Google grows up…

… and becomes just another ruthless corporation? There was a lot of inane comment this week about a “Google backlash”, but the sad truth is more prosaic: Google is no longer a cheeky start-up but a multi-billion dollar outfit which will obey its founders’ prescription to “do no evil” just as long as it doesn’t impede corporate strategy. In that context, the New York Times has an interesting piece by Randall Stross. Here’s the gist:

Last month, Elinor Mills, a writer for CNET News, a technology news Web site, set out to explore the power of search engines to penetrate the personal realm: she gave herself 30 minutes to see how much she could unearth about Mr. Schmidt [Google’s CEO] by using his company’s own service. The resulting article, published online at CNET’s under the sedate headline “Google Balances Privacy, Reach,” was anything but sensationalist. It mentioned the types of information about Mr. Schmidt that she found, providing some examples and links, and then moved on to a discussion of the larger issues. She even credited Google with sensitivity to privacy concerns.

When Ms. Mills’s article appeared, however, the company reacted in a way better suited to a 16th-century monarchy than a 21st-century democracy with an independent press. David Krane, Google’s director of public relations, called’s editor in chief to complain about the disclosure of Mr. Schmidt’s private information, and then Mr. Krane called back to announce that the company would not speak to any reporter from CNET for a year.

CNET’s transgression is unspeakable – literally so. When I contacted Mr. Krane last week, he said he was not authorized to speak about the incident.

So… it’s ok for Google to profit insanely from technology which provides all kinds of information about ‘ordinary’ people. But not ok to use the technology to provide all kinds of information about Google’s CEO. And it’s ok to boycott a legitimate news outlet which reveals this fact. That looks awfully like old-style corporate Stalinism to me.

We will have to get used to the idea that Google will become as powerful in due course as Microsoft is today. And more dangerous. After all, Microsoft only screws around with your computer (if you’re daft enough to use their stuff). But Google could screw around with your privacy.