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BLOG: Is Google really out of ideas?

Zafar Anjum | July 26, 2012
Here’s what Google could do with its US$50 billion in cash

Google has done a lot of good stuff (for example, its superb search engine, Gmail, and YouTube, etcetera) in the past but betimes it stokes my anger.

Recently, when I read about a Google app (Google Now?) and how it could track employees in real-time through their smartphones, I thought the IT giant had strayed a bit too far.

But this is not new for Google. "Google is a relationship of convenience for users, but people and organizations should understand that Google has made it clear they intend to own your data regardless of its legality or your desire for privacy," writes Babak Pasdar in his piece, Managing the Google Threat. "Google's actions clearly show that it operates with impunity. From reading your emails and voicemails, collecting data from personal wireless networks, online book publishing without permission and use of third party applications, Google's intent is demonstrated through their track record."

Google has been critiqued over its privacy violations in the Street View case in Europe and the company has even been battling litigation for breaching privacy laws but it is par for the course for a behemoth like Google-pay a couple of million dollars in fine here and a couple of millions there and move on. Small beer for a company with a horde of US$50 billion in cash.

What happened to the company that started with the slogan of 'do no evil'? Where did it lose its sight? How did it become a sort of Big Brother collaborator?

I think the root cause is shareholder expectation and the pressures of the stock market-a successful company has to give glowing earnings report quarter after quarter. That's why a company that started with a great search engine and perhaps 'noble' intentions has strayed into areas such as telecommunications and driverless cars. Today, Google is trying to compete against the likes of Microsoft and Apple, and is sort of mimicking them. But why? To generate and amass even more cash?

Directionless?

There could be the obvious argument that if not mobility and driverless cars, what else could Google do?

The actual question is-could Google have gone down a different route?

I recently watched a video in which Google chairman Eric Schmidt slugged out against Peter Thiel, PayPal co-founder and investor at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen.

In the discussion, the larger point that Thiel was making was that while technology had leaped ahead, all other aspects of our civilisation, such as government and society, had stagnated. For example, he said that average wages had stagnated for the last three decades, leading to increased inequality in society. Similarly, the government has so far not allowed much breakthrough in cracking the energy problem. Basically, he was arguing that America's (and the world's) dependence on fossil fuels should end and new energy technologies should be tapped into and encouraged.

 

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