Why it's hard to believe anything Google says

The reluctant admission of a privacy breach revealed that Google's "trust us" philosophy was as believable as "do no evil."
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer on

We're at the point of the movie where the character we thought was the good guy just might be a scoundrel.

Yesterday, Google admitted that it had suffered a security breach and hadn't bothered to tell anyone because it wasn't legally required to.

This is the same Google that promised to do no evil, insisted it should be trusted and promised it was making the world a better place.

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What happened? Was it corrupted by fame and power, as happens to so many other great stars? Or could it be that the company was never really what it protested to be?

Many are clamoring with their how dare yous, as Google yet again tries to squirm its way out of bad news.

Well, more bad news. Google was recently most famous for its refusal to testify to Congress -- since remedied.

I can't help chuckling, though, at one tiny aspect of the blog post published yesterday by the company's vice-president of engineering, Ben Smith. In announcing that Google was shutting down Google+, he wrote:

While our engineering teams have put a lot of effort and dedication into building Google+ over the years, it has not achieved broad consumer or developer adoption, and has seen limited user interaction with apps. The consumer version of Google+ currently has low usage and engagement: 90 percent of Google+ user sessions are less than five seconds.

In essence, then, Google+ was always a wasteland. Yet whenever I spoke to Google's PR types and executives, they insisted that it was a burgeoning, dynamic product that was enjoying spectacular growth.

You know, like Google Glass.

Even in 2011 when Google+ was launched, it was clear that it struggled to attract anyone other than a small nerd in-crowd. Google felt the need to make expensive ads that begged people to visit.

At the time, the executive in charge of Google+, Vic Gundotra, scolded me for even suggesting that the product had severe challenges. He told me, in a touchingly patronizing manner, that I was mistaken -- yes, on Google+. Then he added:

You all know the truth. The momentum here is crazy. Unlike anything I've seen in 25 years of software development. Here's to 2012, and here's to Google+. Rock on.

And now it has rocked off.

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This isn't to suggest that Google is particularly worse than any other tech company.

It's merely to sigh and mutter that all the company's protestations of progressive purity and constant success might have been bunkum built on bilge.

Of course, it's not rare for an advertising company to be poor at advertising itself.

It's a movie we've seen many times before. After all, another famous advertising company -- Facebook -- seems to struggle with its image every week.

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