For Google, this has been a pretty good month to bury bad news. Apple is dominating the tech news cycle with its new iPhone and Watch launch. Meanwhile, social media companies such as Twitter and Facebook continue to take the brunt of the criticism for everything from political censorship to data collection. This kind of distraction has allowed Google's dirty deeds to fly a little more under the radar.
All of the tech giants are squarely in the public eye. These hugely influential companies have been under the microscope for everything from security concerns to data hoarding. And Google, for one, hasn't been handling the pressure very gracefully. In fact, ever since Google removed “Don't Be Evil” from its once-famous code of conduct, things just haven't felt right in Mountain View, CA.
The data-driven tech giant has apparently turned heel as far as global issues are concerned, leaving empty chairs at Senate hearings and making shady deals with credit card companies. This month, Google has really been cornering the market on bad press, no matter how popular its soon-to-be-released Pixel 3 smartphone is going to be.
While it may be tempting to drool over the next iPhone or pile on the insults against Mark Zuckerberg, it's important to not forget about what Google is up to, particularly when its behavior has been so unsettling.
Censoring Russian Protests
Censoring ads is nothing new for Google. For completely understandable reasons, the tech company often declines, removes, or generally censors ads from hate groups, scammers, and even those with a proclivity for foul language. But when you start censoring Russian ads aimed at spreading the word about protests, you may have gone too far.
Unfortunately, that's exactly what Google did last month. The company removed YouTube ads for Putin opposition leader Alexei Navalny that promoted events protesting Putin's plans to raise the pension age at the behest of Russian authorities.
Google claimed their hands were tied, as they were informed by the Russian government that local laws prohibit campaigning 24 hours before election. There is only one problem though:
“The rallies do not have anything to do with the elections,” said Leonid Volkov, aide to Navalny.
Whether it was Google's apathy to investigate the nature of these political ads or motivations even worse remain to be seen. Granted, neither one of those options paints Google in a very positive light, but one certainly carries less weight.
It was only last month that Google received criticism for quietly developing a censored search engine for the Chinese market. To maintain its global reach, it seems Google is willing to make political compromises the company may once have deemed unacceptable.
Declining the Senate's Invitation
Seeing tech executives answering questions in Congress has become a pretty regular occurrence. Whether it's Mark Zuckerberg explaining how the internet works or Jack Dorsey shyly struggling to answer any questions at all, it's safe to expect nearly every tech company with their hand in the data cookie jar to end up in front of these senators at some point. But not Google.
As Dorsey and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg fielded questions from senators on Capitol Hill last week, an empty chair sat between them. Reserved for Google executives Larry Page or Sundar Pichai, the empty chair ended up representing the tech company's unwillingness to take the hearings seriously.
“I would hope after Americans saw that empty chair, that somebody in Google's management or somebody on their board would come to their senses and say, ‘hey we need to answer American policymakers' questions,'” said Mark Warner, Democratic Senator from Virginia to the BBC.
Google did offer to send one of its top lawyers to the hearing. But, the council opted for the empty chair to send a message that these problems will not be swept under the rug.
Giving MasterCard Your Information
Online security has been a huge issue in recent years. Big and small companies alike have been the victims of data breaches, while individuals across the world have become the regular target of online scammers. And, to make matters worse, Google just bought offline credit card data from MasterCard for yet another unsettling reason.
The tech giant made the deal with the popular credit card company in hopes of tracking offline purchases. Let's be super-clear here – that means things you've bought with your card in a store, on the high street, in the real world. All that data is, of course, in addition to the online purchase data Google will already have knowledge of. And that, in so many words, could really open to door to a Pandora's Box of financial privacy.
“This raises serious concerns regarding the use of private financial data,” said legal director Myles Jackman to the BBC. “Will MasterCard be compensating their clients for the data they have given away to Google for their own financial gain?”
The answer to that question is a pretty firm and obvious “no.” Google has been hoarding data for years now, and tapping into the financial sector with promises of monetary compensation paints a notably dystopian picture of the tech company and the direction it's growing into.