Live Blog: “Which Way Google?” At SMX East

Welcome! It’s the “Which Way Google?” panel here at SMX East. We’ve got a great panel — Jeff Jarvis, Steven Levy and Marc Rotenberg — set to cover a range of issues. Let’s live blog.

This is new for me — I never live blog at my own conferences. But I saw the queen of live blogging, Lisa Barone, sitting there ready to go and couldn’t resist trying it myself. Link to her live blogging later. More with the panel.

Jeff Jarvis, professor at CUNY, author of What Would Google Do and new book Private Parts coming up. Steven Levy, most recently author of In The Plex (get it!). Marc Rotenberg, head of the EPIC privacy group and says he’s found quite a bit of time on one particular company — Google.

Chris Sherman, who is moderating, starts off. Is Google making us dumber, as some suggest? Steven, no, it doesn’t make us dumb just because we don’t have to memorize a date. Jeff sees opportunity, not danger.

Chris is bringing up a slide that Marc provided, says “Privacy” in the Google logos. Now we’re getting a video. The Onion talking about Congress funding the CIA-backed Facebook intelligence gathering service.

Chris says that Google has similar issues with Facebook and privacy. Difference in gathering information and using it. Google’s doing great gathering. Are they good stewarts of what they get?

“Everyone’s looking at me,” Marc says. EPIC and Google are on the same side when it comes to government requests. There should be high barriers. But also, EPIC feels if Google didn’t gather so much, they’d be less attractive to the government.

EPIC was very interesting in NSA’s interest in Google after the China action in 2010, when Google said there was some type of Chinese-backed security breach. Concerned that the NSA started working to help Google it seemed. Marc put in a freedom of information act request. Got told the NSA could neither confirm or deny any involvement. That’s being appealed.

Steven says the internet makes a lot of info available, and Google is a means to find it. And that’s caused a lot of people to realize for the first time this stuff is out there, not that Google put it out there. “I always felt that Google should take more ownership of that problem” rather than Larry and Sergey just saying if it’s out there, it’s out there. Not that Steven has a good solution, he adds.

Marc adds a comment, case in Spain, where Google has been ordered to take down some personal information (right to be forgotten) and Google is fighting.

Steven, if you’re wanting to hire someone, you might want to know if they were convicted of child molestation. Good reasons not to forget.

Jeff, what Google and the internet does is let anyone be able to publish, and that’s a precious right. If we go too far with a notion of the right to be forgotten, could be harmful. Do you take stuff out of newspaper archives. Are you asking individuals to forget?

Chris: Google provides pretty sophisticated tools to delete email, search history, if you want. Steven: yes, and in some cases, more transparent than some on that, do more than some of that. But Steven takes them to task for not enough for when they merged the DoubleClick and Google cookies. People might not understand the full trade-off.

Marc’s come around to being a skeptic on a lot of this. When DoubleClick first out, believed there was promise for good advertising without targeting individuals. “I quickly ate my words.” DoubleClick bought Abacus and gave way to link non-identified accounts to personally identifiable information. “The moment that happened, my worldview shifted …. won’t get solved by self-regulation.” Immediately filed an objection, because many companies working with DoubleClick had privacy policies that said no one would be identified. DoubleClick quickly backed up. Privacy settings feel like a million radio dials, where nothing is stable, constantly being turned.

Chris, how about facial recognition that Google has. Marc, Eric Schmidt actual said “that would cross the creepy line” if it were used. But Facebook has embraced it, so gone after then.

Steven remembers being on the Google campus when the decision on this came down not to use it. And also when Facebook decided to move ahead, and how Google was happy someone else would take an arrow over it.

Jeff talking about how a German government official (I think) said it would be taboo. “We haven’t even used it yet” he says, and adds can be used for Google, such as after a disaster. And in the UK to identify terrorists.

Marc interrupts. In the UK, they used it to find political protesters. Is that what we want?

Jeff, can be used for good and bad.

Marc, shouldn’t we have a debate about this before we deploy it?

Jeff, we don’t want to simply forbid it.

Steven, Street View is another example. Yes, is there a privacy issue showing your house from a public street. Sure, but there are also lots of benefits.

Marc, if some large French company were to come to the United States and started photographing homes, I think the US would react in the way some countries have also done outside the US with Google.

Jeff, sure, but we’ve had German privacy official says it’s a major privacy violation. You got a “right to be pixelated” and a “desecration of the digial landscape.” Do you demand that newspapers can’t take pictures.

Steven moving into book issues. He’s not worried that people will copy his books [his publisher is, however -- I can't view all my notes in In The Plex in Kindle because his publisher thinks I've highlighted too much!]. But others did and fought it was a copyright violation.

Marc, Google simply assumed they had that right. And a judge agreed [actually, agreed in part but didn't rule on this in the case that was dismissed].

Steven, if Google disappeared off the face of the earth, there would be another company that would step in there.

Jeff, so why should Google have fewer rights, too.

Steven, if Google wouldn’t have emerged, someone else would have and these issues would still be there.

Chris, how about other issues you see especially for search marketers.

Steven, Google is focused on how to change the search algorithm based on concerns being raised. “You have to take your hat off to Microsoft and AT&T” for raising these issues to regulators. Having covered Microsoft being attacked like this in the past, he though Bill Gates would never wish the same on his worse enemy. Now, “I was wrong.”

As for SEO, now we’re going to see what rights Google has to set its algorithm. He had a past case (the SearchKing case) where one judge ruled Google had a right to its own opinion.

Marc, there’s a lot of Google’s plate — and the Washington DC office has grown in response. With the Buzz settlement that EPIC was instrumental, you see some changes now in Google+. But the anti-trust & monopoly issues, the idea that Google is too dominant, seems to be the biggest thing out there. “that’s the very difficult problem for the company” — it’s very difficult to escape its success, he says.

Jeff, getting big is a problem for many companies. Google seen as Godzilla but thinks of itself as Snuffleupagus. Google does have the power of God like to decide whether someone is spamming or not. He thinks it would be wise if Google had a jury of peers, as a way to perhaps not let it solely have that power.

Steven remembers a few years ago when Google went down for a few hours and Yahoo traffic shot up. Jokes he always suspected Google did that on purpose, as a way to prove that competitors really were a click away. Chris, what about search neutrality? Jeff, potentially kills the SEO industry, that you can’t prove that you raised someone so much. But the battle now is over signal generation, getting more signals from us to better target folks, refine results, but that will get the antennas up from people like Marc.

Marc, I’m not a big fan of SEO or customization, he’d say, but is a big fan of promotion. That doesn’t require a deep dive on someone’s life. And on search, with EPIC, partly because of Senate hearing next week about Google, EPIC filed a new complaint with the FTC about changes in search algorithm pre-purchase of YouTube by Google and after.

We looked at the defaults of YouTube before the acquisition and found default ranking was hits and then user ranking and then one called relevance. So two objective metrics, pre-acquistion. Post, relevance — the internal proprietary metric — became the defaults. That’s the first half of the story.

Second half, post the change, if did a search for “privacy” in YouTube, Google’s videos came to the top. If you use either of the alternative objective metrics, you only get one. “That a use of search to bias.” Sees the same with Microsoft, he says.

Jeff, before the acquisition, YouTube search sucked. So dastardly change or just improving search? Steven echos the same, wouldn’t be surprised that the goal from Google would have been to improve relevance.

Marc — so they used their own algorithms. Steven’s, of course, who else’s would they use. Marc, um hum. Jeff — now wer’e getting into conspiracy theory stuff here, show me the smoking gun.

Marc, we were a competitor in this case, where they were promoting things including Andy Griffith talking privacy, and that all dropped.

Chris, how about Larry coming on, the “spring cleaning” of projects.

Steven, Larry sees things from a product standpoint. wants a coherent strategy, obsessed with idea that Google can’t operate as a clunky bureaucracy. Not a new direction for Google but reassertion of an existing direction, seen this type of purge in the past.

Jeff to Steven, what’s the impact on innovation. Steven: For certain projects, Google will still be a welcoming company. And Google’s had some acquisitions that have gone off the charts. YouTube is incredible, he thinks — if they spun that off, how much would that be worth? Android, a small acquistion that was an amazing achievement. DoubleClick, not Marc’s favorite thing, worked out well. But as for things like Slide, he thinks they went on a crazy binge for anything about social.

Marc asks Steven to explain Zagat. Steven, easy. Went to far using Yelp reviews, reviews are important, so Zagat gives this to them. Challenge is keeping the same user participation [which shouldn't be hard, because when I looked at Zagat reviews, they have relatively few ones. Starting from a low point, it seems].

Jeff, their DNA is as a platform, not a content company [I have a whole post about this I haven't finished! Maybe I will]. I don’t think they can own content. If they treat Zagat as a platform, fine. If they treat it as content, that’s a problem. It does affect their ability to be neutral.

Chris: how about Google+?

Marc, I don’t see over time that Google will be able to capture a significant segment of the social network service, that you get services associated with particular companies.

Jeff, I don’t know that Google+ is a social network, Twitter about broadcasting, Facebook is about publishing (I think?), Google+ is about sharing. Jeff says he sees in his “old” mind Facebook as publishing but talking with his own son, his son said it’s about conversation, just conversation in public. On Google+, it’s still figuring out what it is. But he gets better conversations there than he gets on his own blog [I believe he said]. Doesn’t think there’s one winner — the social network overall is the winner.

Steven, Google doesn’t think it’ll knock off Facebook. But want to be part of it. Google+ wanted to be more real-time, that’s why there are the hangouts. Another thing was improving privacy, especially in wake of Facebook concerns. Third thing, there are big parts that haven’t come online, to make all of Google social, “you haven’t seen yet.”

Marc, so any hints? Steven, just the idea of seeing every part of Google being social. We haven’t seen full integration of YouTube, for example. Take anything on Google, is that fully integrated. Eventually, it probably will be.

Chris: Favorite anecdote or little known fact about Google or closing comments?

Steven, in his book, he said he wanted something interesting on each page even for people who knew Google well. Talks about a big product strategy meeting with all the top people from Google, getting progress reports. He sat in on a number of these, including one where YouTube was showing numbers he wasn’t allowed to share. But thing before this was Google Video and after that was Google Goggles. That’s the kind of thing that happens, these type of big product rulings. Also that day, Schmidt had just watched CBS stream a tennis match, which he loved and wanted YouTube to do the same.

Marc, says there are hard questions he thinks that need to be asking of Google

Jeff, first major exposure to Google was when invited to talk about his book there. What struck him was “it’s a place that defaults to smart.” To me, that alone sets them apart.

Steven, that’s why Motorola Mobility is a big deal. What percentage of those people would have made it through Google’s hiring criteria?

Marc, Google’s hubris has always been its problem, though. Going back to “Don’t Be Evil,” the idea really was “Don’t Be Microsoft” and that they were worried that Microsoft was so arrogant. He thinks people at Google are constantly getting up thinking “Don’t be arrogant, don’t be arrogant.”

Chris: Five years from now, what would be the top issue we’d be talking about relating to Google?

Steven: How do we get back from the Google space station.

Marc: Following the Google breakup, who owns YouTube, search, etc.

Jeff: The ubiquity of connectivity will have an impact, plus Google’s not invicible. They’ll face challenges.

Chris, big risk internal or external?

Marc, that’s a great question. I think Google’s biggest threat is itself and stumbling.

Steven, its size and not trying to be bureucratic.

And that’s it — with an announcement that there are book signings from Jeff and Steven now, and Marc gets laugh saying “I can sign some lawsuits.”

Need more? Lots of background links are below. And here’s Lisa Barone’s live blogging of this session at Outspoken Media.

Related Topics: Channel: Other | Live Blogging | Top News


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


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  • IanLockwood

    Good coverage Danny, thanks, appreciate it.

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