Since the English version of this book was published in 2011, Google has been accused, investigated, and punished for one misdeed after another. The offences include violating users’ privacy, infringing others’ property rights, engaging in anti-competitive behavior, obstructing investigations, and breaking rules and laws. Google critic Scott Cleland’s book is the only book that makes sense out of what is clearly a pattern of misbehavior, showing that it is a natural consequence of Google’s strategy, ambitions, and tactics.
Google remains the dominant force in the digital information universe. Simply put, there is no escaping Google’s clout and reach. Though Google is not the top search engine in Korea, the company has tremendous power over Korea’s economy, and collects a huge volume of data about Korea and Koreans. Google is the information and e-commerce gatekeeper in most of the countries that Korean exporters do business. Troublingly, Google is both a partner and a competitor to Korean electronics giants Samsung and LG. And Google collects massive amounts of data about Korean businesses, homes, and individuals through Google Earth, Google Street View, Gmail, and hundreds of other products.
Google is being investigated by the Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC). Google claims it is cooperating with this and other probes around the world. Reportedly, when KFTC investigators raided Google’s Korean office in September of 2011, employees deleted files from computers. Claiming they were telecommuting, employees stayed home the following day. The KFTC is considering fining Google for obstructing its investigation.
Unfortunately, this can’t be dismissed as just a misunderstanding or isolated incident. Google is under investigation in the US and elsewhere for eavesdropping on wireless networks with its Street View cars in what is widely known as the “WiSpy” scandal. When it was first disclosed that Google was recording data (including confidential passwords) sent over unencrypted wireless networks, Google claimed it was an accident—the actions of a lone engineer working without the company’s knowledge or permission. However, an investigation by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) discovered that the engineer told two fellow engineers, one of them a senior manager, what he was doing and described the data collection scheme in a written report that Google says was “preapproved” (implying that no one was expected to read the report). Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told the New York Times, “Google’s rogue engineer scenario collapses in light of the fact that others were aware of the project and did not object.” The FCC fined Google for obstructing its investigation, suggesting that we still don’t know the full story.
The KFTC is particularly concerned that Google is blocking competitors from the burgeoning mobile search market. Naver and Daum complain that Google makes its search engine the default search engine on Android smart phones, that Android phones can’t be ordered with other search engines preloaded, and that it’s very difficult for users to change to a competing search application.
Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility is problematic for Samsung and LG. As the supplier of the Android operating system, Google is a partner. As owner of Motorola Mobility, Google is a competitor, selling competing handsets and controlling a number of essential handset patents. It’s not uncommon for a large corporation to partner with a company in one area and compete with that same company in another. However, it only works when that large corporation acknowledges that there is a potential conflict of interest and takes steps to prevent conflicts and maintain trust. Unfortunately, Google is highly secretive and often says one thing while doing another.
It all makes sense when you realize that Google takes its mission “to organize the world’s information” quite literally. Google wants to control all of the world’s information and it is making tremendous progress toward that goal—digitizing the world’s books, gathering data from the sky and the streets, and monitoring people’s use of the Internet, mobile phones, and other devices.
And that’s why Korea—like other nations—must safeguard its interests.