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December 03, 2009

Still Waiting for An Evil Google? It's Not Going to Happen.

Like many other early adopter technology watchers did today, I tweaked my computer settings to utilize Google's new Public DNS system - letting my Internet usage flow through Mountain View instead of through my cable Internet provider, Comcast. I did so for a few reasons - namely the promise of improved speed during Web surfing and because I trust Google implicitly, almost to the point of unbridled naivete. Google is very publicly working to improve the Web experience for everyone - which has their own best interests in mind, yes, but for the right reasons that extend beyond simple commerce.

While others such as Threat Level and CenterNetworks expressed concern about Google's increasing knowledge base, which now includes the totality of your Web activity, I tend to believe, as Jesse Stay does, that this is just yet another move to prepare the way for the growth of Chrome OS and more Web apps from Mountain View, which will demand greater speeds, reduced load times, and fewer barriers - barriers which other gateways to the Internet have used to block specific application types, Web sites, or protocols, and Google promises not to do.

The more programs and services that Google introduces, the more I see people start talking about Google the way they once talked about Microsoft. Google's mantra to "Don't Be Evil" is seen as a target for detractors who are waiting for the company to slip and become distrusted or hated, the way Redmond, Washington was during their battles with Apple, Netscape and others in the 1990s. But unlike Microsoft, Google has been above board. After a slow start when it came to blogging and transparency, the company is doing, in my opinion, a fantastic job of keeping people updated, and letting its developers be visible to explain away any questions. (See also: The Era of the Faceless Giant Corporation Is Over and Could A Real Apple Fan Completely "Go Google"?)

Google may be creating an incredible ecosystem of interoperating applications, and is setting up connections that set the stage for the way computing is going to be done over the next decade, but just because they have unprecedented resources and remarkable forethought doesn't make them evil. Today, on FriendFeed, as one commenter suggested Google could be sharing this information with the government or other entities, Google engineer DeWitt Clinton answered with clarity, "half the company would quit in protest on the spot if Google even contemplated doing something like that. Including our own founders."

While other services and companies are becoming less trusted over time, be it due to unclear approaches to openness, or inconsistent rejections of third party applications, Google is actually getting better. The company whose name you see on top of new protocols that are setting the standards of tomorrow, like HTML5, potential replacements for OAuth, PubSubHubbub, WebFinger, Salmon, and others, time and again is Google.

One doesn't need to ask Jeff Jarvis "What Would Google Do?" to figure if the company is going to lie to customers and act in an uncompetitive fashion - because they have established a track record of doing the right thing. Introducing a better product than existing services and competing on features is to be respected, not feared. It's when you see companies like Microsoft making inferior products and trying to create side deals to force customers' hands that you see the very definition of evil. And that is why Microsoft is a much smaller presence now than it once was - because it lost the war of trust and is now fighting a battle on its legacy, rather than in a leadership role.

Google is not going to be evil because it hasn't been built to be evil. Will they work to speed up browsers and Web sites to give them more traffic on their search engine and more ads in more places? Sure. But that's just good business, not trickery. For people to think Google would change overnight and start diving into a dark world of privacy violations simply because they launched a new public DNS is silly. Even if Google were to have the #1 Web browser in the world, the #1 OS in the world and #1 mobile handset in the world, they have a track record of establishing trust with their customers, continually working to make their products more accessible to more people. So for the wingnuts wearing the tinfoil hats waiting for the roof to cave in, it's not happening today, and will never happen.