Google repeated their mantra in the statement attached to their IPO filing in 2004, when Larry Page wrote "Don't be evil." This was to remind us what the big G strives to avoid. And some might already be scared. We don't like to switch tools all the time, and put trust into things served by Google.com. Google may be our website host (Blogger.com), our community (Orkut), our paycheck (AdSense), and last not least our search engine. But we are ready to watch for the signs – and as Google also repeatedly states, other sites are just one click away.
So let's ask ourselves: what if... Google was evil?
The Google search engine has somewhat lost its focus on search. The box is still centered and clearly visible, but there are a dozen new services surrounding it. Such as dating, movies, chat, games, and what-not. Obviously the new mantra is: Don't rely on search alone. People are reminded of AltaVista, and not in a good way.
Gmail usability and privacy corner stones – ads being unobtrusive, and conversations not being passed on to third parties – are suddenly ignored for worse. Gmailers are in trouble and go back to Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, or good old snail mail. Others simply go to jail.
Taking control over your desktop is one thing Google doesn't want to miss out anymore. The new mandatory Blogger.com plug-in smoothly converts your Operating System to Goo-OS... the ultimate in registry tweaking, taskbar control, auto updates and pop-unders Windows technology was never prepared to handle.
"Unbiased search results" was a warm & fuzzy idea pleasing the grassroots cyber-hippies. Welcome to the new web order, this is Google taking back control of its server space. Google is rolling out their self-censorship technology beyond countries like China. Balanced algorithms were yesterday; today we get human-edited results. PageRank never felt so dead.
You heard of that long-lived Google cookie to expire January 17, 2038. And you probably know Google shares it amongst all of its services. (Did you know this is only possible because wherever you are, it's something dot google dot com?) This means when you log-in to Gmail, someone at Google knows what you were web-searching for. When you log-in to Blogger.com, Google tracks what you are publishing. Log-in to Orkut, and Google knows who your friends are, what you like, where you live and how old you are. Let's face it: now that Google merged all your faithfully submitted data, they know more about you than your own mother. Time's ripe for old-fashioned blackmailing or something infinitely more clever... after all, these are Google engineers we're talking about.
Google got this planet's largest copy of the WWW and Usenet. Meaning they pretty much know every email address on the planet, including yours. And who else but the guys from Googleplex would know how to "monetize synergies" of this billion-items mailing list with some, uh, context-relevant unsolicited infomails?
A free Google? Not anymore. Googleplex business has become straight-forward, and instead of attracting your ad-clicks you just pay upfront. Google Groups, a 20-year old archive of Usenet postings – the digital heritage of this world – can now be googled on a pay-per-view basis.
RealPlayer does it. Quicktime does it. Windows XP does it. Pretty much every software on the planet wants you to register. So far nobody found out how this would help you, the user, but one thing's sure – it must help business or there would be no reason to annoy us. And the new Google Toolbar registration pop-ups are the most annoying of them all.
Using the Google AdSense program, millions of webmasters plaster their site walls with context-relevant advertising. They cash in, Google cashes in, and the advertisers carry away hordes of new customers. The new Google AdSense Subliminal program makes sure even more ads fit into the restricted space; and though they will only be shown for a split-second, users just can't escape the hypnotic urge to click – and buy. Freud would be proud.
On the previous pages I've pondered what might happen if Google was evil. These possibilities are nightmares on their own and remind us to watch the big G. One thing however is even worse than being evil: being lazy. So now I'd like to ask... what if Google was lazy?
Larry and Sergey are two extra-smart buddies from Stanford. However it took them a while longer than others to realize vacation, partying, sipping cocktails and basically just not doing anything innovative is more fun than conquering the web. And while civilization invented morals (and later laws) to fight evil, there's no one stopping you from being lazy. Within a single year Google is full of broken links, misspelled help entries, out of stock Froogle products and irrelevant result listings.
The Google GoBot is a little walking piece of hardware with an unprecedented level of intelligence. Fifty-thousand beta versions have been produced in the year 2032, set loose on earth to crawl our cities. A GoBot has just one mission in its electronic mind: uncover fresh information wherever it may hide, whenever it may show. Details will be reported back to the Google headquarters in real-time.
What went right: Google GoBots were designed to uncover secrets, and they were bound to legal laws, too. Spying on dark alleys with their night vision lenses they helped report several crimes. One rather important Las Vegas led drug syndicate had to give up its nationwide activities "due to those pestering Googlebots alerting the police."
What went wrong: Google GoBots had their own idea of human privacy. They started lurking in people's backyards and gardens, peeking through windows into bathrooms, questioning neighbors, and even handing out Google Candy to kids to make them reveal important information on their parents.
In 2011, Google Inc acquires Satellite Empires' network of floating eyes in outer space. Using their image processing technology Google will take a snapshot of everything once a week; plus whenever something moves, they record that too and update their servers. Now when you look to Google for information on John M. from Denver, Colorado, not only will you get whatever's available on the web – you will also be able to get a crystal clear view on his roof and balcony.
What went right:Google Satellite with its seamless zooming into four Exabyte raw image data was a dream come true for city builders and architects alike. Never before would people have such complete grasp of what the world looks like from above. From complete understanding sprang completely new ideas.
What went wrong:Thanks to the ever-preying set of Google Satellite eyes, most older people were too afraid to leave their homes to walk their neighborhood streets ever again.
Many big bosses around the world have a common problem: they don't know how to monitor their employee's internet usage in meaningful ways. One of the biggest causes of delayed projects since the invention of that world wide web (which will be completely lower-case by 2020) is a staff busy looking at videos of dogs wearing clothes, tripping housewives, drunk teenagers jumping off the balcony into trees, subservient Presidents, or scantily clad, mud wrestling ladies battling for no prize at all to the soundtrack of "I will survive." In the near future, Google ImageSpy will try to solve this disturbance by analyzing company web traffic and reporting dubious saucy & funny imagery straight to the CEO.
What went right: Large software projects suddenly got finished in half the time. Global internet traffic decreased by 40% and sysops didn't need to remind co-workers to stop sending large attachments.
What went wrong: Some of the bosses were so busy looking at all the stuff Google ImageSpy dug up, they forget to lead the company and steered right into even bigger chaos.
Inspired by a scene in Truffaut's "Fahrenheit 451," a Google engineer in 2028 creates Google AdWalls. Like a living poster on the wall, they display a variety of items to shop for. The spin here is that AdWalls listen to what people in the room are talking about, managing to display context-relevant information only. If the walls hear a "Honey, where's the toothpaste?" in the morning, they will instantly display the fitting toothpaste commercial trying to talk the viewer into buying it.
What went right: Lonely people realized they could talk to their walls to suppress boredom. While not exactly intelligent, the algorithm always managed to stay on topic.
What went wrong: Landlords installing AdWalls could lower the rent because they'd get a commission for items bought. The idea was that this way, everybody would benefit. However after the first wave of suicide attempts caused by annoying, ever-talking AdWalls, Google felt forced to shut down the program.
It all started with the Google Brainchip, a mix between a backup memory and brain search engine. You'd plug it into your head and it would keep a record of your life, and also allow you to search your brain for things you thought you forgot. Google didn't stop there and introduced all sorts of body extensions, like the Google Powerarms. You could now ask yourself for directions, and your fingers would point the way. The Google Powerarms would later be replaced by the Google Navilegs, which would completely control your navigation.
What went right: The extra brain storage meant you could focus on important things in life, such as love, philosophy, or altruism. People in general started to be nicer to each other because with a perfect memory, disputes were easily settled (no more "I remember it differently"). The Google Babelfish add-on made sure understanding foreign languages was a breeze.
What went wrong: In one word, ads. Of course Google displayed ads, and in their goal to make them as unobtrusive as possible, they only did so during rather inactive brain periods (aka sleep). At night-time, people would dream of the latest products – during day, their subconscious was convinced they'd need to track down and buy those products. While highly effective, this scheme quickly came under fire by the American Psychological Association and other groups. The scandal that finally ended Google Bodyparts, however, was when an underpaid programmer hacked the Google Navilegs system and directed his boss out a 9th floor window.