By Greg Mills
Google has famously chosen the mantra, “Google will do no evil.” Recently, in a number of situations that mantra has been tested where, if not evil, questionable things have been done by Google. While certainly, the executive staff at Google has been generous in giving money to worthwhile charities, the ethics of some Google business practices have recently been the subject of lawsuits.
Google has, just in the last few weeks, been caught with their collective pants down in the discovery phase of a lawsuit. The top end of management at Google discussed, in writing, intentionally, using Oracle’s Java code without a license to create the Android OS. When you virtually print your own money with a multi-billion dollar a year advertising company, trying to cheat Oracle by using its Java code without a license is a pretty lame thing to do.
Further, they rewrote some of the code to try to mask the fact that they were using aspects of Java they liked and then lied about it. That is dishonest Google. Now, Oracle has Google in floundering court hearings trying to get around the Oracle law suit claiming intentional infringement and asking for triple damages. (See http://www.dailytech.com/Judge+Suggests+Googles+Android+was+Brazen+in+Infringing+Oracles+IP/article22240.htm .)
Also in the last week Google paid half a billion dollars to settle a Department of Justice inquiry into Google doing advertising for Canadian pharmacies that are barred from doing business with Americans over the Internet. Again, Google intentionally broke the law. It turns out, the Department of Justice had enough proof to have actually filed criminal charges against the current CEO of Google, Larry Page. That might be one reason Google settled out of court for half a billion dollars instead of fighting the charges. (See http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111904787404576532692988751366.html .)
Google has long held the belief that anything that can be posted on-line ought to be posted on-line. Copyrights are for other companies to honor. Google thinks the right to publish copyrighted material shouldn’t apply to them. Book authors tended to disagree, and there was a major discussion as to the rights of authors in the digital world we now live in. Google pressed to convert entire libraries to digital form without honoring the rights of individual copyright holders. =That discussion is still going on as to what a copyright ought to amount to in the digital age. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_Book_Search_Settlement_Agreement .)
Google did sort of wear the white hat in the facial recognition debate, where FaceBook added a feature that allowed its servers to “suggest” the name of a person in a photograph so that future pictures of that person could be labeled by FaceBook’s servers without the consent of the party. European regulators are asserting that FaceBook is violating privacy laws by turning the feature on without the consent of the people photographed. In fact, turning the feature off is hidden behind a number of specific actions required to even find the preference. Many have argued that the feature should be an opt-in, instead of an opt-out.
Google, likely out of fear of legal action, rather than a strong moral code, decided to not turn a similar facial recognition feature on until FaceBook had taken the beatings in court that Google’s attorneys expected correctly were to come. This isn’t because Google didn’t want to do no evil, it was because they figured FaceBook could take the bullet for them and that after the court tests were settled by FaceBook, they could either launch the facial recognition feature or not, but save the expense of litigation. Pretty slick legal thinking, but not action based upon a moral code.
Google, or actually its former CEO Eric Schmidt, was on the Apple board during the time iPhone was in incubation. Shortly before Schmidt left the board he was seen getting his ears laid back by Steve Jobs who had discovered that the Android Phone program at Google was too close for comfort for there to be any co-incidence. Apple and Google have had a rather stressed relationship ever since.
While Apple hasn’t directly sued Google over the Android, every handset maker who produces a phone for Android has felt Apple’s wrath. I would like to have been a fly on the wall hearing exactly what Jobs had to say. Rumors are that he was slightly upset. The screaming, pounding the table and gestures of rage, for which Jobs is famous, were noted by frightened civilians nearby.
Sometimes Google just happens to be the target due to errors as well intentional actions. A woman in Utah sued Google over being run over while “following a Google walking route”.” Since the woman was run over, she or her attorneys finally figured out walking along a busy highway without a sidewalks might be hazardous. What duty did Google have to judge and be legally responsible the dangerousness of such a route? (See http://mashable.com/2010/05/30/google-maps-lawsuit/ .)
Google has had its share of privacy issues come up even before the facial recognition flap. Part of its mapping data was gathered at street level by cars equipped with video, GPS and WiFi sniffing electronics. Not only did they videotape people sun bathing in their birthday suits, they also got charged with electronic eavesdropping by accidentally recording passwords and the like while sniffing for active WiFi routers. (See http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9218106/Judge_rules_against_Google_in_Street_View_Wi_Spy_lawsuit .)
When you operate all over the world, sometime local standards can expose you to legal issues you never anticipated. Google got sued and lost for hosting a video on its video search area that was protected by French law .Google protested that there is an easy way to get videos taken down by simply following on line instructions. They still lost the case and are appealing the judgement. France, like a lot of other third world countries, has Byzantine legal procedures. (See http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20110310/12200013430/google-found-guilty-copyright-infringement-France-not-magically-blocking-infringing-movie.shtml .)
Google has learned there are local standards of decency around the world. They were also roundly criticized for co-operating with Chinese censorship rules. So you see, the mantra of doing no evil is quite complicated when you are as big as Google.
That is Greg’s Bite for today.