Google is a great company, but a layer of hubris threatens to encrust the excellence. It was exemplified most recently by the childish banning of contact with CNET journalists after the news site did a story highlighting what can be done to invade privacy using the company’s own tools.
The attitude problem has been evident for a while now. While I support the company’s refusal to offer “guidance” to Wall Street — a game used by public corporations to game the stock market — the utter opacity of the operation is disconcerting. It’s one thing to stick to principle, but another to rub people’s faces in it, such as when Google held an open house and had the CFO — the chief food officer, not the chief financial officer — give a presentatinon. Cute, but that stunt will be remembered by people whom Google will someday need.
Right now, Google needs no one’s special good will, and acts that way. This is reminiscent in some ways of Microsoft, a company that had public support and industry allies, but almost no tech-world friends. Google is no Microsoft, yet, certainly not in the willingness to flout the law. But Google’s willingness to flout other norms — in particular, its grossly insufficient privacy stance, which amounts to “trust us” — will eventually rebound in ways the company may not appreciate today.
I attribute much of Google’s arrogance as the missteps of a young company. (It’s baffling, however, that someone like Eric Schmidt, a seasoned executive, could have such a tin ear.) The public still thinks of Google as a hero, and the good it does still far outweighs the bad. The well isn’t bottomless, though; it never is.