Wed 1 Oct 2008
My recent little post has spawned a debate in the combox essentially about whether Mr. Brin is right supporting homosexual “marriage” or not. However, my main point is not whether this is good or bad – after all Mr. Brin is entitled to his opinion just like everyone else. But, he somehow felt that his own name is not enough, that he has to make it his company’s official position. My main point was that this action is bad and has serious implications.
For example all Google employees who are Muslim or christian or just believe differently than Mr. Brin find themselves in a strange position of working for a company that has an official position on a moral and political issue that is strongly against their own. One could say this is their problem, but I find this troubling.
Is it right for a company manager or even founder to impose his views on all of his workforce in this way? Isn’t this arrogance (as rightly pointed out by CMR)? After all he is not representing those people in any way when it comes to issues like this one. Would it be ok if Mr. Brin said that it is official Google position to support Obama or McCain for president? Would that mean he represents the votes of his employees?
Again, I believe private corporations should be allowed to hire whoever they want or do jobs/projects they want (so I find a recent case of prosecuting a photographer for not wanting to cover a homosexual “marriage” outrageous) or have their own criteria for benefits etc. But all this is quite different from publicly weighting on a piece of legislation pertaining to moral or social questions.
Next, someone called me paranoid for even suggesting that Google’s search results and not only results might be affected by their management’s views. A few words on this one too.
First, please notice that over-reliance on Google can affect your worldview anyway – which is something I wrote about long ago. Notice too, that Google is dealing with lots of content, they are not only delivering search – they also host web sites, they host videos, they host groups, they gather and process news (through news.google.com) etc. They have immense power over what is getting through to the majority of Internet users, especially in the English-speaking countries. This power goes unnoticed, people concentrate on press and TV – but truth is newspapers circulation is down, and TV is evolving towards Internet, not away from it.
Now, call me paranoid all you want, but I find this combination of power and strong political views troubling. I have no proof that Google is meddling with search results as such, but considering supportive evidence I don’t think one can rule this out and continue to trust them.
What supportive evidence? Well, there is even a page on Wikipedia devoted to Google’s censorship and you can easily find cases of troubling disappearances of content from Google’s sites:
- Censored by Google Alerts – Crossed Crocodiles on AFRICOM,
- Google Censors Media Outlet Supportive of UN Whistleblowers.
Then there is the case of Google’s refusal to run pro-life ads while at the same time running abortion clinics ads. This is clearly using the power they have over what contents get through according to their own beliefs and views.
Reasons why all those things happen might be different, but those are all examples of power Google has over content. As I wrote above – add strong opinions to power and trouble is likely.
To sum it all up: I think Mr. Brin has stepped over the line he shouldn’t have crossed. At least for me it means I can’t trust Google anymore to provide fair and equal treatment to all opinions in their handling of web content.