UPDATE: It’s looking more and more to me as if the New York Times report that provoked the first half of this post went too far. See the footnote below with denials of a deal from Verizon and Google, though those statements leave much to be asked: namely, what are the discussions; what is the compromise over net neutrality? But I just read this from a CNBC interview with Eric Schmidt that spoke more clearly: “Schmidt clarified that the net neutrality he advocates is not a neutrality between different types of content, but between the same type of content. He wants to make sure that there’s no discrimination between one video download over another.” So under that rubric, a YouTube video would not get discriminatory treatment over my video.

Update on the update: The Times stands by its story. What we need here is a good dose of transparency. It is, again, our internet they’re talking about.

The original post:

* * *

The report that Google is making a devil’s pact with Verizon for tiered internet service is disturbing because I wonder whether people inside Google are still asking that vital question: “Is this evil?” I wonder whether Google is still Google.

I don’t mean to come off like a high priest of the net neutrality church. But if ISPs like Verizon can charge tiered pricing for quality (vs. unquality?) service, then it’s the consumers who’ll get screwed because costs will be passed onto us. ISPs (like newspapers) want added revenue streams but those streams always end up at our feet. But we know that.

What also concerns me is that creators will get screwed, too. Only the big guys will be able to afford to pay ISPs for top-tier service and so we return to the media oligarchy that — O, irony — YouTube and Google broke apart. Google, I fear, is gravitating back to the big-media side because it wants those brands on YouTube so it can get their advertisers on YouTube because those advertisers are still too stupid to see where the customers really are. And then we’re back to a world of big-media control over what we get to see. It was the millions of little guys — people who made their own videos, people who embedded videos — who made YouTube YouTube.

But that’s short-sighted strategizing, I think — I hope — because fragmentation is infinite; blockbusters will get ever-harder and ever-more-expensive to create; advertising will catch up with reality, the real world, and customers and (unless the Wall Street Journal ruins it) become far more targeted and relevant; advertising will also start to fade away; the mass market will shrink.

But this is a last-gasp attempt to hold onto mass-market economics (vs. open-market scale). [Craig Roth in the comments makes the critical point that the story I linked to is supposition rather than announcement, a caveat I certainly should have delivered. As I said in response to him, I thought this was worth discussing before it was fait accompli in the hopes that it won’t be.]

It’s an uncomfortable moment for a Google fan boy. This report comes at the same time that Google killed Wave. Now Wave has had its detractors who are now cackling, but it’s not the specific platform that concerns me. It’s that Google can’t figure out how to launch new platforms. Wave was a bust. Buzz was a bust. Knol was a bust. Orkut was mostly a bust. Brilliant people like Gina Trapani hung their hats on these platforms; she wrote the book on Wave and others started developing it and now the rug’s pulled out from under them because Google didn’t support their development, which is what would have made Wave a success. Evil or merely rude?

The reason these efforts were busts is because Google didn’t think them through, didn’t have the corporate discipline to find and execute on clear-eyed strategy. I’m all for beta — I learned that lesson from Google — but you can’t just spend your life throwing shit against the wall to see what sticks. Eventually, you’re knee-deep in shit. But you can do that for a long time — if you have lots of money. A poor startup uses betas to learn precious lessons because they can’t afford to fail. This rich company is using betas, I fear, rather than making hard decisions up front — because it can afford to. So Wave may have ended up dead anyway but if it were run by entrepreneurs it would have struggled long and hard before taking its last breath.

I worry that Google isn’t an entrepreneurial company anymore. It didn’t start those platforms under the hard economics of entrepreneurship. And it hasn’t nurtured some outside entrepreneurs well. If it did, Dodgeball would be Foursquare today.

My real fear then is that Google is too big. I certainly don’t mean that in the way that EU regulators do: “so big we have to rule it.” Uh-uh. No, I mean it may be too big for its own good. Too big for the right hand to find the left hand and have coherent strategies for operating systems (Android v. Chrome) and applications (Docs v. Wave). So big that it starts to identify with other big guys (ISPs and Hollywood entertainment conglomerates). Big is a fine thing when it brings critical mass and the freedom to innovate. As Eric Schmidt himself says, lack of innovation can kill a tech company. So can bad innovation — fat innovation.

I’ve never bought the arguments that Google is a one-trick pony. Honda is a one-trick pony; it makes cars. That’s not Google’s problem. Its problem is that everything it faces is new and it can’t ever afford the luxury of leaning back on old lessons and old relationships. So what does it hold onto on that rapids ride? It has to hold onto its mission — organize the world’s information, etc. — and its evolving definition of evil so it doesn’t stray. It also needs to find the organizational structure — the firm-jawed management — to force different teams with different agendas to work to shared goals and to hold them to entrepreneurial discipline.

All of these are just early warning signs — every early. It’s good — for Google and also for a fan boy like me — to see these cracks because, used properly, they are lessons that help a company get back on its track and shade its eyes from the bright glare of hubris. But only if they ask the really hard questions. Like, is that evil?

: MORE: On a different thread, I also want to note that I think the way this devils’ deal works out is that it will give the FCC and possibly even the FTC and Congress the rope they need to hang ISPs on net neutrality. Is that Google’s really evil plan? It doesn’t like regulation but wants it in this case and so it’s creating the invitation for it? Naw. As I said, I’m not a conspiracy theorist. In any case, I do think that such a deal will invite regulation.

: I won’t cry for ISPs. I was at a meeting of cable ISPs some years ago when they were all cackling about their margins on broadband exceeding 40%. They ain’t hurting. The solution to all this remains competition. Remember that Google’s founders entered the big spectrum auction a few years ago to force neutrality and they want broadcast white spaces opened up to become “wi-fi on steroids” and thus competition for broadband providers.

: ALSO: I want credit for not making a WWGD? gag. I leave that to Twitter. But it may, indeed soon be time for a sequel (or update).

: LATER: Verizon put a statement on its public policy blog that says the Times report linked above is “mistaken.” It doesn’t say whether there’s any agreement but talks about its “purpose” — a “policy framework that ensures openness and accountability, and incorporates specific FCC authority, while maintaining investment and innovation. To suggest this is a business arrangement between our companies is entirely incorrect.” I’m not sure what that means. The more transparency about these dealings from all parties — including the FCC — the better.

Google said on its public policy Twitter feed: “@NYTimes is wrong. We’ve not had any convos with VZN about paying for carriage of our traffic. We remain committed to an open internet.”

The AP quotes the FCC saying that Google and Verizon are involved in stakeholder talks and Verizon is quoted saying that it is talking with Google about a “compromise on net neutrality” in the AP’s phrasing. The question remains: What are they talking about?

  • Mikehill33

    I think this is in preparation for a variety of device tiers/classes that are on the horizon.

    Verizon can’t really be incurring increased infrastructure development costs, can they?

    Does Moore’s law apply to bandwidth as well? Hopefully so!

  • If you find yourself constantly asking the question … “Am I Evil?” the answer is kind of obvious.

    • Robert,
      Naw, the opposite. If you’re forever afraid of asking whether you’re evil, that’s when you know you are for sure.

      • I am 80% into your book WWGD from over in Europe/Romania and got to this post from twitter.
        What I wanted to comment is evil or no evil it doesn`t even matter as the wi fi to enable me to chose the temperature of the water in my fridge through wi fi on the street that I connect my cell to or m-Pad (multidimensional pad of the future) will come ANYWAy.

        great book btw,

      • and thank you!!! (don`t approve this post i just forgot to say thank you for the book it was quite expensive for Romania but it`s worth it)

  • Honda is not a one-trick pony. Honda makes engines, really good engines. They move, cut, drive, power, and roll all sorts of activities.

    Google is not a one-trick pony. Google make engines, really good engines. They move, cut, drive, power, and roll all sorts of activities.

    • Robert,

      • Skip the poetry and cut to the facts: Honda is also leading in robotics and personal transportation devices.

  • Jeff — don’t you think a large part of the Buzz (and other) failures are a *result* of Google’s beta tests? Whereas other companies are using small pilots and controlled betas (that, by and large, are confidential), Google often puts out a lot of ideas for public use. While they are seeing what shit sticks, I think they do a good job of cleaning up after the shit hits the floor (i.e. killing buzz).

    I think a lot of other companies have a room full of shit that we never see; good companies have always taken risk and tried a lot of things.

    On the other hand, this tiered internet service does sound evil … putting two and two together, I think you may be right.

    • Andy,
      Yes, that’s what I was thinking. But I now also see that for it to work, a beta has to have boundaries around it. Just trying shit for the same of trying it isn’t good enough. Is that what happened with Wave? I certainly don’t think that’s the intent but it’s kind of where it ended up: Oh, we tried, oh, well.

  • Google may be big enough to suffer from a phenomen called “inertia”. the inability to change.
    i think that google lost its focus on its core business. as you, Jeff, stated rightly google should focus once more on organizing the worlds information. that is what they are good at!

  • Craig Roth

    Okay, I’m confused.

    The NYT article reported there was a meeting between Google, Verizon and some others, couldn’t get information from ANY of the principals (sp?) involved, made a bunch of (popular) suppositions that nastiness was going on, and got reactions from people as if it were actual fact.

    Is this good journalism? Or is it more scare tactics?

    I think Google has earned enough respect that I’m going to reserve judgment until whatever announcement is made next week. Who knows? Maybe they actually have something clever up their sleeves that will make Verizon jump over to their (our) side of the fence.

    • I hope you’re right, Craig, very much so. But better to discuss the possibility before it is a fait accompli, I figured.

    • Craig,
      Thanks to you, I added a note in the body of the post.

    • The NYT report cites “people close to the negotiations who were not authorized to speak publicly about them “, which is journo-speak for “someone at either Google or Verizon who were privy to negotiations, but who will get fired if they’re quoted”. That suggests they have information from the principals involved.

    • Andy Freeman

      > The NYT report cites “people close to the negotiations who were not authorized to speak publicly about them “, which is journo-speak for “someone at either Google or Verizon who were privy to negotiations, but who will get fired if they’re quoted”. That suggests they have information from the principals involved.

      Umm, no. It’s often journo-speak for “someone trying to influence things” or “I found someone who was willing to say that my narrative isn’t completely absurd, but isn’t willing to do so publically.”

  • Ken

    Just *now* you are wondering if “Google is still Google”?

  • Steve Strasser

    I actually agree with this. Unbelievable.

  • Actually Honda doesn’t just make cars: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honda

    But I take your point :)

  • Renaud

    I feel the same way as you.
    Couldn’t Wave be launched early, with only 1 core function, and then new functions could be added according to users’ needs? They came up with something complex right away. Not wise. Too much money.
    Same thing with Knol, except that instead of “too much money” it was the ease of exploiting a large installed base of gmail users.
    In both cases, a small company just can’t do the same. The luxuries of big firms are holding them down…

    • David Malouf

      So now I’m wondering if the issue is that Google never figured out how to make money with Wave, et al. Providing services from the 20%-play work agreement is nice, but if there is no money in it’s not ‘sustainable.’ I love my free Google services, but…

      It’s as if Google is wanting my love and my money but can’t figure out how to get both in any other way except advertised searching.

  • Not picking on you specifically for this Jeff, but personally, I find the whole notion of talking about “evil” in this kind of context pretty repugnant. Although I understand that you’re riffing off Google’s “do no evil” mantra, I really wish people would stop using the word in this kind of context, because it’s devaluing it.

    Evil is death camps. Evil is child abuse. Evil isn’t paying an ISP to speed up your content over its network, which is what’s being suggested here. It may be bad, it may be stupid, but it’s not “evil”.

    • Rick

      Power tends to corrupt and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely. Monopoly power like Google has developed in “search/information/marketing” could lead to lets call it corruption, that could in turn become evil.

      Google and it’s subsidiaries like YouTube represent a new paradigm in the “peaceful” push-back pointed at the corporate over-reach that has devolved the US Government into a full blown Kleptocracy. If you don’t find that trend alarmingly evil then you are probably one of the people that keeps the viewership on controversial subjects in YouTube at a micro-percentage of the US population.

      The problem with the current window of freedom that the internet has opened up is that if people don’t uses this window, it could easily close in on itself. The internet could eventually become one big walled garden for control of the masses.

      Like it or not Google is in the drivers seat of keeping that open. There is in my mind the potential for the internet to be used by the spirit that animated recent totalitarian movements lead by people like Hitler, Mao, and Stalin. Our War efforts efforts around the world look much more like the brutal enforcement of a modern colonial power, than the benign humanitarian leadership I was hoping for in a post Cold War world.

    • Marcotte Anderson

      Ian, I take your point about “evil” being devalued by casual use, but I think this story, if true, is much more nefarious than it appears on the surface.

      I’m a pretty liberal statist guy, preferring government regulation over corporate/market self-regulation in most cases, but it’s hard for me to buy the NN argument when it comes to bandwidth speeds for the consumer. We already have that anyway – if I want a 10 Mbps connection I’m going to pay more than if I want a 1 Mbps connection. [The idea of d/l limits per month make less sense to me, since from a technical stand point there’s no reason to charge me more for going over my limit if no one else is using the bandwidth at the time – e.g. middle of night – but it’s a fairly easy mechanism to control overall network traffic so I’m not too concerned.]

      However, here we are talking about the PROVIDER controlling your download speed. I may have a 100 Mbps connection, but if some indie film producer is hosting his film on his own site, and Verizon prioritizes YouTube over him, I have no vote. This move (if it is true/comes to be) is evil because it is the first step (backward) to what the NN conspiracy theorists fear worst. Bandwidth to push stuff out to the masses will be auctioned off to the highest bidder, and it will be Google, Hollywood, and other media conglomerates and corporations who will win. That said, there may (hopefully) be enough “others” that the ISPs will have to pay them more than lip service. We’ll see.

  • “…Only the big guys will be able to afford to pay ISPs for top-tier service and so we return to the media oligarchy that — O, irony — YouTube and Google broke apart.”

    Sorry Jeff, but do you think this media-oligarchy have ever gone? I mean, even with Google + crowdsoucing + relevance content the top media websites today belong to the same old media companies… with some small exceptions.

  • Lars Aronsson

    Google (and the same goes for Wikipedia) is all about organizing the world’s knowledge. It’s about the knowledge, the content, not about the people. But Buzz and Wave (and Facebook) are all about the people, an area where Google keeps failing.

    • Chahk Noir

      “But Buzz and Wave (and Facebook) are all about the people, an area where Google keeps failing.”

      I disagree. Gmail and Android are all about people. Well, connecting people at the very least, and both are extremely successful. Wave failed because most users saw no need for it. Buzz is bust because Google didn’t market it strongly enough.

      In any case, I would take anything unofficial about these talks with a grain (or a truckload) of salt.

  • Mark

    What is Google’s definition of evil? One man’s evil may be ok with another man. So unless they state what evil is how do we know what “Don’t be Evil’ really is?

    • Rick

      Great observation!
      Evil Good
      Death Life
      Fear Equanimity
      Hate Compassion(love)
      Destruction Creativity
      Ignorance Enlightenment
      Force Persuasion
      Cruelty Kindness
      Greed Generosity
      Control Support
      Secrecy Openness
      Tyranny Freedom

      The point I think you are making is that most people believe on the idea that:

      “The ends justify the means”

      So for some people you can do any Evil if it is in support of some good.

      The good that drives people to destructive or evil means instead of a creative path is the mind numbing fear generated by the drugs produced in the primitive brain. When a person or people leading an organization perceive a threat to their survival, the spirit of anything goes can take over.

      The question is can Google overcome the dark side of the survival instinct and find a new path?? I sure hope so, because the world sorely needs a paradigm shift in corporate culture. The destructive potential of humanity is just off the charts, but then again so is its creative potential.

      From a Google Fan with a show me viewpoint.


      • Rick

        One last thought.

        In the end we are left only with the legacy of means. There are no real ends, only the perpetuation of the means.

        Looking at history the cycle of violence and destructions seems irresistible , but maybe, just maybe the internet has the reach to connect humanity in a new way.

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  • This article took a huge twist in the second half, I fear the first half very much but I must defend the second half. A large entrepreneurial company such as Google, plants seeds and fails often. If that isn’t entrepreneurial, I don’t know what is. Build fast and if you’re going to fail, fail faster. I do believe that Google Wave and even Buzz are decent products but in the world of the social internet, it’s the content that is produced within these systems that make or break a product. Twitter and Facebook’s success is from momentum which drives free marketing and advertising in news articles and mentions.

    Failures are successes, just defined differently. If you learn from them, build upon them & don’t fear them; they become a foundation of the future. I believe that Google takes the successful parts of a ‘failed project’ and try to use those things in a new way. It’s much easier to start a new product and gain momentum than reigniting something that new sparked the first time.

  • shanoboy

    No real comment here, just thought this was a really insightful article and also, love hearing you on TWIG every week.

    Thank you.

  • Ike

    Interesting use of Honda as the one-trick pony.

    Honda was a lawn-mower manufacturer that worked its way up to larger engines, motorcycles and eventually cars. It was ridiculed by virtually everyone, and the thought of driving a Honda was once ludicrous.

    You nailed it, though… Google is acting like a startup instead of a grownup. And at some point, Google will have to accept what it is and lead with a coherent vision, instead of being the shell company housing Sergei and Larry’s scattershot ought-to-be-VC projects.

  • Brian Gillespie

    Apparently, power corrupts. Who knew?

    Your Honda comment though, was laughable.

  • @googlepubpolicy: “@NYTimes is wrong. We’ve not had any convos with VZN about paying for carriage of our traffic. We remain committed to an open internet.”


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  • Rick

    I don’t think you can lump all the short term “Failures” together first of all.

    The copycat stuff looks to me to have primarily a commercial motive behind it. But….

    Google wave looks different to me. i think it was a real attempt to come up with a new paradigm in communication. I don’t think it is really a failure, but hopefully an experiment of how to look way ahead and seed an idea into the open source world under the corporate umbrella.

    Tell Gina not to give up.

    • Craig Roth

      I agree. Like i tweeted a little while ago: @ginatrapani I thought Wave would work as a part of a larger social site: People use the site, that’s the default messaging system

      Like any new tool for which older tools exist, until people have a reason to try the new tool and get a feel for it, they are going to stick with the older ones.

  • Rurik Bradbury

    1) Google has never been entrepreneurial, but it has been experimental. Microsoft is the same: some home runs; many failures.

    2) Your predictions re: blockbusters seem naive. People will always gravitate in herds towards famous people/blockbusters. And big money will always be there to shepherd them.

    3) Hysterical over-reactions about ‘net neutrality’ miss the point at every level. Only consumer choice will solve the issue. Choice is gradually coming. The beauty of IT is competition (and therefore innovation) at every level of the stack. Make ISPs compete and the new ‘non-neutrality’ will suddenly service customer interests as well as corporate ones: eg hi-def streaming YouTube that actually works, without constant pauses for buffering.

    • Tex Lovera

      Although I support the goal of net neutrality, I am loathe to have the FCC or any other government agency enact more regulations; we are already regulated to death.

      Amen on the consumer choice issue. We need to more competiton to eliminate situations where you only have one cable TV provider, ISP provider, broadband provider, etc. to choose from. Then we will have a true marketplace from which winners and losers will be determined.

  • EB

    Typo: All of these are just early warning signs — every early.

    ^^^^ should read “very early” perhaps?

    Replace Honda with Hershey, maybe!
    (But we all know what you meant.)

    BTW: I love TWiG, you and Gina and Leo are insightful and very entertaining. I never miss a week! I watch the live stream on my iPad or listen to the podcast later if I can’t watch it live.

  • Jim

    Google is the new Microsoft. From a bumbling, right hand doesn’t know what left had is doing point of view. Honda, by no means, is a one trick pony.

  • Mike


    Some 15 years ago when getting my journalism degree I was EIC of my school newspaper. Something pounded in my head over and over by my excellent director of student media was to never used unnamed sources.

    It seems journalism in general, and specifically technology reporting, constantly use unnamed sources and rumors, which get quickly redistributed as fact and commented on with righteous indignation without ever verifying the original facts of the story.

    This is a potentially big deal, yet no one seems concerned to verify if this is actually true. As a journalism professor, what is your thoughts on this?

  • tehm0bru1z

    what did you expect? these companies aren’t incurring new costs; they aren’t even re-investing into their technology to put it on par with the rest of the western world. they found an opening to arbitrarily make new “rules” for being paid so that they can bleed both ends dry, using the same old product.

    we will continue taking steps backward. the internet will become by, of, and for, the producers within the next 5 years, just like everything else. there isn’t anything you or i can do. we are nothing but consumers.

  • Kermonk

    Buzz failed because it was a lousy implementation of a stupid idea. And wave, well wave was just weird understood by nobody but Gina Trapani.

    • Michael Ritter

      Got to agree with your comment. Though I love the work that Gina has done, I think she jumped the gun in publishing a book about Wave. Wave was interesting but I quickly lost interest in it, largely because there were so few people using it. Should Google have given it a chance? Probably. But if Google is out to create a Facebook “killer”, Wave might be the place to implement it.

    • Adam

      I think wave was a good idea, it was just to far ahead of it’s time.

      In my crystal ball, I see a lot of the things wave was trying to do being included in everyday software.

      Online collaboration is something that can be an asset of any software, it’s just figuring out how to go about doing it so it is intuitive and easy for the casual user.

      Making things easy and intuitive is something Apple does very well but something google has yet to do. (I admit I am an Apple fan boy.)

      • Kermonk

        Its cosmic balance – if Google also made good interfaces the company would implode and they would become Skynet *g*

  • kris

    It remains to be seen how this will play out.

    A decision on net neutrality has the potential to shape new economic powerhouses. Therefor, it should not be taken lightly by any government around the world.

  • Siva Vaidhyanathan


    I think it’s clear that Schmidt’s position no longer constitutes support for “network neutrality”. Such a proposal ossifies content and service into its current array.


    It’s really a shame. Google sees an opportunity to leverage its position.


    • I was just going to post the same point. Schmidt’s statement assumes we will always understand the content and that we can and should be able to distinguish the various forms. One of the beautiful things about the the internet is that, at a fundamental level (and the deeper core of network neutrality), all content is bits. That means new forms of content can come and go since we’re dealing with a more raw fundamental unit.

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  • It’s too late to worry if Google is evil. The point of no return happened when they tried to steal all of the out of print books and had to be brought to court because of it. They always had larger ambitions with books than simply “indexing” them. And let’s see the impact the much-delayed Google Editions will have on the book world — where the indie bookstores they will count on as eager and duped shills will basically be getting what amounts to a Tip Jar as their cut of the action.

    A tiered Internet is an act of war. And I mean that.

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  • Jameson

    Google might just as well be a foreign company because Sergey Brin does not have American morals. He does not respect Americans because he was not born here. He complains about being bullied when he first came to America and now he is getting his revenge. Google is a scary, evil and predatory monster that is now being sued by 38 states for massive privacy violations. Sergey Brin is just like every other Russian spy that invaded the United States, including the infamous Rosenbergs, the most notorious Russian spies in history. Sergey Brin is an idiot savant, a math “genius” completely lacking in humanity. His real I.Q. is in the subnormal range.

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  • Andy Freeman

    Now that it’s becoming clear that the NYT’s story is, at best, bunk, shouldn’t we ask why the NYT ran with it?

    Was it “yet another honest mistake” or something more?

    Personally, I don’t think that it was the result of a conspiracy but of the way that the NYT works, which has always been more broken than its defenders admit. A reporter saw a story that would get printed because it fit what the gatekeepers believed and the gatekeepers passed it through. The surprise is not that they got this wrong, it’s that they get much correct.

    I suspect that they don’t get much correct. Instead, we believe them when we can’t check even though they’re wrong whenever we can.

    • Scotty

      I’m sorry, Andy, the story is “bunk”?

      I know fanboys like Jeff will try to spin the latest developments as a win for “open”, but be clear – Google and Verizon do not want net neutrality on the mobile web. Nor do they want any pesky regulators getting in the way of their efforts to skew the playing field in their favour.

      Now, you may trust Google implicitly and truly buy the no evil crap, but not everyone wants Google deciding that Company A’s content gets preference over Company B’s content on the “non-wired web”.

      Because, at the end of the day, company A is more likely to be a “legacy media” player who can buy the preferential treatment this deal will enable. Company B is likely to be one of Jeff’s “disruptive entrepreneurs” who won’t be able to buy their way onto the web. Nor will they have recourse to any sort of redress.

      Here’s a link for your enlightenment:


      Enjoy the future.

  • My biggest concern is Google’s secrecy. They have better control over their internal information than any government. Why can’t Wikileaks go after Google?

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  • Google grabbed the “Don’t be Evil” slogan from an Australian start up. They also obtained the following http://www.googlebeginnings.com from the same company. I’d like to be paid for the work I did.

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