sales figures of each of its divisions, as do all conglomerates. But even with the mistakes that Sony has made over the years, it has kept its name intact.

Here’s the kicker – Sony’s mistakes are well documented, including by me. (Particularly as they related to missing out on combining its music catalogue with its music player only to be kicked in the teeth by Apple’s iPod and iTunes.) But it remained one company with one name.

Is this now the Alphabet headquarters?
Is this now the Alphabet headquarters?

This Google Alphabet structure is running a terrible risk of losing the innovative culture that has propelled the Google brand to be one of the most successful companies on the planet. Adding another layer of bureaucracy, management and complication will not make Google Alphabet more innovative as some have predicted. Instead, it has the real possibility of squashing innovation.

The success of Google has always been the result of it applying its wealth of knowledge from computing to consumer data to infrastructure to other seemingly non-related endeavors, taking brain power from one area and applying to others. Creating a parent creates unnecessary compartments that Google has never had before. In essence, creating a parent company is a direct conflict with its company culture.

Google is relinquishing a portion of its brand equity, throwing away the power of its brand and creating an inefficient brand architecture that it really did not need. Brand is about being clear and simple and easy to understand. Alphabet or Google (I don’t even know what to call it) has done the exact opposite on all counts. Alphabet is not clear, simple and easy to understand.

I have been involved with many companies who claim they are highly innovative and the one thing I know for sure is that red tape kills innovation. Google has created red tape. It’s no longer one Google, it is a collection of companies.

Alphabet will have a honeymoon phase where everyone will play nice and get along. But I have a feeling that, over time, cross pollination of ideas will begin to slow down and some of Google’s world-class talent will view the new structure as a hindrance to being innovative and find that their once beloved Google is now just a corporate cog in ABC company.

The Google monopoly and the right to be forgotten

Europe’s highest court ruled that Google must delete some search results people deem embarrassing. This is causing all sorts of blogs and opinions on what exactly are our rights to privacy. The story so far revolves around requests from convicted pedophiles, criminals and political candidates. Oh, goody.

What is not being debated and should is Google’s ever-increasing stranglehold as the arbiter of free access to information. Google controls 90% of the web search traffic and that is just too much. A decision from Google affects business, governments and individuals. It answers to no one and doesn’t even tell us how it decides the importance of what it decides we should see and read.

IN__GOOGLE__1338298fThe court decision is even more troubling. The decision actually says if such personal data “appears to be inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant,” the search results must be removed.

So I guess Google now decides which answers to our queries are most important and worthy of sharing. Which web sites should be ignored and now will decide if the information is worthy.

Wake up World Wide Web! The promise of access to unlimited information and the liberty of search is being challenged by our own inability to see that our presumably benign decision as to which search engine we use has dramatic impact on openness and liberty. There was a time when there was a long list of search engines to choose from. Now most of us think there are only three: Google, Bing and Yahoo.

But trust me, there is only one and, as long as we use it exclusively, we risk what happened to my business six months ago. You can read my blog on it here.

Unless we do, Google will be free to decide what appears to be inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant.

How Google tried to destroy a small business

Here is an interesting story for you to consider. However, odds are you won’t be able to read it and that is the message. As it turns out, Marshal McLuhan was right. The medium is the message. One more thought before I continue. John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

So, this vital and real company built its market base from the ground up. It is a small company specializing in making other companies smarter and more effective. It competes with some international powerhouse brands with offices on every continent and lists of clientele that read like a who’s who directory.

google_200x200This small company competes effectively with these big boys and wins more than it loses when going head to head. It approaches its new business differently. No dog and pony show. It usually sends one representative to the pitch meetings, never takes speculative creative or makes assumptions and believes its role is to teach— not lecture.

The web site the business built is over 3,000 pages deep. The company has filled it with articles, studies, resources and white papers. Even though this company has just two small offices, its web site drew on average of 600 visitors a day. Some came out of curiosity. Some came to learn something. A few came to seek the company’s services. This little company was found organically on Google’s first or second page for most of the keywords that defined the industry. It was all pretty impressive.

Despite being busy with its clients, this small company posted one or two blogs a day on industry opinions and changes. It added deep content on a regular basis, appeared on TV business news broadcasts, was interviewed by reporters and quoted extensively in every category from transportation to consumer goods.

That all changed on Christmas Eve of this last year. The company fell victim to a computer hack. For a few days in December, 12,000 spam links took Internet shoppers to the company’s web site where clandestine ads had been remotely placed selling Dr Dre headphones and counterfeit Uggs and Coach bags.

Google notified the company that day that it looked as if the site had been hacked. Google imposed something called a “manual penalty.”

Web traffic dropped from 600 visitors a day to 200. The company notified the web site host of the hack and the host found vulnerability in the company’s Contact Us page. Apparently, malware had been inserted as an actionable java script to pepper the site with the spam ads. The problem was fixed. The vulnerability was closed and all the malware was removed.

Google processed the cleaning up of the site and removed the manual penalty mid-January. Web traffic never recovered.

Last Friday, this once vibrant web site had 18 visitors. You can’t even find the site if you Google the company’s category and add the states where it resides. For all intents and purposes this company no longer exists on Google. And Google is the web.

The day Google set the manual penalty, web traffic dropped 88%. This means that Google controls 88% of the news information we all receive. If you believe the search terms you Google are simply a free portal of information, you are wrong. You get what Google wants you to get. No more. No less.

What makes matters worse is that Google operates with no restrictions. In other words, it does not have any obligation to tell you what it deems is wrong with your site or what it wants you to do to correct the “problem.”

If you have not guessed it by now, I am writing this about my own company. Stealing Share.

Our business is in rebranding and branding products, services and companies so that their brands can grow market share. We are good at this. Our roster of clients belies our actual size as we have worked on seven continents and our roster of clients runs from the world’s largest medical device company to the US’s most popular micro-brew. We have repositioned banks, credit unions, logistic companies, manufacturers, fast food chains, retailers, and destinations. In fact, I can’t think of a category that we have not worked in.

We have spent the last six months hiring experts to help us recover from the hack for which Google has held us accountable. The problem is no one knows what Google wants. They are all guessing.

What’s wrong with this story? Nothing if you think that a monopoly is a good thing. Our traffic from Bing has been unaffected. The problem is that Google has 90% of our searches.

We are in the age of the Sovereign State of Google. It has too much power because information is power and Google disguises itself as an unbiased arbiter of information. It is a despotic ruler. One that hides behind nebulous algorithms that it pretends are fair.

Have you noticed, as I have, that the first page or so of Google is made up exclusively of paid advertising and an assortment of news articles? That is not by coincidence. The free and fair search terms that defined the Internet some years back have been manipulated to force companies to buy placement.

Here is to hoping that we all wake up and shop around for a search engine the same way we shop for products and services. Unless we do, Google will remain more important that our elected governments.

Stealing Share will survive. We have a nice network of referrals. But it sure would be nice to have those that need us and don’t know us to able to find us.