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Google faces up to image problem in Europe

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As Google bowed to a European court ruling to consider users' claims to remove embarrassing search results, the company took the first step toward preventing any more such punishing decisions?acknowledging it has an image problem in Europe.

 

 

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The company was stunned in May when a court said it would have to accept Europeans' "right to be forgotten" online and field their requests to delete links to personal information in search results. It opened the doors to such applications on Friday, and took the opportunity to offer a new, humbler message to European authorities.

"I wish we'd been more involved in a real debate in Europe," Google CEO Larry Page said in remarks published by the Financial Times Friday. "That's one of the things we've taken from this, that we're starting the process of really going and talking to people."

Some would say Page's realization comes not a moment too soon.

The company, which since its early days has put a premium on keeping a positive image, has taken a beating in Europe in recent months. Its public relations machine seemed to run completely off the rails in May, when the European Court of Justice enshrined the 'right to be forgotten'?a concept Google had said amounted to censorship and which it had fought to undermine.

Criticism of Google's dominance in search ?it enjoys a 90 percent market share in Europe?reached a fever pitch this year, with competing search engines and major publishers attacking the company, and even consumer rights groups piling on.

Politicians, perhaps smelling a shift in public attitude, began openly using the company as a punching bag. Shortly before European elections, German economic affairs minister Sigmar Gabriel criticized the company for its tax avoidance, privacy policies, and dominance, and suggested it might need to be broken up.

And in a development that should deeply concern a company whose motto is "Don't Be Evil," some European online freedoms groups are now identifying it as public enemy number one.

That has boosted the case for the European Commission, the EU's executive, to demand Google change the way it displays its search results to allow for greater competition. If the two can't reach a compromise deal, Google could face fines worth billions of dollars, as Microsoft did in the 2000s.

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Anti-Google sentiment used to be an "edge phenomenon," said Hans de Zwart of Bits of Freedom, a Dutch digital rights group. "Now it's slowly moving toward the core," he said. "More and more people are feeling this."

Reasons for the company's fall from favor include products such as Google Glass that raise privacy concerns, as well as ripple effects from recent revelations about U.S. government spy programs.

Zwart said that fairly or not, Google has become directly linked to the National Security Agency in many Europeans' minds.

"Now we have a very clear argument for why it is a bad idea to store data in a centralized fashion with an American company," Zwart said.

"I think it's trivial for the NSA, if they know I have a Gmail account, to get all the data from it."

To comply with the court's May 12 ruling, Google announced Friday it has opened a digital hotline to let Europeans complain when links to embarrassing personal information about them turns up in a search of their names. The complaints will be vetted and removed unless a company-appointed panel says the public's right to access the information outweighs a complainant's right to privacy.

CEO Page told the FT the company is "trying now to be more European" and will think about privacy in "a more European context."

"A very significant amount of time is going to be spent in Europe talking," he said.

That means putting money where the company thinks more mouths should be.

Shortly after the ruling, Google posted a raft of help-wanted ads seeking "bright, well-organized and spirited individuals to work with a stellar team on cutting edge technology issues" at its offices in Berlin, Rome, London and Brussels.

The job? Lobbying.

"You will handle our various product agendas with policy makers inside and outside government," reads one ad in Berlin.

The company has room to expand efforts to get its view heard. Google employed seven lobbyists in Brussels in 2013, according to voluntary disclosure figures, and spent around 1.5 million euros (currently worth $2 million). By comparison, Microsoft employed 16 and spent 4.75 million euros.

In Washington D.C., Google outspent Microsoft $14 million to $10.5 million.

Mario Marinello, an economist at the European policy think-tank Bruegel, said he thinks Google can settle its antitrust case with the European Commission by arguing its search results are what consumers want, even if the company's competitors are frustrated by the company's dominance.

"I don't want to defend Google," he said. But "all this lobbying has kind of shifted the question to a very superficial level, which is dangerous."

For Google, it is not clear whether lobbying alone will be enough.

Activist Faith Bosworth of a German group known as Peng Collective said Google has been a media darling for too long.

"They've seen how others have gained a bad reputation, and until recently they've done a good job of avoiding those mistakes," she said.

"They've put money into supporting freedom of expression and been behind some really progressive things, but at the end of the day, they're a corporation seeking to make money," she said.

She said that while individually Google employees probably mean well, the company's business model relies on gathering ever-greater amounts of information.

As a result, Internet users should view Google with a critical eye.

"I think it will be very difficult to live up to 'Don't Be Evil'," she said.

 

 

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Meh.  Google have been running a massive campaign against the right to be forgotten over the last few days and are only doing as little as possible to comply with the court's ruling.  Instead of support for privacy we get a propaganda campaign.

 

In the meantime, I see they were quick to pull videos by Elliot Roger from Youtube and will happily pull content if there's even a whiff of a copyright infringement that could get them in trouble. 

 

They deserve the bad reputation they have IMO.

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Welcome to a few days ago and Google has already provided a service to comply with the EU.

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Welcome to a few days ago and Google has already provided a service to comply with the EU.

 

As I said, they've produced a very basic "service" and spent the last few days complaining long and hard about even that.  They're hypocrites who pretend to be doing good whilst undermining our rights and avoiding paying their taxes.

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As I said, they've produced a very basic "service" and spent the last few days complaining long and hard about even that. They're hypocrites who pretend to be doing good whilst undermining our rights and avoiding paying their taxes.

Of course they are going to complain. Big shocker. But they are still complying. Sure MS complained about the whole browser thing as well. MS avoided paying taxes by taking advantage of loopholes. Every company are hypocrites.

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Hmm, since this is only currently aimed at Google, I wonder if the EU will force other search engines to do the same because if not, then this whole thing seems pretty pointless.

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Hmm, since this is only currently aimed at Google, I wonder if the EU will force other search engines to do the same because if not, then this whole thing seems pretty pointless.

 

I think Microsoft already does this. (more like pretty sure, but I haven't tested to see if it works)

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Of course they are going to complain. Big shocker. But they are still complying. Sure MS complained about the whole browser thing as well. MS avoided paying taxes by taking advantage of loopholes. Every company are hypocrites.

How does MS using loopholes to avoid some taxes make them hypocrites....

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How does MS using loopholes to avoid some taxes make them hypocrites....

Didn't mean it like that. Pointing out MS doesn't pay taxes and after that was a generalization that all companies are hypocrites. Should have been a separate paragraph but I'm on my phone

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I think Microsoft already does this. (more like pretty sure, but I haven't tested to see if it works)

That's good. However, I doubt the lesser known search engines do this already.

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Didn't mean it like that. Pointing out MS doesn't pay taxes and after that was a generalization that all companies are hypocrites. Should have been a separate paragraph but I'm on my phone

 

So you think two wrongs make a right.  Gotcha.  Anyway this is about Google, not Microsoft or anyone else you might want to shift attention to. 

 

In addition to the above Google have been caught abusing their search monopoly, wardriving, systematically failing to comply with privacy legislation across the EU.  The list goes on and on.  They're a scourge that needs to be reigned in.

 

And if they want to improve their image in Europe and elsewhere they need to do more than begrudgingly knock out some half-arsed form that cost them less than they spent bitching and moaning about it.  They need to clearly demonstrate that they understand that an individual's privacy is more important than their profits.

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Google already had the system in place anyway, they use it regularly to get rid of stuff they don't want or of themselves, and we've already seen it used in USA from the woman who sued them for caching wrong info about her.

Their arguments against this has been all BS anyway.

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So you think two wrongs make a right. Gotcha. Anyway this is about Google, not Microsoft or anyone else you might want to shift attention to.

My point is all companies are guilty of something at one point and time and need to be put in check. You seem to think that Google is the only one to do something shady. Is called big business....get over it.

Their arguments against this has been all BS anyway.

Of course... But they will still complain about it but in the end, they still have to comply of they want to operate in the Eu.

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My point is all companies are guilty of something at one point and time and need to be put in check. You seem to think that Google is the only one to do something shady. Is called big business....get over it.

 

Always the Google fanboy.  You don't really have a point other than to defend a company that uses you as a product.

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Always the Google fanboy. You don't really have a point other than to defend a company that uses you as a product.

Well damn. I should get rid of all my windows system, Xbox 360,Xbox one, surface pro, surface pro two..... Do I need to go on? I use what I find useful regardless who makes it.

Keep calling me a fan boy. I find it hilarious. Especially since I use more non Google products that I do Google products.

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Well damn. I should get rid of all my windows system, Xbox 360,Xbox one, surface pro, surface pro two..... Do I need to go on? I use what I find useful regardless who makes it.

Keep calling me a fan boy. I find it hilarious. Especially since I use more non Google products that I do Google products.

 

I know you use non-Google products but you're always the first to rush to blindly defend them and try to shift focus away from them.  I hate calling people fanboys and rarely do but in your case it's fitting.  You have no argument other than "they're alright because everyone else is doing the same thing".  Two wrongs make a right if it gets Google off the hook. 

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I know you use non-Google products but you're always the first to rush to blindly defend them and try to shift focus away from them.

I actually pretty much said a few days ago that sucks for Google but they have to comply with European law. how was that defending the.m. I also said that I hate Google docs and don't find a use for chromebooks. Many things I don't like about Google but I find it funny people are quick to harp on them and forget, or choose to ignore, the company they like has been guilty of their own things.

Big business will always act the way they do so vote with your wallet. Being angry or upset at a company isn't worth it. Google was much better years ago but they cannot continue to be without paying the big business game. Sucks but again, vote with your wallet.

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