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Friday, December 07, 2007

When Mankind was somebody's business...

Putting the power bill aside, is there really anything so unspeakably awful about devoting some resources to efforts that don't necessarily pile gold bullion in the vault from day one?

Similarly -- and no doubt I'm inviting more emotional retorts -- I simply don't sense in Google today the sort of utterly predatory attitude toward its users that does seem to pervade some other major Internet-related firms.

This is not to say that I agree with all Google policies -- as regular readers of this blog know. But I believe it's safe to say that even many (or most) Google *employees* also don't necessarily agree with all of Google's policies. It seems clear from public statements that even the Google leadership feels internally conflicted at times regarding some of their own policy issues -- torn between fiduciary considerations and the real world complexities of operations in a politically-charged international arena.

Such conflicts and associated nuanced views are actually a very healthy sign. There are few more reliable indicators of potential problems in an organization than blind faith that never questions policies. It's not necessary -- and in fact can be counterproductive to openness of internal discussions -- that the details of such debates and deliberations be visible to the outside world. But the fact that vibrant policy debates are taking place within organizations such as Google is a factor that must not be ignored, even in cases where one disagrees with the outcome of those deliberations.

Ultimately, whether we're talking about Google or Facebook, it's users themselves who carry most of the high-value cards, for as I've noted before, Internet users can change their service allegiances essentially at the click of a mouse. Our collective interests are best served by not belittling or devaluing the efforts of firms that try to move beyond the bottom line, especially in their treatment of their customers and users.

Or to quote Charles Dickens' Ghost of Jacob Marley:

"Business! Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my
business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all,
my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in
the comprehensive ocean of my business!"

And so it goes, even today. Especially today.

Lauren Weinstein
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