Growing Up vs Breaking Things
Facebook’s early motto was “move fast and break things,” but as
they wanted to become more of a platform play
they changed it to “move fast with stability.” Anything
which is central to the web needs significant stability, or it
destroys many other businesses as a side effect of its
As Google has become more dominant, they’ve moved in the
opposite direction. Disruption is promoted as a virtue unto
so long as it doesn’t adversely impact the home team’s business
There are a couple different ways to view big search algorithm
updates. Large, drastic updates implicitly state one of the
we were REALLY wrong yesterday
we are REALLY wrong today
Any change or disruption is easy to justify so
long as you are not the one facing the consequences:
“Smart people have a problem, especially (although not only)
when you put them in large groups. That problem is an ability
to convincingly rationalize nearly anything.” … “Impostor
Syndrome is that voice inside you saying that not everything
is as it seems, and it could all be lost in a moment.
The people with the problem are the people who can’t
hear that voice.” – Googler Avery Pennarun
Monopoly Marketshare in a Flash
Make no mistake, large changes come with false positives and
false negatives. If a monopoly keeps buying marketshare, then
any mistakes they make have more extreme outcomes.
Here’s the Flash update screen (which hits almost every web
browser EXCEPT Google Chrome).
Notice the negative option installs for the Google Chrome web
browser and the Google Toolbar in Internet Explorer.
Why doesn’t that same process hit Chrome? They not only pay
Adobe to use security updates to steal marketshare from other
browsers, but they also
pay Adobe to embed Flash inside Chrome, so Chrome users
never go through the bundleware update process.
Anytime anyone using a browser other than Chrome has a Flash
security update they need to opt out of the bundleware, or they
end up installing Google Chrome as their default web browser,
which is the primary reason Firefox marketshare
is in decline.
“research” new forms of Flash security issues to drive
critical security updates.
Obviously, users love it:
Has anyone noticed that the latest Flash update automatically
installs Google Toolbar and Google Chrome? What a horrible
business decision Adobe. Force installing software like you
are Napster. I would fire the product manager that made that
decision. As a CTO I will be informing my IT staff to set
Flash to ignore updates from this point forward. QA staff
cannot have additional items installed that are not part of
the base browser installation. Ridiculous that Adobe snuck
this crap in. All I can hope now is to find something that
challenges Photoshop so I can move my design team away from
Adobe software as well. Smart move trying to make pennies off
of your high dollar customers.
In Chrome Google is the default search engine. As it is in
Firefox and Opera and Safari and Android and iOS’s web search.
In other words, in most cases across most web interfaces you
have to explicitly change the default to not get Google. And
then even when you do that, you have to be vigilant in
protecting against the various Google bundleware bolted onto
core plugins for other web browsers, or else you still end up
in an ecosystem owned, controlled & tracked by Google.
Those “default” settings are not primarily driven by user
preferences, but by a flow of funds. A few hundred million
dollars here, a billion there, and the market is sewn up.
Google’s user tracking is so widespread & so sophisticated
that their ad cookies
were a primary tool for government surveillance efforts.
Locking Down The Ecosystem
And Chrome is easily the most locked down browser out there.
Whenever Google wants to promote something they have the
ability to bundle it into their web browser, operating system
& search results to try to force participation. In a fluid
system with finite attention, over-promoting one thing means
under-promoting or censoring other options. Google likes to
their cake & eat it too, but
the numbers don’t lie.
I am frustrated @JohnMu saying that it will
not cost CTR. Either Google lied about the increase in CTR
with photos, or they’re lying now.— Rand Fishkin (@randfish)
The Right to Be Forgotten
This brings us back to the current snafu with the “right to be
forgotten” in Europe.
Google notified publishers like the BBC &
The Guardian of their links being removed due to the EU
“right to be forgotten” law. Their goal was to
cause a public relations uproar over “censorship” which
seems to have been a bit
too transparent, causing them to
reverse some of the removals after they got caught with
their hand in the cookie jar.
The breadth of removals is
an ongoing topic of coverage. But if you
are Goldman Sachs instead of a government Google finds
filtering information for you far more reasonable.
Some have looked at the EU policy and compared it to state-run
censorship in China.
Google already hires over 10,000 remote quality raters to rate
search results. How exactly is receiving 70,000 requests a
monumental task? As their public relations propagandists paint
this as an unbelievable burden, they are also highlighting
their own internal policies destroy smaller businesses: “If
a multi-billion dollar corporation is struggling to cope with
70,000 censor requests, imagine how the small business owner
feels when he/she has to disavow thousands or tens of thousands
The World’s Richest Librarian
Google aims to
promote themselves as a digital librarian: “It’s a bit like
saying the book can stay in the library, it just cannot be
included in the library’s card catalogue.”
That analogy is absurd on a number of levels. Which
Sorry About That Incidental Deletion From the Web…
David Drummond’s breathtaking propaganda makes it sound like
Google has virtually no history in censoring access to
In the past we’ve restricted the removals we make from search
to a very short list. It includes information deemed illegal
by a court, such as defamation, pirated content (once we’re
notified by the rights holder), malware, personal information
such as bank details, child sexual abuse imagery and other
things prohibited by local law (like material that glorifies
Nazism in Germany).
Yet Google sends out
hundreds of thousands of warning messages in webmaster
tools every single month.
Google is free to force whatever (often both arbitrary and life
altering) changes they desire onto the search ecosystem. But
the moment anyone else wants any level of discourse or debate
into the process, they feign outrage over the impacts on the
purity of their results.
Despite Google’s great power they do make mistakes. And when
they do, people lose their jobs.
They were penalized November 17, 2012.
At a recent SMX conference Matt Cutts stated
MetaFilter was a false positive.
People noticed the Google update when it happened. It is hard
to miss an overnight 40% decline in your revenues. Yet when
they asked about it, Google did not confirm its existence. That
economic damage hit MetaFilter for nearly two years & they
only got a potential reprieve from after they fired multiple
employees and were able to generate publicity about what had
mentioned, those false positives happen regularly, but most
the people who are hit by them lack political and media
influence, and are thus slaughtered with no chance of recovery.
MetaFilter is no different than tens of thousands of other
good, worthy small businesses who are also laying off
employees – some even closing their doors – as a result of
Google’s Panda filter serving as judge, jury and executioner.
They’ve been as blindly and unfairly cast away to an island
and no one can hear their pleas for help.
The only difference between MetaFilter and tons of other
small businesses on the web is that MetaFilter has friends in
If you read past the headlines & the token slaps of big
brands, these false positive death sentences for small
businesses are a daily occurrence.
And such stories are understated for
fear of coverage creating a witch-hunt:
Conversations I’ve had with web publishers, none of whom
would speak on the record for fear of retribution from Cutts’
webspam team, speak to a litany of frustration at a lack of
transparency and potential bullying from Google. “The very
fact I’m not able to be candid, that’s a testament to the
grotesque power imbalance that’s developed,” the owner of one
widely read, critically acclaimed popular website told me
after their site ran afoul of Cutts’ last Panda update.
Not only does Google engage in anti-competitive censorship, but
they also frequently publish misinformation. Here’s a story
from a week ago of a
restaurant which went under after someone changed their
Google listing store hours to be closed on busy days. That
misinformation was embedded directly in the search results.
That business is no more.
Then there are
areas like locksmiths:
I am one of the few Real Locksmiths here in Denver and I have
been struggling with this for years now. I only get one or
two calls a day now thanks to spammers, and that’s not calls
I do, it’s calls for prices. For instance I just got a call
from a lady locked out of her apt. It is 1130 pm so I told
her 75 dollars, Nope she said someone told her 35
dollars….a fake locksmith no doubt. She didn’t understand
that they meant 35 dollars to come out and look at it. These
spammers charge hundreds to break your lock, they don’t know
how to pick a lock, then they charge you 10 times the price
of some cheap lock from a hardware store. I’m so lost, I need
help from google to remove those listings. Locksmithing is
all I have ever done and now I’m failing at it.
There are entire sectors of the offline economy being reshaped
by Google policies.
When those sectors get coverage, the blame always goes to the
individual business owner who was (somehow?) personally
responsible for Google’s behaviors, or perhaps some coverage of
the nefarious “spammers.”
Never does anybody ask if it is reasonable for Google to
place their own inaccurate $0 editorial front and center.
To even bring up that issue makes one an anti-capitalist nut or
someone who wishes to impede on free speech rights. This even
the process behind
the sausage comes to light.
And while Google arbitrarily polices others, their leaked
contain juicy quotes about their ad policies like:
“We are the only player in our industry still accepting
“We do not make these decisions based on revenue, but as
“As with all of our policies, we do not verify what these
sites actually do, only what they claim to do.”
“I understand that we should not let other companies,
press, etc. influence our decision-making around policy”
Is This “Censorship” Problem New?
This problem of control to access of information is nothing new
– it is only more extreme today. Read the (rarely read)
to Animal Farm, or
John Milton in his fiery 1644 defense of free speech,
Areopagitica, was writing not against the oppressive power of
the state but of the printers guilds. Darnton said the same
was true of John Locke’s writings about free speech. Locke’s
boogeyman wasn’t an oppressive government, but a monopolistic
commercial distribution system that was unfriendly to ways of
organizing information that didn’t fit into its business
model. Sound familiar?
When Google complains about censorship, they are not really
complaining about what may be, but what already is. Their only
problem is the idea that someone other than themselves
should have any input in the process.
“Policy is largely
set by economic elites and organized groups representing
business interests with little concern for public attitudes
or public safety, as long as the public remains passive and
obedient.” ― Noam Chomsky
Many people have come to the same conclusion
Turn on, tune in, drop out
“I think as technologists we should have some safe places where
we can try out some new things and figure out what is the
effect on society, what’s the effect on people, without having
to deploy kind of into the normal world. And people like those
kind of things can go there and experience that and we don’t
have mechanisms for that.” – Larry Page
I have no problem with an “opt-in” techno-utopia test in some
remote corner of the world, but if that’s the sort of operation
he wants to run, it would be appreciated if he stopped bundling
his software into billions of electronic devices & assumed
everyone else is fine with “opting out.”