Would you pay a Google tax?

Would you pay a Google tax?

Summary: Is unprofitable Internet infrastructure too valuable to leave in a private company's hands?

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TOPICS: Google
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Whether Mail, Drive, Calendar or Search, Google provides crucial, popular public Internet infrastructure.

So what happens when it decides that infrastructure is no longer worthy of support? When the profits are not sufficient for a public company's needs?

We learned this the hard way with the recent shutdown of Google Reader. An essay by correspondent Ryan Avent for The Economist frames this decidedly digital issue much in the same way as the roads, bridges, pipes and other physical infrastructure we enjoy.

He writes:

We tend not to entrust this sort of critical public infrastructure to the private sector. Network externalities are all fine and good to ignore so long as they mainly apply to the sharing of news and pics from a weekend trip with college friends. Once they concern large swathes of economic output and the cognitive activity of millions of people, it is difficult to keep the government out. Maybe that deterrent will be sufficient to keep Google providing its most heavily used products. But maybe not.

Should Google's privately provided goods and services become the domain of the government, much as the public transit systems in major cities have? Quite a partisan issue, obviously.

The key point here is that it is perhaps not so strange to think of these things as public services, especially as they become less than profitable.

Would you pay for Google Reader? Support a Wikipedia tax? Long for a BBC-style Facebook license fee?

Topic: Google

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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32 comments
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  • Yes

    Google is extremely powerfull. It know more on you then the governement. Think about it.
    gbouchard99@...
    • Google is bad for business

      Its business decisions over the years prove that Google is a company that can't be trusted, Its time that people move away from Google products. Google is an advertising company with 96 percent from adverts. Enterprise or consumers shouldn't be buying or using software and services from such a company.
      Owllll1net
      • Yes, let's "kill" google

        And let's just Microsoft alive, then we will have a company we can all trust :P
        AleMartin
        • What does Microsoft have to do with this?

          Why do you trolls constantly bring up Microsoft in articles that have nothing to do with Microsoft?

          We get it. You hate Microsoft. Move on.

          It would be like someone bringing up apple in every single ZDNet article even if it had nothing to do with apple. How annoying would that be?
          toddbottom3
          • It was just an example for the owl something

            ... that was perfectly inside context - if you can't see why - you can move on..... if you want - I don't tell people what to do here, I like freedom :)
            Are you annoyed? I'm not :P
            AleMartin
          • One more thing - if you want you can swap Microsfot for IBM, Oracle...

            ... you chose - it's not relevant for my line of reasoning.
            Do you have preference? :)

            A troll - maybe I am. What's that? Someone that can only say good about some companies and bad about some others?!
            AleMartin
      • Let Google pay a tax

        Here's an idea. Make Google pay a tax for using our content and other's technology
        gbouchard99@...
      • advertising is bad?

        There would be no internet if not for advertising. Not to mention much else as well as the modern world would be in the stone age if not for it as it is a key component of capitalism.

        A blanket dismissal of advertising as a bad thing is like the communists decrying all capitalism as evil, and then proceeding to torture and execute all the capitalists and imposing a totalitarianism state for all who remain.

        Ironically, google being funded primarily by advertising frees them up to do things that they want to do for the greater good, and not just worry about how they will generate for the bottom line. I have no problem with google's advertising as it is done in a transparent, open way. Besides, they know they can't do it anyway else, or they'd be toast.
        drwong
        • Hmm

          I think there is a strong case to be made that Google's ad-based policy hurts its users, not helps them.

          You *do* pay for the Google products you use. And I don't mean metaphorically, I mean $$$. You just don't pay Google. You pay the advertisers who advertise on Google. And you pay them *more* than they pay Google, or else they *wouldn't* advertise on Google. That's the way it works.
          x I'm tc
      • Google free day??

        Google Free day??

        Copy and paste the link below

        https://www.facebook.com/search/results.php?q=ronit%20shmaryahu&init=mag_class&tas=0.7564870659813718&search_first_focus=1369301507418#!/GoogleFreeDay
        cssd2013
    • I agree that Google is a powerful company but...

      They are far from essential. I almost never use anythign touched by Google, and my life hasn't suffered for it.

      "Whether Mail, Drive, Calendar or Search, Google provides crucial, popular public Internet infrastructure."

      It is true that these services are popular, but non are particularly crucial to anyone. All are easily replaced by superior alternatives today.
      x I'm tc
  • Good question

    When users get used to have something for free, it's hard to start charging them for the same thing.
    These days free alternatives (free like in gmail or greader being free) are everywhere, if not google, others will provide it.
    Looking at Windows vs Linux, or MS Office vs Libre Office, and other examples, I think people are willing to pay for some products/services.
    AleMartin
  • Would you pay a Google tax?

    No, especially not for Google. Their services just aren't worth paying for.
    Loverock-Davidson
  • Why is everyone blowing this out of proportion?

    "Mail, Drive, Calendar or Search"

    It simply isn't right to equate Google Reader with these services.

    Mail, Drive, and Calendar all have a ton of personal content that is not easily migrated elsewhere. Even worse, if your email address is tied to the service, having that service shut down is a major inconvenience.

    Search is problematic because a ton of time and effort has been placed into SEO that is sometimes specific to certain services.

    Reader? It stored RSS feeds. It didn't store RSS articles, there was no personal information, and it takes a matter of minutes to perfectly migrate your entire database from Google Reader to any of hundreds of other clients or one of the few server based solutions.

    The suggestion that Reader was some kind of "essential" service that should be nationalized is simply not rational.
    toddbottom3
    • Correction

      "It stored RSS feeds"

      Sorry, it stored SUBSCRIPTIONS to RSS feeds. The feeds were clearly hosted elsewhere. This is why Reader shutting down affects nothing.

      And yes, I personally use Google Reader for my RSS subscriptions and quite liked it. I won't get upset by this, it simply isn't a big deal.
      toddbottom3
    • You're missing the point.

      I'm not saying Reader is as essential as, say, Mail. And from what I've read of others' coverage of this issue, neither are they.

      But it was essential to some -- enough, in fact, to prompt some of these questions from that group. To focus on the bigger, more broadly adopted services is to merely scale the fundamental issue -- free, but private, products -- to a place where more of us can understand it.

      I and others are using Reader's fate as the basis to ask questions about the fundamental dynamic of Google's services, regardless of which one we're talking about. Different services have different value to different people. This has nothing to do with data migration; it's about a private service being deemed necessary enough to be public. It's an idea, a concept that we're exploring. To focus on Reader is to miss the point. That's why I haven't here.
      andrew.nusca
      • I apologize

        This whole "Google is evil because they shut down Reader" meme is just getting out of hand but your article is a minor offender at most.

        "this decidedly digital issue much in the same way as the roads, bridges, pipes and other physical infrastructure we enjoy"

        The government should get involved in infrastructure when private companies are not willing to do it themselves or economies of scale allow for a regulated monopoly to lower costs for citizens. There are plenty of essential goods and services that are NOT handled by the government because companies are able and willing to provide those goods and services at affordable rates. Food is pretty essential yet I don't think anyone would suggest that the government should take over this industry (govt should set minimum standards but that's it).

        All the services that you mentioned (email, calendars, etc.) are services that companies are able and willing to provide at a reasonable cost. ISPs provide bundled email as part of the Internet service they charge for. Google is willing to provide free email in return for advertising info. Microsoft (and many others, including Google) are willing to charge for email and customers are willing to pay. apple bundles email with hardware.

        Are these services "essential". Arguably yes but since the free market is so far showing itself to be very capable of providing these services, there is absolutely no need for anyone to step in. It won't make things cheaper and it won't increase innovation. If anything, it would destroy innovation.

        Google probably found it hard to monetize Reader for the exact reason this isn't a big deal, Reader wasn't providing an essential service. Google DOES charge for email (free email is subsidized by advertising and remember Google DOES charge for email in Google Apps) because it IS an essential service and people are willing to pay for it, either to Google, Microsoft, or their ISP.
        toddbottom3
        • Google didn't get out of Reader because it was unpopular

          They got out of it because (in many places) it was probably illegal in some places: http://allthingsd.com/20130324/another-reason-google-reader-died-increased-concern-about-privacy-and-compliance/
          x I'm tc
          • Interesting reading

            It makes sense. I'm sure Google was more shocked than anyone at the outcry but if it brings in no money and is just a liability, it is the right business decision to kill it. No one is being denied RSS so Google is probably (rightfully) thinking that all of this will be forgotten in a few months after people are happily using whatever Reader replacement they've landed on.
            toddbottom3
  • I vote no to gov't providing it.

    "Whether Mail, Drive, Calendar or Search, Google provides crucial, popular public Internet infrastructure."

    Popular, yes. Crucial? I vote no - other people can certainly get mail, calendar, etc from Microsoft, Apple, and other competitors. If Google were to shut something down, we'd just switch to something else.

    I've already moved my RSS to Feedly, and it actually works well, thanks.

    "Should Google's privately provided goods and services become the domain of the government, much as the public transit systems in major cities have?"

    Eh, no. I don't see a reason to shift this stuff to government, and the government hasn't even proven that it's any better at this stuff. It doesn't make any sense to do such a thing.
    CobraA1