I realize the title of this post sounds melodramatic, but the sentiment behind it isn’t my own. It comes from James Whittaker, formerly the Engineering Director at Google. Whittaker says that, since Larry Page took over as Google CEO, the focus of the company has moved from making great products to making money at the expense of everything else.
Whittaker, who is now Partner Development Manager at Microsoft, says that when Eric Schmidt was running the company, revenue generating by Google’s ad business was used to create innovative products, like Android and Gmail. “Google was an ad company only in the sense that a good TV show is an ad company: having great content attracts advertisers,” wrote Whittaker in a blog post.
The former Google exec says the change came with the rise of Facebook. Because this is a social-networking service, it can provide advertisers with immense amounts of information about the interests of consumers, something Google couldn’t do. This apparently spooked the company to the point where Larry Page was brought back to chart a new course, which could be summed up as doing everything possible to gather data about users, allowing Google to compete better with Facebook in advertising.
The most obvious example of this was the launch of Google+, a social networking service designed to go toe-to-toe with Facebook. Whittaker says that, in addition, many previous company offerings were reworked to gather user data, including the Android OS. Anything that didn’t directly contribute to that goal was canceled, like Google Labs.
“The days of old Google hiring smart people and empowering them to invent the future was gone. The new Google knew beyond doubt what the future should look like. Employees had gotten it wrong and corporate intervention would set it right again,” said Whittaker.
So far, that isn’t how things have worked out. Google+ still has a tiny percentage of users compared to Facebook. And recent moves by the company have made many people nervous, especially as they have made clear that Google is gathering as much information about them as possible.
Whittaker summed up his thoughts with, “The Google I was passionate about was a technology company that empowered its employees to innovate. The Google I left was an advertising company with a single corporate-mandated focus.”
My 2 Cents
I decided to turn Whittaker’s comments into a blog post because they are the best explanation I have seen for what what happened to turn Google from a company that many people (including me) loved into something many people (including me) view with suspicion.
Famously, Google’s main policy used to be “Do no evil.” Now it seems that has been replaced by “Do whatever it takes to make as much money as possible.”