I know. A guy writing for an Apple website ranting about Google. Alert the media. But, to be honest, this is situation is a little different, as it actually has nothing to do with Apple. While I definitely love Apple products for their design, ease of use, and tightly-knit ecosystem, I have always been open […]
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Why I’m Finally Done With Google

I know. A guy writing for an Apple website ranting about Google. Alert the media. But, to be honest, this is situation is a little different, as it actually has nothing to do with Apple. While I definitely love Apple products for their design, ease of use, and tightly-knit ecosystem, I have always been open to alternatives. I realize that we need multiple successful platforms to drive continued innovation in the mobile and connected device markets. I have even owned a few Android devices, and would be open to the right WebOS or Windows Phone device as a secondary phone or tablet in the future. However, all of that is beside the point, because my issue with Google has nothing to do with iOS, Android, or devices running either platform.

You see, I have been using Gmail, Google Docs, and Picasa Web Albums for a few years now. I have even paid a yearly fee for additional storage space for archiving my photos. However, all that is going to change in the near future. I’m looking for a new digital home, starting right now. Why would I leave Google’s popular services behind? I’ve had my various concerns about Google in the past, but they have finally come to a head, and I just can’t ignore them any longer.

Sure, I’ve poked a little fun at Google for their recent strayings from the path of openness, but I don’t see that as a big problem. They may be playing fast and loose with their definitions, leaving some feeling betrayed in the process, but I see that more as Google taking more control of their business. They have a right to do that. However, I don’t think any company has the right to profit off of the back of customers to whom they offer absolutely no support. If you aren’t aware of the issue I’m referring to, I’m not surprised, as it has received little to no coverage in the mainstream media.

Google, as they do at regular intervals, made changes to their search and page ranking algorithms, which was dubbed the Panda Update, in March of this year. However, unlike many of these updates, Panda has resulted in sweeping changes in how sites are ranked. Unfortunately, while these changes were supposed to help with the problem of sites that “scrape” (copying content from other sites without any attributions or acknowledgement to the original site or author) content from legitimate sources, they have actually made the problem far worse. Since the update, scraping sites are now tending to rank much higher than the sites that originally created the content being scraped. In some cases, the sites who are generating the content have even been blocked from using Google’s AdWords service. To add insult to injury, most of the scraping sites are generating their revenue through, you guessed it, Google AdWords.

Maybe this seems like an honest mistake, and it almost certainly was, but there is more happening here besides the update. This happened two months ago. You can’t tell me Google doesn’t know this is going on after two months. Think about the impact this has on small business and web developers that depend on revenue from AdWords who have seen their rankings plummet. How about those who have been completely blocked from the service? Not only has Google’s screw up affected these people, they are quite literally profiting off of the whole mess. Now consider the fact that, other than support forums that are rarely visited by anyone from Google, there is absolutely no support available. No recourse. None. Zero.

I really can’t think of another organization as large as Google that has so few avenues for support available. Even in cases where we might think it is inadequate, like most cell phone carriers for example, at least there is a path to follow that might lead you to a conclusion. Even in Microsoft’s case, you might have to pay to get decent support, but at least you CAN. Google has become the wizard hiding behind the curtain. They have completely divorced themselves from the consumer. People want to talk about Apple’s “Walled Garden,” approach. Google is no different, however. They just put the wall in a different place- around themselves, with only cell carriers, device manufacturers (and only certain ones, at that), and large enterprise and government customers who use Google’s broader service offering’s able to get inside the gates. The rest of us, even their own customers, are left out in the cold.

I find this situation to be absolutely and utterly outrageous. This type of corporate behavior is indefensible and simply can’t be ignored. But, outside of SEO sites, Google forums, and web developer blogs, it is. The only reason I heard about this Panda Update issue and started digging around and researching it is because I happen to know someone who has been affected in a very negative way by it. If you want to learn more about the Panda Update and some of the issues surrounding it, check out these two articles:

Google’s Panda Update Changed the Playing Field from Business Insider

and

Post-Panda, Your Original Content is Being Outranked by Scrapers & Partners from Google AdWords Konsult SEM / SEO

It was just today that I really understood what these changes in Google’s Panda Update really meant for the people dealing with them. Then came another little bit of seemingly innocuous news from Google I/O today, as they announced their Android@Home initiative. While this certainly didn’t cause outrage like the Panda Update fallout, it did concern me on a couple of fronts once I thought about it. First, while I have had my data privacy concerns with Google and their services before, I have always taken them in stride. I had a good idea of what I was getting into when I signed up for Google Docs and Gmail. I also knew that Google collected data from my old Android devices, much the same way as Apple does (except without Apple’s notable retention bug).

While I understand the reasons for what Google does in the digital space, I have to admit that the thought of allowing Google into the physical space of my home makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up a little. Sure, Google isn’t doing anything new here. Home automation products that tie into home computers and networks have been around for a while. I should know, as I work in a related field (More on that in a moment). However, those products come from device and system manufacturers.  Google doesn’t fit that bill. They are not a software developer, a cell phone OS company, a mail and cloud service provider, or anything else. They may engage in those areas, but Google is first and foremost an advertising company, and they covet data. Everything they do is geared toward those ends. Despite their policies on what they do with said data, oversights have been proven and demonstrated in the past (Google Maps Vans, anyone?), even if they were accidental. Pile this push into the home on top of their growing control, not just handling like everyone else does, but control of consumer, enterprise, and even municipal government data, and I think there is real cause for concern here. What does Google get out of this initiative? When will the ground rules be laid out? Consumers should definitely be wary until Google takes the time to answer all of the privacy questions that being in the physical space of the home raises.

To be perfectly honest, my second concern with the Android@Home offering is more personal in nature, as it is something that could possibly affect my livelihood in a negative way in the future. Following their past business dealings, you can be pretty certain that Google won’t stay “at home,” with this. They will eventually try to broaden into the enterprise space, and use that to grow their reach and feed more data into their various systems. I work as a Application Engineer, programming and developing web based front-ends for Commercial and Industrial Building Automation and Energy Management Systems, so the prospect of Google suddenly entering this market is not a pleasant thought. However, if Google does take this route, they will find that they can’t just buy their way into this particular industry. The main players, Honeywell, Johnson Controls, Siemens, and Schneider Electric, are very large, very well established multi-national corporations, and are much too big to just buy. I’m sure that won’t stop them from trying to beat down the door, though.

While Google’s blatant mistreatment of their own customers is my main gripe, my concerns with just how big Google is and how big they aspire to be have also gotten the better of me. I’ve gotten to my breaking point. It’s time for me to unplug from the Plex. Unfortunately, it seems that it would take a mass exodus, or some extremely bad mass media publicity to shake this giant from their current slumber to help their web-based customers who need it.

For any Google or Android fanboys reading this who are preparing to take aim at me in the comments, please note that I am not necessarily advocating that everyone spontaneously delete their Gmail accounts or walk away from gigs of stored pictures or documents. I would, however, like to get people to think. Specifically, what can be done to get the attention of a company that often steps on, even if inadvertently, its own customers and supporters? How many people blindly sign up for Google accounts without having any idea who they are and what they really do? We have a great recent example in the Apple “Locationgate” story, of consumers who agreed to a practice in a EULA, but then got mad anyway when they found out what was really happening behind the scenes. People need to think about and consider what they are signing up for, especially when it is for something “free,” because there will always be strings attached. People also need to think about corporate responsibility and behavior, and hold companies accountable in some way when they stray off the path.

Thinking about these issues has lead me to start searching for alternatives to Gmail, Google Docs, and Picasa Web Albums that I can move to in the near future.  While most people probably wouldn’t arrive at the same conclusions as I have, I hope they would at least consider these issues, and not just where Google is concerned, but Apple and any other large corporation, as well. As for me, I will stick to my guns. Google’s price for free has finally grown too high for me. I’m out.

Do you have some feedback or a differing viewpoint? How about some practical suggestions for replacements for Google’s free services? Feel free to share them in the comments below.

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