I’m late to this game, which means I get to play Monday morning quarterback. As most of you probably know by now, Google has posted a set of principles for software applications here. The title is interesting: “Feedback requested: A proposal to help fight deceptive Internet software.”
The company asks you send feedback to an email account. There is a cross post on the Google blog, but comments are not turned on. (Imagine the trolls and spamming they’d have to fight if they did enable comments, sigh, too bad…)
The Slashdot hive mind seems to generally approve of this move. Elsewhere, comment has been mainly along the lines of “well done.” Another swish for Google in the White Hat playoffs. And I agree. The principles are very clear, I concur with them on first read. Users have the right to know what software is on their computers, what role it plays in their computing ecosystem, how to get rid of it if they want to, and if and when their experience is being manipulated. All that is good and true.
A secondary line of comments note that these principles may well be covering fire for the introduction of what Markoff reported to be “Puffin,” a PC search application expected shortly from Google. Others have noted that they are a shot across Microsoft’s bow, and again I concur. But they are also a shot across any number of other players’ bows, in this increasingly complicated landscape where partners and customers can also be competitors. If Google were to be truly audacious, these principles just might be a way of undermining competitive ad networks such as Yahoo, Claria, and others.
Why? First, they win by comparison. Google is in the advertising business, and by taking the high road (as they always have in the past), they are laying groundwork for branding any number of competitors as black hats. Think of Yahoo’s paid inclusion program. It doesn’t take much to lay these principles against that practice, and draw a comparison – Yahoo doesn’t tell you which listings you see are paid, and which are organic. That violates the principle’s spirit, if not its letter.
Or take Microsoft’s bundling of what might otherwise be free standing web applications: if consumers can’t “unbundle” or delete those applications, that also might be seen as violating the principles. Sure, the context is different, but high ground is high ground.
But the real juice is in the last section of the new principles, called “Keeping Good Company.” It basically says: “We will not partner with anyone who violates these principles, and you shouldn’t either.” The logic folds upon itself: If you partner with those who violate these principles, you yourself violate them, and we will not partner with you. Now that can get quite interesting.
This is why I can’t help but feeling that something else is up here. This sentence was put in italics, and emphasized by Google (under the “Keeping Good Company” section):
Application providers should not allow their products to be bundled with applications that do not meet these guidelines.
It continues (itals mine):
…Getting paid to distribute, or paying money to be distributed with undesirable software enables more undesirable software. Responsible software makers and advertisers can work to prevent such distribution by avoiding these types of business relationships, even if they are through intermediaries…..We believe that it is in our users’ and the industry’s interest to work to eliminate this problem. For this reason, we will strive to distribute our software only in bundles where all applications meet the above guidelines, and we think users will benefit if others in our industry do the same.
Google partners with a lot of folks, and while I can’t put my finger on it, something tells me that this announcement is putting some of those partners on notice in a more broad fashion. After all, what *is* a partner? Someone who distributes Google’s services? Amazon, Ask, AOL, About…all partners. Earthlink, BellSouth, the New York Times…the list goes on and on. And most if not all of the ecommerce world uses intermediaries who bundle software with Kazaa like companies. But what if it’s also folks who advertise *with* Google? Now that would be interesting. Might Google refuse business from someone who also buys ads on Claria, or paid inclusion on Yahoo? No way, you might say. But then again…
Regardless, I imagine these principles have anyone who has a relationship with Google scurrying to their lawyer’s offices, reviewing their own practices, and the practices of their partners, to see if they are violating this new set of terms. (It should be noted that these principles are labeled as “Proposed,” so they can be amended should business partners come up with reasonable objections. But I have pretty good sources telling me Google has very carefully considered the document. It’s not a beta.)
Also not clear are how some other key terms should be read. In the world of the internet, for example, what’s a bundle, and what is “distribution”? Is it just downloaded software? Applications in a box at Circuit City? Co-managed web applications bundled in one place on one site? An ongoing business relationship with AdSense or Overture or Claria?
Similarly, what is meant by “applications”? Just standalone stuff like Toolbar, Deskbar, and the rumored Puffin? Or might this extend to web applications like search and AdSense?
I think it is in fact meant to be read broadly, because the document has this disclaimer at the top:
These guidelines are, by necessity, broad. Software creation and distribution are complex and the technology is continuously evolving. As a result, some useful applications may not comply entirely with these principles and some deceptive practices may not be addressed here. This document is only a start, and focuses on the areas of Internet software and advertising. These guidelines need to be continually updated to keep pace with ever-changing technology.
I wish I could at once see 64 moves down the chessboard in all directions, and predict what the implications might be if these principles were interpreted more broadly. No matter what, many in the industry *will* read these broadly, if only implicitly. The ecology will shift. Google is throwing some weight around here, to good ends, but also to its own. Worth watching. What do you all think?
You know how I get about the concept of the ephemeral to the eternal. From what I can tell, it bores the pants off most of you. But you responded to my write up of Furl, which helps you create a PersonalWeb, and A9, which creates a search history (and more). Given that I am supposed to be writing my book, I won’t give you a detailed report on Seruku, but thanks to Gary Price, I don’t have to, as he’s done it for you. The cool thing about this application is that it allows you to create a local archive of *every page you view on the web.* Now, the fellow behind Furl is quick to point out that Seruku has no comments, no topics, no keywords, and a proprietary format (not to mention, a price tag and no thin client). But still, Gary loves it. And I love that it makes a version of your PersonalWeb that YOU control (trust me, Furl is working on this, and…MSFT, Yahoo and Google are paying attention.) Check it out.
Oh, and by the way. Thank you for all the aid on comment spam. A post on that is forthcoming.
You’ve heard me raise this issue before, during the initial brouhaha over Yahoo’s announcement of paid search, which I tagged as something of a major PR bungle, coming as it did when the world was focused on search thanks to the SES show. Yesterday Danny Sullivan came out with a fine overview of the issue in his SEW newsletter. Watch this space. It is going to get more interesting, that much can be surmised.
Markoff breaks the news officially that Google will have a PC/hard drive search. I was meeting with MSFT folks today when this broke (on my way out from NYC…). That’s a story for another day.
Some have asked what the business model is for local hard drive search. My answer: Good will, and lots of it.
The comment spam is overwhelming. I can’t keep up. I’ll deal with it when I get back from NYC. If anyone has a real solution, I am ready to listen. Now the spammers are changing URLs for every comment. FUCKERS.
Meanwhile, the dinner tonight was quite interesting. A room full of folks in the banking business, buy side analysts, major investment houses, etc. I asked the room – who planned to put in a bid on the Google IPO? Wall Street answered – not a single hand went up. Hmmm.
The Register breaks this “news” – groups of folks get together at Google to determine what to do when difficult issues like the Jew Watch controversy break. Well of course they do. At least the company has an ethics committee in the first place. It’s true, they have not been forthcoming on this subject, but as the reality of being public company sets in, they’ve get better at it. It’s an engineering-driven culture in the process of realizing that it’s playing on a major media stage. DNA changes slowly, and not without pain.
Would love to say that I’ve got loads of time to hang with my NYC buddies, but I’m in for a quick dinner, then back to LA to tend to some family issues. But the quick turnaround means posting will probably be light, if that, for the next two days. And, more likely than not, comment spam will once again wend, borg-like, through the lattices of my site. I’ll try to manage it from the road….
As Stefanie points out, just about zero, in the new Adsense image scheme. Good point. I sympathize with this quote:
“Google’s making a public statement that the only value of a banner is when it’s clicked upon, and it flies in the face of all the research done in the last five years that demonstrates the impact a banner can have on brand awareness and purchase intent,” said Dave Moore, CEO of 24/7 Real Media, a New York-based company that sells advertising for 800 sites worldwide.
“Why shouldn’t I get paid for creating the step to the ultimate purchase?” Moore said.
Brand advertising *is* important, and does deserve some value. Will be interesting to see how this plays out. Clearly, if I am an advertiser and believe in brand advertising, AdSense images make a lot of sense, because (for now) I am getting a lot of free brand advertising. On the other hand, at some point either Google will begin to charge a fee for placement, and/or only image ads which are clicked on will run on the system.
Interesting conclusions by a govt. sponsored panel created as a political bone thrown when the TIA news broke, convened to look into Pentagon and govt. practices.
Excerpts from the NYT coverage:
…The report, expected to be issued in about two weeks, says privacy laws lag far behind advances in information and communications technology….
…”Our nation should use information technology and the power to search digital data to fight terrorism, but should protect privacy while doing so,” it concluded. “In developing and using data mining tools, the government can and must protect privacy.”
Data mining is defined in the report to mean “searches of one or more electronic databases of information concerning U.S. persons, by or on behalf of an agency or employee of the government.”…
….The panel, the Technology and Privacy Advisory Committee, said the Pentagon program (the TIA) was “not the tip of the iceberg, but rather one small specimen in a sea of icebergs.”…
…One of the panel’s most important recommendations is to involve the courts in deciding when the government can search electronic databases….
..”Government access to personal data can threaten individual liberty and invade constitutionally protected informational privacy rights,” the panel said, and these risks will grow as the government amasses data on United States citizens who have done nothing to warrant suspicion….
…The greatest risk of data mining by the government is that it “chills individual behavior,” so people become more likely to follow social norms and less likely to dissent, the panel said. The report traces the tension between security and liberty to the earliest days of the Republic. “Those who trade liberty for safety all too often achieve neither,” it says, echoing Benjamin Franklin….
Mr. Rumsfeld appointed the panel in February 2003 to quell a political uproar over the Pentagon data mining program, headed by John M. Poindexter, a retired rear admiral. Congress cut off money for the program in September 2003, with certain exceptions described in a “classified annex” to the 2004 military spending law.