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Google: An Apology

Google has decided that search engines should not be used to collate data. We wish to say sorry for believing otherwise

As you may have read elsewhere, News.com — our sister publication in the US — recently published a story concerning Google and online personal privacy. In it staff writer Elinor Mills used Google itself to find out public information about Google chief executive Eric E. Schmidt, which she then published. In response, Google has decided not to talk to any reporter from News.com for a year.

We cannot speak for News.com, although we are proud to march under the same CNET banner. However, we cannot avoid responsibilities for our own actions. Acting under the mistaken impression that Google's search engine was intended to help research public data, we have in the past enthusiastically abused the system to conduct exactly the kind of journalism that Google finds so objectionable.

Clearly, there is no place in modern reporting for this kind of unregulated, unprotected access to readily available facts, let alone in capriciously using them to illustrate areas of concern. We apologise unreservedly, and will cooperate fully in helping Google change people's perceptions of its role just as soon as it feels capable of communicating to us how it wishes that role to be seen.

Unfortunately, we have been unable to ascertain this. Google UK has told us that we'll have to talk to Google US to find out whether we too have fallen under the writ of excommunication. As we share all information with our American brethren it is hard to see how it could be any other way, but we humbly await news of our fate.

Google UK's inability to explain the local implications of the decision could be read as the results of an angry, irrational action dictated in isolation from the top of a large and disparate organisation, an action whose ramifications were not fully taken into account.

We seek at once to distance ourselves from that perception, at odds as it is with Google's name as a byword for enlightened, engaged wisdom, a new model of corporatism which seeks to do well by doing good. It is certainly something that would be impossible to square with the quality of management required to successfully run an $80bn multinational company.

And forgive us too for any effect Google's righteous wrath will have on our coverage of issues affecting the company. Although we have plenty of other sources to help us report and analyse the many intriguing and important issues involved, Google's voice may be absent. We can only encourage our readers to make up their own minds about what may really be going on inside the company — while abjuring them from using a search engine in their quest.

It's wrong. Don't do it. Google says so.