Google is a big time brand.
By that I mean it stands for something. It's not just an advertising presence (it doesn't buy ads), it's a set of assumptions and beliefs with a positive emotional resonance for its market.
For those who believe the brand's promise it's the only choice.
"Don't be evil" may drive cynics away, but it's a powerful message many people believe nonetheless.
Google is risking nothing less than its brand through its passivity over Android. Carriers have hijacked the mobile Linux distro and turned it decidedly evil, sometimes even preventing buyers from accessing Google without jailbreaking their phones.
CEO Eric Schmidt's response has been completely passive. Were we to restrict the use of the code, we'd be violating the principles of open source, he says.
Maybe, but Google is not completely powerless here.
- It could do more to encourage jailbreaking, which is legal, to make it easier.
- It could deliver a "clean" (Google-branded) version of the software directly to consumers.
- It could empower its own channel of service people to represent its interests in the mobile market.
- It could deliver a Google-branded phone.
- It could impose conditions on the Android trademark restricting what carriers can do in its name.
- It could talk to the carriers, or talk to the public, jawboning on behalf of Android consumers.
By doing none of these things, Google has allowed its brand to be hijacked, and abused by companies who do not have Google's interests at heart, who are in fact opposed to its business interests.
When people get what they think is a Google Android phone and find it filled with phone carrier crapware they can't delete, they don't just get mad at the carrier. They get mad at Google. Yet Schmidt won't even acknowledge this reality, let alone do anything about it.
Schmidt cites the example of Java, which Sun found itself losing control of before making it open source under the GPL. But the question is not binary. It's not either you make it proprietary or you make it an orphan. Every open source business worth its market cap knows that.
Evil grows when good men do nothing. Google's refusal to rein-in the carriers is hurting the Google brand. That hurt will grow until it acts.