Sunday, November 06, 2005

Concerns Over the Corporate Nature of Google

Peter Rock-Lacroix questions whether we should place faith in Google to "do no evil" when it comes to protecting copyrights (an argument I think can also be extended to their role in the protection of the privacy of its users):
Google's informal corporate motto of "Don't Be Evil" is irrelevant. Google is a for-profit corporation. This means neither good nor evil as Google's capacity for "personhood" exists merely in a legal sense. It's not that conscience is ignored, it's that it simply does not exist. This means an exclusive obligation to Google shareholders without any regard to stakeholders (i.e. the public). Google is driven - by law - to maximize profit for its shareholders. The question of "good or evil" entirely misses the point. That is, Google's actions will be driven by the legal commandment to increase profit. We are looking at a corporation structured to maximize profit yet in control of the largest digital database of knowledge and culture to ever exist.

Personally, I'm not against having an institution be granted the right to create such a database. But I'm wary about handing over such privilege and control to a body that is not working for the people. Should a corporation control what could potentially become the world's first digital library? What is the purpose of a library? Why do libraries exist? For who do libraries exist? If this project is to become a globally accessible library, should there be someone controlling your right to read?

As the database of books increases in size and therefore scientific and cultural value, is an unregulated for-profit corporation the best choice to manage and control that database?

I think not.


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