Google Can Bite Me

If we’re not supposed to shoot the messenger for bad news, neither are we supposed to give him credit for the message when it’s good news.  As the two-year anniversary of the defeat of SOPA approaches, the folks at Google not only want you to remember the date, but they want to double-down on their arrogance and take more than a little credit for preserving creativity itself.  This is certainly consistent with the recent Google/New Year’s TV spot — and admittedly it’s the one I’d produce — that depicts scene after scene of people all over the world doing extraordinary things, mostly captured in videos we can watch on YouTube. And it’s good marketing to align one’s brand with great acts of charity, kindness, and ingenuity, but it’s also just a little bit bullshit, no?  I mean if Google consistently states that its platforms are just a neutral highway, and we can’t blame that highway for any of the trash, theft, or promotion of criminal activity we find on it, then certainly the same neutral highway doesn’t get credit for creating or accomplishing the good stuff, right?  Surely that’s fair. Not if you want to be the landlord of the digital future and also have the serfs thank you for the privilege of their humble residence, it seems.

Never wanting to lose an opportunity to be bizarrely two-faced, Google is sending around a little graphic today to all you GMail users implying that stopping SOPA in January of 2012 actually enabled creativity to continue to thrive on the Web. Never mind that nothing in SOPA could have stopped you or me or any other would-be creator from uploading our works, ideas, or captured events to the Web; that’s just pesky reality.  But Google isn’t satisfied just to effect public policy in its own interests, it also wants to behave like the abusive and negligent father, who creepily shows up with a smile and a hug when his kid wins an award or becomes famous.  After all, this week isn’t just the anniversary of SOPA Blackout Day, it’s also the week Google received its 100 millionth takedown notice from recording artists who would rather not have their works exploited without permission or compensation.  So, the whole, “we protected creativity together” message just kinda makes the skin crawl.  Y’know?

Believe what you want about SOPA Blackout Day.  Propose it as a national holiday, and watch what happens when the majority of American adults ask, “What’s SOPA?” But while Google wants us to mark the day with reverence and forget what a boon it was to their $300+ billion market cap, we should remember also that these web companies don’t create artists, human rights activists, social reformers, great athletes, virtuoso performers, or just cool kids who do things that rekindle our faith in human capacity.  At best, these companies build tools that enable us to more easily see and share all this activity with one another, and it’s no trivial thing; but it’s important to maintain perspective as to whether we need these companies or they need us.

ADDENDUM:  On a related theme, Justin Moyer asks interesting questions about those Google Doodles.  See story in Washington Post.

© 2014, David Newhoff. All rights reserved.

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    • None of which has anything to do with Google, Chrome, or any other of their products. Because lets face it nothing that they do is either unique or innovative. They are simply a large advertising agency that has worked out if how to steal other people’s content.

      • Hah! Maybe. But does that really matter, if Google is literally able to make people cry through their creative works? I thought is a “effective” piece of art, that’s all. Google is not only good and making technology, they are good at producing art too! Here is another interesting one:

      • Did Google make it or did they go out and commission it? There is a difference unless one is going to credit the Vatican for the art of Michelangelo, Cosimo Medicii for work of Fra Angelico, and Henry VIII for the work of Hans Holbein.

      • Well if you want to get at that level: “Google” didn’t make it because “Google” doesn’t exist: it’s a fictional legal construct. It’s pretty obvious some person or persons working on behalf of Google did make it though.

      • Nope. Mostly they buy it in. They don’t innovate they purchase ready made innovation, or technology. The money for the purchases come from the mass exploitation of piracy, counterfeiting, illegal drug sales, and other sources. Primarily they are an ad pusher.

      • There is no effective difference John. When you are an employee of Google, your time and effort is being bought out.

      • There is a huge difference between a company buying up an already developed technology, and a company being instrumental in using its own workforce to develop new technology in-house.

      • I don’t agree. This is how pretty much all technology companies operate, acquisitions are important part of the business.

      • But not exclusive. The company I work for develops all of its own technology. It has bought a couple of other companies, and transferred technology to their products. It was also taken over very early external development projects and brought them to market. That is NOT what Google does. It buys up products that have an already established technology and userbase.

        IOW innovation does not reside within Google anymore than artistic ability resides in a stamp collector.

      • John,

        There is a limit to how innovative a big company can be. The whole startup acquisition thing is part of the tech ecosystem.

        If you have a great idea and you are Google employee, why would you share this with your employer? What do you get out of that? Your maybe middle class, maybe upper middle salary and a nice five figure bonus for a job well done? Hmmm?

        No, what you do if is resign and start your own company (may be with VC funding), and have your company acquired by some larger tech company. If you are successful (which is less likely), you end up with mansion and private jet kind of money. This is how SV works. Many of these startups are started by former “big-tech-company” employees. Actually, virtually all of them. It just how the tech ecosystem works.

      • Which is the point. Google does not innovate. In fact it stifles innovation in the areas that it has a monoploy. It is a monopoly of the worst kind, as it seeks to become dominant in all web spheres, using its accumulated wealth derived from illegal activities, invasive snooping, and socially useless activities such as spamming the web with ads.

      • Even if you believe that, by enabling startups, who are funded by VCs that want to be acquired by companies like Google, they are enabling innovation. Also: Google self driving car. QED.


        Google is huge in deep learning research. Also distributed systems research, the two papers they publicly released (MapReduce, BigTable) took this area of CS by storm. Of course they only release a small part of their research to the public, but the things they tend to release end up being really influential.

      • Self driving cars aren’t new and aren’t a Google thing. Various car manufacturers have been working on that for a number of years. Merc have been working on them since the 1980s. Self driving cars completed a trip from Italy to China in 2010.

      • John,

        Well innovation builds off of other work. Google does a ton of research, and even has a whole organization that does research in any promising area, even ones not directly related to their current business.

        What do you think the tens of thousands of top engineers that Google hires do? [And, yes, they are top tier engineers. It is REALLY FUCKING HARD to get a job at the “chocolate factory”.]

      • The cynic in me says that mostly they are working on how to extract more micro pennies from other peoples content, data-mining and other snoopage on user’s behaviour. Otherwise the stuff that they work on will be deployed entirely within the Googleplex in getting content from one data centre to another. None of which will be of the ‘information wants to be free’ variety.

      • Of course they are a business and they want to find ways to make money. But their research is genuine and does advance the state of CS and other areas. I know you think all they do is steal other people’s content and do nothing of value. But in reality they are providing a service around that content: “organizing the world’s information and making it more useful”. And this service is incredibly valuable.

        If you make a song or photograph your net effect on the world tends to generally be microscopic, because quite frankly there are billions of photographs out there (tens of millions that are free content anyway), tens of millions of audio tracks, etc. There is so much content out there. The problem isn’t content scarcity, that people aren’t making enough stuff, it is information overload, that there is too much. There would be a benefit if in fact, less people created this kind of content and did other things with their lives.

        But I’ll tell you what is valuable. There aren’t many organizations with the technology to organize all this content that the world seems to endlessly create in ridiculous quantities, stuff that can cut through the information overload. The technology needed to make sense of the world’s knowledge and culture is super complicated. What Google does is so crazy complex that there maybe exists one other company with enough engineering expertise to match (and that’s debatable).

        Google is one the largest engineering projects in the history of man. As much as you want to hate on them, pretend like they are doing nothing impressive…they are a $400 billion dollar company. And, well, it’s kind of hard to be worth $400 billion dollars if you aren’t worth something. 🙂

      • Do you ever wonder if Google and other similar companies might be in part the cause of the information overload, rather than the entities that will deliver us from it?

        I think there has always been an immense amount of art being created; more than enough to fill hundreds of lifetimes churned out every second of every day. That is nothing new. It’s what people have always done. It is, to be cliche, kind of the definition of what it is to be “human.”

        All it seems we’ve accomplished is to more accurately measure that amount of art being created; and catalog it all under a scientifically rigorous system of “popular” and “relevance” and “clickthrough.” I worry that in return for seizing this knowledge as an end to itself, justified by any means, we might accidentally trade away the personal freedoms that drive culture to begin with.

      • Does Google organize the world’s information? I don’t think it does at all, it indexes words and phrases but that is about it. It then selects sites containing the words and phrases that you have clicked on before, and it shoves a wikipedia link in at the top. That is basically it. I have a photo blog the pages of which tend to appear high in Google searches, but there is no way that it should be #3 for Galileo tomb, #1 morality painting, #1 borges tympanum, #3 annunciation and visitation, etc. Or that these pages should come ahead of the sites dedicated to the subjects. If my claim was to be organizing the world’s information I’d be mortified.

      • John,

        Maybe you have compelling content for that search terms? It’s hard to say why certain results end up the way they are and obviously Google isn’t perfect. But you know they weren’t the first search engine, they displaced everyone else. And really, they did it by providing a genuinely better search experience. If some company was able to provide an even better service they’d displace Google just like they displaced AltaVista and Yahoo back in the day.


        More people are making content then ever because it’s easier then ever. Right now we are all being content creators simply by posting to this blog. No longer is the public discourse dominated by the media industry. The ability to express yourself, and push new political agenda someone like CNN/NYT would never touch only requires an Internet connection.

        But really I think really one of the most amazing things the Internet has done to humanity is remove the prejudices that follow our biology and culture. For all I know I could be having a conversation with someone from Zimbabwe. And that’s a another thing, there is no concept of race, nationality or ethnicity on the Internet. It doesn’t follow you unless you want it to. If this the real world, you can not escape prejudice. People are naturally prejudiced by their race, age or background, but such things are invisible on the Internet. Prejudice is impossible on truly anonymous forums (this is not one of them, since it requires a persistent identity). There is nothing more free then that. The Internet is really an amazing and powerful tool is all I got to say on that.

      • I have a 3 sentence stub article that has #1 Google position for Thomas Beckett. There is nothing compelling about that.

        Also way back in 1999-2000 a number of us computer nerds started getting messages from our colleagues and friends that Google search was great, and we sort of switched. But we never did any real comparative study and I don’t think any such was ever done. When I switched I don’t actually recall thinking wow this is much better than alta vista. I do know that I ignorantly passed on the message “use google its better’, but that was probably because the page I was looking for appeared on result page 8 rather than result page 10. Back in those days on all browsers you were probably digging into page 20-30 to find real content.

        Google then became familiar in its layout, the search results I don’t think are that much different between Bing and Google, it is familiarity that makes one continue to use it. But I’d hazard that Google know the real differences and that it it were that much better they wouldn’t be paying Mozilla $300 a year to keep it as the default search engine.

      • I see Wikipedia as the #1 search result for that term, and it’s not a three sentence stub article. Maybe your Google is borked? 🙂

      • Don’t think so. In the last year it is near impossible to see the exact search phrase that is being used as most are encrypted, all you can tell is they landed up on page X from the #1 link in a Google search. Even so with a straight Thomas Becket search you’d not expect “december 1170” to bring up a 3 sentence stub as the #3 hit, if some one was claiming to be indexing the world’s information.

  • Well, David, the responder, “M”, another blogger, (the one who posted this video above) thinks Art is Evil.(or so his blog says). I think he may be a Scroogle Robot (one of the Kurzweil models), with ‘artificial’ intelligence. No wonder his response was so ‘artificial’. 😉

    • I think art is evil for the because of the very reason Google made that video above. For some fucked up reason, the human brain is incredibly vulnerable to the manipulation through art. It enables for instance for someone can make a 30 video and influence massive amounts of people without using reason or logic, just by playing on people’s emotions. And it’s incredibly effective. So much that there is a $300+ billion dollar art industry around this.

      The difference of course, is most people don’t have any issue with psychological manipulation if the manipulation furthers their own ends. So they don’t see art as inherently evil, because sometimes art works towards their agenda.

      You might want to separate “art” from “marketing”. But marketing is a field of creative work that is very goal focused in its psychological manipulation, it’s still simply the use of the same artistic and creative techniques everyone uses. The truth is all art is psychological manipulation. Or as Orwell said: “all art is propaganda”.

  • It’s worth actually looking at that quote from Orwell in more context:

    I have been discussing Dickens simply in terms of his ‘message’, and almost ignoring his literary qualities. But every writer, especially every novelist, has a ‘message’, whether he admits it or not, and the minutest details of his work are influenced by it. All art is propaganda. Neither Dickens himself nor the majority of Victorian novelists would have thought of denying this. On the other hand, not all propaganda is art.

    That puts quite a different spin on it then taking that quote in isolation. (Possibly unfairly, part of me suspects that this will be the first time you’ve actually seen that extended quote). Orwell is using “propaganda” simply to mean a “message” and he doesn’t have an issue with that. More importantly, the extended quote makes it clear that Orwell would absolutely not support your contention that marketing and art are the same thing. He explicitly states that isn’t the case.

    He returns to the subject a year later in The Frontiers of Art and Propaganda making his view even clearer.

    It reminded us that propaganda in some form or other lurks in every book, that every work of art has a meaning and a purpose — a political, social and religious purpose — that our aesthetic judgements are always coloured by our prejudices and beliefs. It debunked art for art’s sake.

    So, again, Orwell makes it clear that by “propaganda” he is referring to each work of art existing in a cultural context, not some kind of aesthetic vacuum. But he also goes on to warn against what you’re trying to do with your cherrypicking of his words:

    But is also led for the time being into a blind alley, because it caused countless young writers to try to tie their minds to a political discipline which, if they had stuck to it, would have made mental honesty impossible.

    He does see a difference between art and propaganda as he sees a “frontier” between the two. In fact, what he suggests is that:

    Aesthetic scrupulousness is not enough, but political rectitude is not enough either. The events of the last ten years have left us rather in the air, they have left England for the time being without any discoverable literary trend, but they have helped us to define, better than was possible before, the frontiers of art and propaganda.

    You have a perfect right to your own views. But misrepresenting the views of Orwell quite so heavily is somewhat intellectually dishonest.

    • I don’t get what you are saying? He did say “all art is propaganda”, and he meant it literately.

    • If you are saying that Orwell might not have an issue with art being propaganda, I agree. His stories are indeed propaganda, and very thinly so. I doubt he would dispute that either. Propaganda is kind of like a weapon, you can use it for “noble causes” (depending on how you define noble, for instance propaganda to promote the concept of personal freedom from the state). But propaganda itself is not “noble”. It’s a weapon that manipulates the human mind.

      Likewise, I can not view a profession that inherently is in the business of manipulating the human mind to be noble. Technologists and other “fat nerds” get a lot of hate on this blog. But on the abstract level the fields of science and technology seek natural truths, those that are inherent to the nature of patterns and the Universe itself. While the artist tries to create truth. But it is a flawed assumption that truth is something that can be created and not something that simply is.

      This would not trouble me as much if it wasn’t for the fact that so much human misery and societal impasse comes from the tendency for individuals and groups to try to invent truth as opposed to discovering it.

      • Art isn’t some weapon beamed into peoples heads…
        Art is Personal Expression. It IS what it IS to be human. Relating to someone elses expression isn’t manipulation– it’s connecting to another human being on an emotional level. You need to get out more…

      • Propaganda, in the sense that Orwell uses it, is neither benign or malign. It’s an inescapable part of the human experience. The only way to get away from it would be to refuse to interact with other human beings entirely. And, at no point, does Orwell suggest that propaganda necessarily contains an element of manipulation, at least not in the negative sense you’re using it.

        David’s posts are propaganda. Your replies are propaganda. My counter replies are propaganda.

        I think it’s pretty obvious that the hate on technologists or fat nerds isn’t actually aimed at engineers, radiologists or theoretical scientists. You have a point here, however. Calling the people being criticised “technologists” is actually inaccurate. By definition, technologists apply hard science to technological issues. That isn’t the field that Google or Kim Dotcom are in; they’re primarily businesspeople of one type or another.

      • David’s posts are propaganda. Your replies are propaganda. My counter replies are propaganda.


        No doubt, it’s true. We are generating a type of ‘copyrightable’ creative work in this comments sections and we all have the goal of some kind of manipulation of the reader’s opinions. But the professionalization of this act takes it to another level – people who dedicate their lives to studying this and doing this at a massive scale. It’s bizarre to think that this is something that needs to be “encouraged”.

        As pointed it out Orwell said “not all propaganda is art”. Art is such an impossible thing to define though. I think that it’s true if you separate plain facts or things that are based on formalizations of natural truth from the field of “art”. What’s interesting though is today these forms of “non-art propaganda” carry a lot more weight today, and it’s a reason for our great technological and scientific advancements (like why in most of the US, they teach evolution [based on science] versus creationism [based on a “creative work”]). But this wasn’t always the case. We take for granted our currents era’s increased skepticism towards fabricated truth. This wasn’t always the case of course for most of modern history.

      • And I might anticipate something that religion is different from art. Nope. Religion is a specific kind of art. One that billions of people take a lot more seriously then other forms of art. But any art can be taken seriously.

        In countries where religion belief has been increasingly defeated, natural truth has been able to get a greater foothold. But not without being significantly repelled by the cadre of artists and other various professional liars with popular culture and sports. So maybe instead of praying to a sky god, the new thing might be to revere (almost to deity-like propositions) Justin Bieber (and other “rockstars”) or the groups like Red Sox. Or that the cultural acceptable thing to do is to twerk it like Miley Cyrus.

        The effects of human psychology are similar in either case. In makes people devote themselves to lies over truth, and and the pointless over the profound. In the end of the day, that’s what art is suppose to do. It’s the core of what art is! Because if art wasn’t a giant lie, it would be science.

      • ANYTHING can be used for good or ill…
        Tech can be used for great things, or unimaginable horrors. What does that mean in reference to what you’re (trying) to say above? nothing.
        FWIW, i’m not against ‘tech’… i’m against misuses of it to harm others. I find it fascinating you don’t have a similar view on art…

      • James,

        I agree technology can be used for good or evil (we are of course mixing the objective and the subjective, which can not be helped). Science is just a reflection of the nature of natural truth. A nuclear reaction isn’t a human expression, it simply “is”. Science enables engineering (technology), which enables art. But it’s still art that’s the evil component.

        The science of a nuclear bomb is the nuclear reaction, a natural thing analyzed via the scientific method and mathematics.

        The engineering is the creation of a specification of components such that together they creates a large nuclear reaction in a small space. Engineering is a kind of creativity that is limited in practice by natural truths previously made clearer by science.

        The art is establishing a society and culture needed to actually use the bomb against innocent civilians.

      • @M, I’m not sure you actually said anything in your long post of nuclear bombs and science. WTF does anything you’re saying have anything to do with anything?

  • @ M

    Encouraged in what sense? I think art (or creativity if you prefer) is certainly a valuable component of a larger cultural tapestry. But, really, what I’m arguing for is not for artists to be put on a pedestal as some kind of elite caste. I’m merely arguing that they should have the right to the fruit of their labour (which includes intellectual labour), just like everyone else. I suspect you’re arguing with the positions that other people who comment on this subject hold. There are certainly people that are of the view that we should go out of our way to “save” art. I’m not one of them. Give individual creators the proceeds that commercial exploitation of their work provides.

    And I might anticipate something that religion is different from art. Nope. Religion is a specific kind of art. One that billions of people take a lot more seriously then other forms of art. But any art can be taken seriously.

    In which case, you’re using a definition of “art” so broad that almost everything fits. While the practice of science might not do technically, any attempt to share results certainly would- the publishing of academic papers etc. It’s a valid definition to be using if you’re looking for a deliberately provocative stance to stir debate on what art is. It’s entirely useless in terms of providing clarity though.

    We take for granted our currents era’s increased skepticism towards fabricated truth. This wasn’t always the case of course for most of modern history.

    The Scientific Revolution started in the latter half of the 16th Century. It really isn’t that modern any more. And, even there, it built on the work done in the science of medieval Europe and the Islamic world. The idea that science and religion are in conflict is a minority position; in particular, very few historians of science hold it. The idea that art and religion are in conflict isn’t so much minority as fringe.

    The real issue with creationism is that it is, in fact, a category mistake.

    The effects of human psychology are similar in either case. In makes people devote themselves to lies over truth, and and the pointless over the profound. In the end of the day, that’s what art is suppose to do. It’s the core of what art is! Because if art wasn’t a giant lie, it would be science.

    Ok, I would like you to prove your philosophical views on both art and science using nothing but the scientific method to do so. Because you’ve already argued that’s the only legitimate method for understanding truth, yet, you’re using what is (by your definition) an “art” perspective to argue it. Because, as Orwell pointed out, you’ve backed yourself into a corner where mental honesty is in fact impossible.

    • I agree, there is a certain kind of irony and hypocrisy inherit in using persuasion to argue against persuasion. But this isn’t really any other way. Maybe it’s a kind of copyleft.

    • Kind of a tangent but somewhat in the realm of “irony” and “hypocrisy”..

      Actually I’d mention that I’d a big fan of copyleft, more so then the absence of copyright. A copyleft license is actually “stronger” then public domain in the sense that it requires sharing as a condition of the license. Public domain makes no such demand, only that sharing can not be restricted.

      The benefits of this scenario is especially true for software. In a world without copyright, someone could still maliciously obfuscate a piece of software before further distributing it – making improving such software difficult.

      A copyleft-licensed piece of software (like what this blog is running – WordPress), has provisions to disallow obfuscation and requires that the source code be distributed/available with copies. Not doing so is a violation of the copyright license – copyright infringement!

      So in a way copyleft allows for works that are more free than public domain. Which is a really bizarre conclusion, because copyleft depends on copyright law. That’s obviously why it’s called copyleft, because it uses copyright to well, flip it on its head.

      I must give praise to Richard Stallman for somehow accomplishing this so effectively at least in the software world.

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