I Need Help!

 

Well, besides simply stating the obvious, the title of this missive is an S.O.S. to the Web world to seek the wisdom (and emotional/technical/editorial bandwidth) of the crowds for three website projects that I’ve been kicking around, that I feel some emotional investment in, but I simply don’t have the energy to pull-off on my own. This is my message in a bottle. My candle in the wind.

Will you answer the call and help me get fan these website embers into flame? Or will the deafening silence of the blogosphere snuff out these flickering wicks?

Website Idea 1 – AccessOfEvil.org GoogleWatchers.org


At ConvergeSouth, I was told by Patrick O’Keefe of the iFroggy Network that AccessOfEvil.org was a really horrible domain name. But I’m sticking to my guns on this one (despite the truly horrible pun), because (OK under duress I’ve caved to popular opinion and jetisoned AccessOfEvil in favor of the kinder, gentler name  GoogleWatchers.org) it fits the overall premise of the site perfectly:

Google’s self-proclaimed mission is to “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

In the process of fulfilling its mission, Google has laid out 10 guiding principles—including #6, “You can make money without doing evil.” Or, in short, “Don’t be evil.”

But what happens when they don’t live up to this ideal? Who holds Google accountable when they break rule #6? Answer: We all should. [from the About page]

So, that’s the concept: The Google Watchblog. And with it, the idea that there would be a Google watchdog community supporting the site, feeding it with content (e.g., reports on nefarious Google activity), launching email campaigns to Google to lobby them for better practices/policies, etc.

It’s a big concept, but also a completely untapped “market,” if you will, based on my (ahem) Google searches for any other watchblog sites, which turned up virtually nothing. And Google is the proverbial 10,000-pound gorilla, the elephant in the room that’s only going to keep getting bigger and bigger and harder and harder to hold accountable, unless we start now and get organized fast, which the Web makes possible is so many ways, using so many tools, not all of which are controlled (yet) by Google.

Why Now?

Two things this week reminded me of the enormity of this idea—and the urgency for it:

  • Google is ranked #1 for corporate responsibility, according to the Top 50 2008 Corporate Social Responsibility Index (CSRI) rankings released this week by the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship (BCCCC) and Reputation Institute. But, you’re thinking, “Wait, that’s good, right?” Well, yes—and no. By digging a little deeper into this story, you’ll discover that the CSRI is based on “the combined average of people’s perceptions of a company on three institutional performance indicators: citizenship … governance … and workplace” (emphasis added).Did you catch that? Google is not ranked #1 because it is the most socially responsible company. Google is ranked #1 because we all believe Google is the most socially responsible company. So, I’m not trying to start any conspiracy theories here, but what if Google is not so squeaky clean? Or what if they cannot maintain these high standards they’ve set for themselves, and they start to do “evil” stuff? Right now, we’re pre-conditioned to think Google is as lilywhite as its homepage. That could be a very dangerous assumption to have as our starting point …
     
  • Next week, NPR is hosting an Intelligence Squared debate on the subject “Google violates its ‘don’t be evil’ motto.” According to the online poll (at the time of this writing), 41% agree with the statement, 34% say they “Don’t know,” and 25% say the statement is wrong about Google. My media guru Jeff Jarvis is participating in the panel discussion (on the defense of Google side), and today he writes, “Google should be presumed virtuous until proven evil. Just because it could be evil does not mean it is. Just being big and powerful does not make it evil. In this country, we tend to value success until one becomes too successful, and then we become suspicious. How much success is too much? That is our problem, not Google’s.”Jarvis rattles off a long list of Google’s virtues, and concludes, “We would do well to ask ourselves, what would Google do? Google is not evil. Google is an example to us all.”

    But in the midst of his praise, Jarvis does concede, “Google could be better,” and calls its vow not to do evil “the height of hubris.” He even jabs, “Google is undeniably arrogant.” And while discussing Google’s “power and influence,” he ominously notes, “[Both] are greater than even it seems to know.”

    In the comments on Jarvis’ blog, one of my other media gurus Ed Cone weighs in with this observation,

    “Google is now out there strong-arming public officials to keep tax-funded-deals quiet; they’re playing ball with the Chinese government to profit in that market; they have raised some questions about monopolistic practices with proposed deals and sheer market share; their secretive search formula—a competitive necessity—can seem arbitrary and unfair; etc.

    “Does that make them evil? Again, not by Biblical standards, or such non-slogan-worthy definitions as not cooking the books or telling children that cigarettes are healthy. But by the standards of the game they’re playing, not being evil may not be an option.”

So who’s with me? Anyone out there in the World Wide Web want to take on this big idea and make it happen? Post a comment, send me an email (yes, it’ll go into my Gmail inbox, FAIL!), or friend me on Facebook (not owned by Google—yet), and we’ll connect and devise plans to keep the world safe from a Google-gone-evil.

Website Ideas 2 & 3 will have to wait for a later blog post. Until then, thanks for reading and for posting your thoughts/reactions in the comments!

UPDATE 11/18/2008:

Jeff Jarvis has responded (in the comments on his blog) to my proposition for a Google watchblog community, “Couldn’t hurt.” And he adds, “Learning from Google – I think the thing to do is to organize distributed comment on Google rather than trying to get people to come to one address and brand to create that comment. That comment could come from anywhere.” I agree with Jarvis (as I usually do), and I appreciate his thoughtful advice and feedback.

Ed Cone has also responded with a longer meditation on the question of whether Google violates its “Don’t be evil” policy. He says it “depends on what you mean by ‘evil’” or, rather, “what you think the motto means” (and, thus, how it should be applied). Cone writes, “If one accepts not being evil as defined by not acting like a typical big corporation, then I’m not sure Google’s stated aspiration was possible once it went public. … By the standards of the game they’re playing, not being evil may not be an option.” Again, I agree with Ed, also.

The harsh rhetoric implied by the name AccessOfEvil.org has been criticized by a number of people, so I’m relenting on that point and giving this a new name (and ditching my old site for a new network on Ning) – check out GoogleWatchers.org and join the movement (ahem, me … and a few other people, who’ll be on there soon, hopefully *wink wink*).

The NPR Intelligence Squared debate is tonight starting at 6:45 p.m. EST. You can listen online at IntelligenceSquaredUS.org.

UPDATE 11/20/2008:

The Intelligence Squared debate on whether “Google violates its ‘don’t be evil’ motto” is now over. The New York Times Bits blog has a recap of the debate, “It was a spirited discussion, mixing substantive talk of Google’s market power, privacy practices and its censorship in China with tongue-in-cheek attempts to compare the search company with Pol Pot, Lucifer, Dr. Evil and other dark icons.” 

Here’s the transcript to the debate (PDF). The audio of the debate will be available on iTunes soon and will also be broadcast on many NPR stations over the coming weeks. Here are some interesting points from the comments on the Bits blog: 

  • “Google tries to stiffle competition and overreaches into too many venues.”
  • “Better question: Is Google in a position to do evil whenever the mood strikes it?”
  • “How far can they push the use of personal information? Why did it take so long for the company to place a link to its privacy policy on its home page as California law requires? If public opinion changes towards being more conservative, will it be too late to change Google and block access to the information already gathered?”
  • “They are an ADVERTISING company mining your data and flooding your eyeballs. Everything else is a trail of candy to get you into the store. Enjoy being catalogued & indexed & OWNED. We are not a ‘citizen’ any more you are a ‘consumer’ to be marketed to relentlessly.”
  • “‘The line separating good and evil … runs through every human heart.’ Applying this to a corporation, Google, I’d say that it’s some of both, and the fraction of good is currently very high. (But let’s keep our eyes on it.)” [Great idea!]

 

 

Tags: , , ,

Posted on 11-15-2008

Comments

  1. knightopia (Steve Knight) says:

    December 31st, 1969 at 11:59 pm

    Is it ironic that I just added Google Friend Connect to my personal site? http://is.gd/7HIh (oh well, come on over and join my network!)

  2. knightopia (Steve Knight) says:

    December 31st, 1969 at 11:59 pm

    I’ve got a couple of responses to my call to join the cause of keeping a watchful eye on Google … Any others interested? http://is.gd/7HIh

  3. knightopia (Steve Knight) says:

    December 31st, 1969 at 11:59 pm

    New blog post: I need help launching a grassroots watchdog community to hold Google accountable. Who’s with me? http://is.gd/7HIh

  4. brandon moore says:

    November 16th, 2008 at 8:13 am

    i’m with you on this one. i love google and use many of their products. it’s to my benefit to keep an eye on google as they continue offering great products that i want to use. what happens now?

  5. fernando says:

    November 16th, 2008 at 11:35 pm

    Count me in. Though, maybe we can work on the tone a little. I don’t want to start off being negative. A good google is a win-win for all, surely? Rather than being a watchdog, I’d like to more of a partner, helping google be what they claim they want to be.

  6. Theresa Seeber says:

    November 17th, 2008 at 1:04 am

    Okay, Steve. I will be seeing you on Facebook about this one. What are you up to now? LOL ;-)

  7. C. Wess daniels says:

    November 17th, 2008 at 9:48 am

    I like it, it’s a good idea. Not sure I can contribute much but I can hep spread the word.

  8. Miles says:

    November 18th, 2008 at 7:11 am

    I like the idea, but I agree that the domain is not good. The domain accessofevil.com seems to presuppose that Google is evil. I think that would turn off people who would like to offer some oversight without jumping on a snarky, anti-corporate bandwagon (like me).

  9. Steve K. says:

    November 18th, 2008 at 7:26 am

    Thanks, Miles. I’ve heard from others, and I’m convinced you’re right. We’re in the process of changing the name right now to GoogleWatchers.org. Hopefully that sounds a bit less anti-corporate, since the goal was never to “destroy” Google or be pointlessly snarky. I hope you’ll still consider being involved and helping shape this conversation!

  10. David says:

    November 18th, 2008 at 10:59 am

    I agree with half the comment-ers to-date. This is (semi-)typical Christianity. Tell people they’re wrong but don’t help.

    How about a KnightopiaWatchers.org and then you can post your hypocritical acts, too?

    To be honest, your quoting of Jarvis to ‘make your point” would be humorous, but I think you’re serious. If you’re imitating the Colbert Report, then it’s funny. If you’re serious, then, not to be mean, you probably need to take a few classes or read a few books on rhetoric and logical argumentation. You’ve violated more than a few, basic rules of such dialog.

    I’d ask that you drop the whole thing and reconsider how to powerfully spend your time making a positive impact – go after a better future or vision, not a preventative one.

    Plus, even if you succeed with Google, what about the next/other big companies? What about Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, the banks (!), the U.S. Government, the Israeli government, the EU, the World Bank, Bono, . . .

  11. Colin McEnroe says:

    November 18th, 2008 at 11:30 am

    I might argue that Google is evil precisely because of the seeming conflict between what Ed Cone says and their CSRI ranking. Google’s executives are in the perfect position to do anything they want and still retain their image as the pinnacle of corporate cool with sandals-and-shorts executives and ping-pong table birthed projects.

    Giving to charity and consorting with Chinese officials to access untapped markets? This is a perfect description of what Slavoj Zizek likes to call “liberal communism,” capitalism covering its exploitation of the working poor with charitable donations to the very people being exploited in different parts of the world; the covering of systemic violence with charity towards more popular victims in different parts of the world (Tibet, Darfur, etc. and of course this is not to say that these people AREN’T suffering but these are popular at the exclusion of others like China that capitalism desperately needs as a labor force) that sustains an appearance of corporate responsibility. Does this not open a way for even less resistance to the exploitative nature of unchecked capitalism by pacifying even those within the liberal left that are supposedly fighting corporate interests and pushing towards egalitarian economics?

  12. Steve Knight asks: Is Google evil? « Turn On The Lights says:

    November 18th, 2008 at 11:54 am

    [...] Knight has started a discussion about whether Google violates one of their own pieces of corporate propaganda. “Don’t [...]

  13. Real Change and the Access of Evil | Homebrewed Christianity says:

    November 19th, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    [...] Not only does Steve Knight, Google, Hans Kung, Brian McLaren, and all those who want real change need your help – God won’t be disappointed in your participation either.  Maybe a Google watch-dog is the [...]

  14. Who’s watching Google? | The Daily Scroll says:

    November 20th, 2008 at 6:35 pm

    [...] watching Google? November 20, 2008 Steve Knight is asking bloggers everywhere to support a ‘watch-blog’ project called Access of Evil: “Google’s self-proclaimed mission [...]

  15. Dress-Down Friday | Going Up In Smoke says:

    November 21st, 2008 at 5:55 pm

    [...] Steve Knight has started googlewatchers.com, a site setup to help hold Google accountable to its “don’t be evil.” [...]

  16. Jonathan Grubbs says:

    November 23rd, 2008 at 8:55 am

    I worry about google’s power, not as much as I worry about the government’s power, but still I think accountability is a good idea. The question is ‘How can we keep track of what it’s doing when it obviously is very secretive and can cover up it’s damage well and quickly and in the meantime… tracks US.’ ;)

  17. Eric O says:

    November 25th, 2008 at 11:04 pm

    …Good idea Steve… I Endorse the thought but talk about taking on a many-tentacled mother… :)

    The problem with Google is allowing it to become a monopoly. In fact, it’s problem is not that it can be evil, but that it will become so ubiquitous (like Microsoft) it will squelch the “dark energy” of the web.

    According to Jonathan Zittrain the “Dark Energy of the Web” is what drives innovation:

    https://www.technologyreview.com/Infotech/20935/?a=f

    Rather than police…Invent, coddle, and nurture little villainous hackers to keep the tentacled benign monsters from zombifying humanity.

    Cheers.

  18. Eric O says:

    November 25th, 2008 at 11:09 pm

    Sorry Steve…I realize most will not have access to the Tech Review article:

    Here is Jonathan Zittrain’s text:

    “Physicists speak of dark energy, the label applied to the expansive oomph permeating the universe. The Internet has its own dark energy: the legions of nerds who code for fun, challenge, and uncertain profit. They do not make a business plan or solicit lawyers and VCs before jumping in, and they have no particular political or economic power. Yet they are the ones who developed the Internet in a back­water and declined to patent its protocols. They are the ones who took the hobbyist platforms of the first PCs and turned them into powerhouses that, together with the Internet, gave us one pleasant surprise after another: the electronic spreadsheet, instant messaging, Internet telephony, Wikipedia. But two problems threaten the Web’s dark energy.

    First, the trust in reasonable behavior embedded within our open, generative networks and utterly reprogrammable PCs–for example, consider that neither network participants nor software authors are accredited or, for the most part, identified–is too readily abused. People find their connections disrupted and their PCs turned into zombies, and they seek security. Millions of PCs, especially in corporate and school environments, are then locked down.

    To deal with this problem, technologists need to develop better code to help us deal with bad apples while preserving an open environment. If a small but broad fraction of Internet users were to agree to pass along their PCs’ anonymized vital signs and running processes, we could learn how new code is affecting those PCs’ performance. We’d also get a sense of how trustworthy new code is, partly on the basis of how long it’s been around and who’s actually using it. This could help identify annoying applications that fall short of being outright viruses, such as screen savers that generate pop-up ads. Such strategies could also help detect Internet filtering around the world.

    The second threat is that consumers and developers are being charmed by new, managed technologies whose vendors assert control and promise new levels of reliability. We see the rise of the iPhone, with its walled-garden App Store, and a new generation of Web platforms like Facebook Platform and Google Apps–each of which naturally reserves the right to kill outside code. But once outside code can be effortlessly controlled, regulators can push vendors to do just that. Old-fashioned PC architecture meant that Bill Gates could not reasonably have been asked to reach out and kill, say, peer-to-peer software running on Windows PCs. And Net architecture famously makes censorship difficult (though by no means impossible). But the new platforms are not so naturally insulated. Thus Facebook and others can potentially be pressured to forbid a new round of disruptive but potentially useful applications.

    Nerds writing what could be amazing code for new platforms need to push those platforms’ makers to yield some control. Apple’s, Facebook’s, and Google’s current business plans don’t (yet) depend on monopolizing all the outside apps that run on top of them. The right market forces can persuade them to help ensure that the emerging cool infrastructure will remain hospi­table to dark energy for years to come. “

  19. Patrick says:

    November 28th, 2008 at 6:23 pm

    LOL. That’s not EXACTLY what I said! :) But, it is true that I’m not a fan of the domain. Thanks for the mention.

  20. Back! « zoecarnate says:

    December 3rd, 2008 at 10:55 pm

    [...] so that this week I can blog about Steve Knight on Google, Tripp Fuller on John Dominic Crossan, Englewood Review of Books and their Christmas Book Giveaway, [...]

  21. what dog is this? « the priesthood says:

    December 23rd, 2008 at 10:42 pm

    [...] has now charted greater Birmingham via Street View. This makes me thankful for guys like my friend Steve Knight who is spearheading an effort to keep the increasingly powerful Google in check.  I am quite [...]

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