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Google's greatest controversies and biggest foul-ups

A run down of some of the most controversial decisions or actions by Google, including some of their biggest mistakes to date.

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1 of 10 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

Google Doodles have long been used by the company -- which uses its search page as its home page -- to brighten up on days which are special in the calendar. Unlike some search engines like Bing which maintains mostly consistent throughout the year, Google changes their logo into a fitting graphic for that day.

However, many took to the blogosphere and the forums to complain against a perceived 'Islamic reference' and a 'flag-burning' in a Doodle which was released on Veterans Day.

It is highly doubtful that Google would do this deliberately, regardless of the connotations. What does matter, however, is that quality assurance clearly did not vet this image enough to predict such a response from users of the service. 

Google probably did nothing wrong, but the perception by the users due to lack of checks put themselves in a negative light.

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For more on company controversies, check out Zack Whittaker's iGeneration column or for more on Google, visit the ZDNet Googling Google column.

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2 of 10 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

Google Books has been a saviour to students and ordinary citizens alike for years, but has not been met without great controversy over issues of copyright and intellectual property rights. 

Many groups and individuals have attempted to bring legal action against Google for their use of widespread "snippets of copyrighted work" and "massive copyright infringement". 

One of the major issues is, while Google in some cases provides no content available in books, it has scanned and made searchable millions of books for which many argue it has no right to do so.

Only recently, three top French publishers say they will sue Google for scanning and applying search technologies to their books and content "without permission".

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For more on company controversies, check out Zack Whittaker's iGeneration column or for more on Google, visit the ZDNet Googling Google column.

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3 of 10 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

When Google Buzz launched last year in 2010, it was the first micro-blogging social network-like service for which users had to opt-out of -- as users with a Gmail or Google account were automatically opted in without their prior permission.

It also added pre-existing contacts from a user's Gmail service into Buzz, which drew vast criticism from privacy critics and the media alike.

Not only this, a major privacy flaw allowed users to see who one was emailing and chatting too. While this was quickly changed and 'reset' by Google, it had already left a bitter taste for many of Google's users.

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For more on company controversies, check out Zack Whittaker's iGeneration column or for more on Google, visit the ZDNet Googling Google column.

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4 of 10 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

Censorship has been a huge topic for Google to try and deal with. It complies heavily with DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) requests on a regular basis and filters out searches. It also responds and complies to requests for the removal of other potentially damaging information.

Its presence in China alone has stirred many comments regarding the government's poor human rights record and lacking in freedom of speech legislation.

YouTube, also featured later in this slideshow, removes vast numbers of video each day. On the other hand, many of these include content copyrighted by others, and YouTube has had in place for some time the function to disallow even the publishing of videos which may contain music or content held in its copyright database.

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For more on company controversies, check out Zack Whittaker's iGeneration column or for more on Google, visit the ZDNet Googling Google column.

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5 of 10 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

Google came under heavy fire from critics and supporters alike, when it was discovered that a rogue piece of code in Google Maps' Street View cars allowed the collection of unencrypted wireless data, from houses and businesses as it drove by. 

After Google admitted its mistake, through a data audit demanded by Germany's data protection authority, the company said it would not delete the data even though the British data protection agency said that it could be.

Google faces criminal investigations in Germany, and was only given a 'slap on the wrist' by British regulators. But Germany's data protection laws are far stricter, even though all EU countries read from the same European data protection directive

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For more on company controversies, check out Zack Whittaker's iGeneration column or for more on Google, visit the ZDNet Googling Google column.

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6 of 10 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

Google bombing has gone down in history as the first unofficial and unintended 'Easter egg' of Google. Many have used it for reasons of political activism -- such as aligning the word "failure" to former U.S. president George W. Bush, along with many others.

But also have used it for commercial purposes, namely "spamdexing". This has opened Google up to abuse, proving that their algorithms are not infallible and are open to abuse.

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For more on company controversies, check out Zack Whittaker's iGeneration column or for more on Google, visit the ZDNet Googling Google column.

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7 of 10 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

Google's presence in China alone has been controversial. Even after Google was hacked by Chinese secret police, the company remained in the country but rerouted its servers to Hong Kong.

Some even claimed that Google "hacked the hackers", taking 'justice' into their own hands, instead of allowing the authorities to investigate. The hack allegedly discovered that over 30 other companies, including Adobe, were hacked

Google remained in the country and continued to censor search results at the request of the Chinese government. This is, on the most part, to comply with the limiting of civil liberties including the freedom of the presses and speech in the region. 

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For more on company controversies, check out Zack Whittaker's iGeneration column or for more on Google, visit the ZDNet Googling Google column.

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8 of 10 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

Google's advertising system in Gmail has drawn heavy controversy by privacy advocates, by analysing emails sent and received to deliver better targeted adverts. Over time, a picture builds up of what is most interesting to the end user, and adverts will be displayed accordingly.

But this led to speculation that Google was "reading" emails, whether by person or through algorithmic means. The British data protection agency, the ICO investigated after a privacy group made an initial complaint. This led to the belief that Google's Gmail was less secure and open to abuse.

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For more on company controversies, check out Zack Whittaker's iGeneration column or for more on Google, visit the ZDNet Googling Google column.

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9 of 10 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

The spat between Google, the owner of YouTube, and Viacom threatened to disclose millions of users' details in a copyright lawsuit. Viacom eventually compromised in the end and allowed the anonymised data to be handed over by Viacom, but privacy was very much still at risk.

This could have been the largest legal disclosure of data to date, and would have compromised many YouTube users' accounts, and dented the privacy record of what once was an independent video upload site, before Google bought it out in 2006.

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For more on company controversies, check out Zack Whittaker's iGeneration column or for more on Google, visit the ZDNet Googling Google column.

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10 of 10 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

Groupon, a 'deal for the day' website, was close to being acquired by Google, but failed at the last minute. Google was meant to have offered over $2.3 billion more than Yahoo!'s reported $3 billion offer, but was rejected.

This led to the media questioning why, and whether Google even had a chance in the first place. After talks brown down, it became apparent that though Google could have bought out right Groupon, it had failed for no apparent reason. The LA Times called it a "head-scratcher".

But Google took a confidence hit, and one hell of a public relations hit too.

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For more on company controversies, check out Zack Whittaker's iGeneration column or for more on Google, visit the ZDNet Googling Google column.

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