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If you're not paying for the product, you are the product.

I have to admit, this is a catchy line.  It appeals to the inner cynic in us all and makes a certain amount of sense in a core, "what can you do for me," type of thinking.

But it's hog-wash.

I work for Google so I follow the news about the company and I'm really tired of seeing that first line, or some variation of it, spouted by people who really don't care enough to want to think it through.  It does not work that way!

Yes, Google is a company.  And yes, Google is a reasonably large company (though not that large compared to the likes of IBM, GE, etc.).  But though a company is a single entity in the eyes of the law, it is not run like that.  Google is full of many thousands of individuals, many of whom are more rabid about user privacy than the privacy watchdogs that complain.  I've watched them take Larry and Sergey to task on stage about the smallest things.  I've done it twice myself.  If the leaders of the company purposely violated our users' trust, there would be open revolt and the founders would be lucky to not find themselves strung up by their toes.

Everything Google does is done for our users.  Your happiness is always the first priority, even above Ads.  (I've seen this in both policy and various practical implementations.)  You are not product; you are our customers!  That's simply the way we view it and it permeates the company from bottom to top.  Everything is done to make a better service for you.

Even Ads is viewed as a service to our users.  Random ads are garbage.  Useful ads are a benefit.  Yes, it's also a benefit to our publishers and yes, it's also a benefit to our shareholders.  Since when did win-win-win arrangements become a bad thing?

I won't claim that Google always gets it exactly right or that we haven't made mistakes.  We don't and we have.  And we admit it.  And it will happen again.  Sorry.  But everything is done with the right intent even if it doesn't always work out as hoped.  Hindsight is perfect.

Google is the most moral company in which I have ever worked.  But guarding our users' privacy doesn't just make moral sense, it makes business sense.  If we purposefully violated our users' privacy, we wouldn't have a business at all before very long.
Meyah Trust's profile photoIlia Tchaplinski's profile photoJames Salsman's profile photoBrian White's profile photo
great article, I know what you mean, those sayings will never stop, but you just keep doing the right thing 
Nice morals overview and good to hear but it dose not address the heading (which you did not touch on at all), 

Of course no one is going to spend a shit load of money to provide a great free service - email, drive, maps, youtube, G+ to name a few and not expect something back, in this case, and for FB also, it being viewers and the chance to have you click an advert so they can make money to redeem their outlay and make a profit. its a simple business strategy, provide an audience and get advertisers to spend money with you. 

So if you use these services, you are the product, ie the product being the mechanism for justifying the charges to the advertisers

The more services you are connected to that are owned by the one company, the more the company knows what adverts to server you for a better ROI.

So.. explain to me why this is not true? ... because ..

*If you're not paying for the product, you are the product. *
Brian White
+Sir Frank Warwick, you didn't read, did you?  The people who build our services care more about our users than the profit.  Companies have to make money or they die.  We're making money so we can concentrate on making great products for you.  We're not trying to win.  We're trying to create great services.  The collection and organization of information is done, primarily, to benefit you.  I don't expect you to believe me -- you've obviously already made up your mind and will thus find the evidence to support what you want to believe.  But nonetheless I'm telling you that you're wrong.

And I know some of the things that are coming... and it's good for our users in both privacy and choice.  Obviously I cannot talk about what they are.
+Brian White That's the problem, most people have already made up their minds. It's hard to find people open to criticism of their 'own' ideas. Often, most peoples ideas, have been put in place by others. They read it somewhere or had a conversation over breakfast, with like minded individuals.It goes far beyond privacy abuse and 'your the product', and right into our everyday lives. Perception is everything, but when we let others determine our perception for us, we often don't use our abilities, to derive our own conclusions. 

 We conceive many of our ideals, perceptions, opinions based on what we consume, and who we consume it with. Many ideas are built upon behaviors and those we choose to share those behaviors with. It's a psychology, really. You know you are dealing with planted ideas, by the wording that people choose. Sometimes, i think it's better to just walk away. I have become very familiar with trigger words. Google could decided to change their revenue generating model away from ads, but criticism would remain, because your still nothing more than a 'greedy corporation' that allows people to die from TB, while you swim in billions. Not my words. But it goes that far.

And.. It's ridiculous. 

And...Some people are stupid. 

And...They are always begging for attention.
That gives me goosebumps, the good kind.  It re-assures me where I needed none.  Google is not evil, they are a GOOD company and that is a rare thing these days.

As for any data that Google mines from my stuff.  I KNOW for a solid fact that it has made my life easier, more convenient.  I wouldn't change that if I could.  That would be cutting my nose off to spite my face!  I have complete and utter confidence that my data is more secure in Google's hands than it is anywhere or with anyone else!

And before anyone puts me in the "naive" or "sheep" or "fan girl" category, let me just say that all my opinion on Google (and I do believe that your entitled to your own) is based on a ton of conversations with a myriad of people who actually work there.  And with people that don't.  Mine is an well thought out and researched opinion.

One of your MANY satisfied Customers!
+Brian White I completely agree. Companies that track consumers online to improve their users’ online experience will be punished in a competitive marketplace if they misuse that information. Why would any company with the fiduciary responsibilities to shareholders risk that? When Google makes those mistakes, it hurts mindshare, morally, and bottomline.  

At the same time internet based companies are rewarded if they use that information to streamline the services/devices they offer while being transparent about what's being tracked. 

Google gets high marks for this and leads the industry IMO since it tries to be transparent thereby making it tougher to "be evil"

Edit: Jeez I sound like such a fanboi btw after I just re-read this.
I love Google and it's awesome products and services. Google Rocks. 
Even though I am a huge fan of Google, and what they do with their time and money.. If the product wasn't there (us) there would be no Google.. I get the point you are making about security and privacy, but the high level statement that you are the product is still totally true.   Awesome write up..  

+Jeremy Reger, you're incorrect.  Google's money-making "product", if you insist on using that word, is in connecting those with something to sell with those that want to buy it.  If our users were a product, we would sell them, or their information, but we don't.  Ever.

A Realtor who connects a house seller with a house buyer is not selling the buyer.  A ticket agent who puts a band and a fan in the same stadium is not selling the fan.

Users are customers.  Publishers are customers.  Both are valued.  Google only succeeds if we provide the best possible service to both, giving both what they want.  And no disrespect to publishers but the user is, with a little thought, obviously the more important of the two.

To attempt to achieve any short-term gain by exploiting our users would damage the long-term prospects for the company which is why it makes as much business sense as it does moral sense to protect you, our users, as much as we can.
I'm not disagreeing with you +Brian White I am saying from a 20,000ft point of view if the users aren't there, there is no Google.  This is just a plain economic fact.. which is more of a 3rd grade argument.. The users are the product.  If they do not exist, there is no one to build self driving cars for, there is no one using Maps, no one using to view the targeted ads.. and certainly no other businesses paying for the service to place those ads correctly, when they won't be seen by their targeted audiences.  

Like I said, it's a total null point, and didn't mean to seem like I disagreed with your entire post, just the fact that the users really are the product.  I do believe that at Google the atmosphere is more on true innovation and delivering a quality product.  It's pretty clear that Money is not the central focus when so many things are market tested in beta form for years, and lots end up getting killed off.. Others, like Gmail, maps, G+ are killing it!
Okay, so by your logic +Jeremy Reger, if I shop at Safeway (or any other store or service vendor I may use IRL) and use their services, I am their product as well?   Cause if I don't, they don't have a business.  There is no reason to harvest the produce, make the ketchup, produce the cold meds which I may or may not buy depending on how I feel about that store.  Hmmm, well okay then.  I guess by your POV we are all products of everything we use.

You're entitled to your POV as am I and I am not a product.  I am a customer.  A product gets no choice.  I have EVERY choice to make.  Just my POV though.  :D
+Kevin Timmons, what you wrote definitely resonates with me.  Everyday, I talk to people who have let a Facebook post or a media story or a friend's opinion make up their mind for them.  It's a lazy man's way to formulate an opinion.  It's a lot more work to actually think for yourself.  I saddens me that so many of our decisions as a country and a society are made using information derived in this way.
+Brian White I liked Google from the first time I used the search engine, but the more I learn about it, and, especially, the more Google employees I meet and interact with, the more I like this company. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I've used the phrase you open with myself often enough, though not maliciously or even particularly cynically, but it's great to get an inside perspective on this. 
I am not a Google "insider" but I am an avid Google user and a fan. My observations of their activities have led me to this conclusion: They are the only company, that I am aware of, that ask only one question when deciding to start a new project: "Wouldn't it be cool if....?". If the answer is yes, they go for it, even if at the time they have no market strategy for it to turn a profit. Wouldn't it be cool if....more companies did the same?
+Jeremy Reger The users are the demand, the services are the product. On the other side of it, the ad companies are also the demand, and the EXOSURE to us, the users, is also the product. The thing Google does is get the one group to pay enough for their desired product, that the other group doesn't have to pay for theirs. A simple thank you is sufficient I'm sure.
I think it depends on the service really.. but sorry I said anything.. definitely not here to cause trouble
+Jeremy Reger, don't be sorry about it. If you believe it, say it. If you still believe it, argue for it. If you've changed your mind, that's okay, too (this discussion and elsewhere). As long as it's polite and considered, everybody's opinion is welcome.
+Jeremy Reger I just reread my comment and I realise the last line comes off a little snarky. Unintentional. My apologies.
+Jeremy Reger, what +Brian White said!!!  A spirited discussion is never a bad thing until it gets ugly.  This one didn't because we are all considerate adults, something that has not always been my experience on Facebook.

I appreciate your POV and am willing to consider it.  There is always the possibility you bring to light info I did not have and I welcome that.  I can't consider it if you don't post it.  Thank you for giving me something to think on today!
Found this post due to a reshare and I've added you to my circles.   Thanks for the valuable insight.  Great post!
Then there's Comcast.

We pay them. And we are also the product that that they sell to Netflix...
I'd love to have you join us on one of the weekly Dumb SEO Questions HOA to debate the morality or amorality of Google, +Brian White.

You'll be treated with the utmost respect, you are well-liked, but, while I don't think that the cult of Google is intentionally evil, I think you might be offered examples to discuss where both Google and the world could benefit if Google found its moral compass. :)
+Jim Munro, I witness Google's moral compass every day and watch it be questioned every week.  It's pointing in the right direction.  That is not to say that every step we make ends up taking us in the direction we want to go or that every change is the best for everybody, but the goal is always to try to provide the best information in the easiest possible way to the majority of our users.

Remember...  You're viewing it in hindsight, as something that exists, which provides for excellent critical analysis over a wide variety of situations.  We have only foresight, which is a lot less accurate.  Sometimes we get it  wrong.

And thank you for the invitation but I must decline.  To join would be to speak on behalf of Google.  Here I speak only on behalf of myself about my experience with Google.
+Brian White I'm very glad to hear you say these things. Thanks for the article, and for working from within to keep it this way. :)
I was just writing about this, +Brian White

Deeper partnering with endusers is quite advanced at companies like Twitter, Facebook and Google, where the services are actually created as they are used by people. Without our tweeting, there is no Twitter. Yes, these are ad-funded services, where the endusers aren’t paying customers. But these companies treat them as if they _were because they know enduser success is the goose to their golden egg. I like to describe what these companies do as building “contribution platforms” that attract and coordinate stakeholder contributions._
Linking Customer Mission and Social Mission:

Sorry to be one of those guys who links to his own content in others' posts (I don't usually), but this seems to really fit. And yeah, I'm getting a bit tired of that expression too. 
Andy Bohm
Very well put, +Brian White. Granted, I'm biased because I'm one of those people who works full time on protecting our users' privacy.

For the people who tell me that they're the product, I like to send them to this link: It's the open source plugin we develop to allow any of our users to opt out of personalized advertising. We literally develop a product, for free and open source that cuts profits to our own bottom line just because it's the right thing to do for our users. Install that plugin, and while you'll still see ads, you won't be tracked, and you can examine the source code yourself.

That usually causes some stuttering after the original argument... 
I don't doubt for one second that you believe that you both have moral compasses, Brian and Andy, but consider that you might be misleading yourselves.

For example, if that were the case, there would be no such thing as Google-approved "collateral damage". You would find another way to achieve the same end without harming the innocent.

For example, eventually Google will consume the entire ecosystem around it. I can understand and accept that but Google sometimes takes unfair advantage in the pursuit of some of those ends. Not all of Google's behaviour in recent years would have passed the most basic of ethical standards.

For example you said above, "If the leaders of the company purposely violated our users' trust, there would be open revolt and the founders would be lucky to not find themselves strung up by their toes." but Googlers heard nothing of the multi-million dollar payments being received by Google to provide access for the NSA's PRISM spooks. I am guessing that Googlers did not hear about the payments while they were being made but I know that they know of them now so where is the moral compass?
This is all coming across as a bit heavy and that was not my initial intention at all.

Feel free to ignore my questions above but please consider joining us one day on the Dumb SEO Questions weekly HOA for a friendly debate on these and other issues like these.
Agreed, Brian!

Bumper-sticker slogans that aim to define reality are so often overly simplistic and grossly inadequate to be a genuinely supportable claim.
+Andy Bohm, ack!  Your link caused me to "opt out" without any choice or confirmation.  Might want to change that.

+Jim Munro, I was an SRE for 5 years.  I ran Google services in production.  There is no way Google intentionally let the NSA have access to any of our internal information (requests through government legal channels notwithstanding).  Any accusations to the contrary have been categorically denied at all levels.  To ensure it can't happen again, we now encrypt all network traffic, even across our private network links.  I personally know people on Traffic Team and NetOps and I don't see any way such snooping could have been accomplished without it becoming widely known.  You simply cannot hide that, even internally, with so many people involved.  Only unauthorized tapping of the network cable outside of our datacenters makes any sense.  Any costs the NSA incurred to acquire Google traffic would have to be there... and it ain't happening any longer.

Just think about it...  Google makes around to 50B/year.  Why on earth would management risk that for a few million?  Forget the moral issues for a moment...  It makes no business sense.

Humans have a built-in desire to believe in conspiracies.  It's some weird part of our nature.  I once read a study showing that more people believed the US government was covering up encounters with aliens than actually believed in aliens.
Thank you! >*bow*< That has been my opinion of Google since many long years ago we got an email that my daughter's home school project web site was breaking the baby spiders and would it be okay to crawl it nightly till they fixed the recursion problem. That was when the little spiders were in a garage. My daughter had linked each graphics page to every other graphics page for fifty some pages. The email also suggested we get an HTML validator. They might remember that if you ask them >*grin*< 
+Jeremy Reger, you believe Google invented advertising? Or, to put differently, when you read e.g. the Washington Post (for extra effect suppose you read the paper edition) would you consider yourself "the product", despite the fact that 2/3 of their income comes from advertising, only 1/3 from circulation? This is also true for TV and radio even after technologies like cable TV, and it has been true forever; journalism and broadcast media were always advertising-funded. Even the unethical side of this business, such as selling "mailing lists" with one's subscribers without their authorization, was invented by traditional companies much before the internet.
The wikipedia article on two-sided markets should be required reading for anyone who wants to posit whether a user is a product or a customer.
Thanks for the insight. Very refreshing. 
Using me and my activity with your services is not in violation of my rights or even respect, I expect you to use my activity to better your services and to make new products that (overall) you provide for free. That is my benefit for being used as a product or for your information and development, it's part of what I know will happen using your services. I am, at the least, one of the components that makes up your products. For this I get good value and as long as that remains and that my identity remains merged in with everybody else's I have no concern with that. The adage is true, or at least ensures a user being provided free services should respect why they are getting something for nothing.
There can be no end to arguments for or against. For Google has to continue to provide the services it is giving and to do that it has to earn a revenue from advertisers at least and for that it directs the advertisers to the their targets. Now users are benefited by getting first hand information of what they are interested in. To say Google misused the knowledge of users preferences is having the cake and breaking the dish.
Google is only using the info it has about the user to his own benefit.
So it surely is a - win win win condition!!!
+Edward Morbius, that's a lot of points.  YouTube is a video site.  I don't think it's fair to complain about videos on the site.  I believe there are extensions to Chrome that will stop auto-play.  It rarely affects me so I haven't looked.  Auto-play-next has its place for those sitting back... and there must be a way to turn it off  because it doesn't do it for me.

As for the search dialog moving, I still see it above my search results.  It does move in Chrome, though, in order to help people understand they can search from the Omnibox.  A lot of people go to the Omnibox, type Google, then search.  We're trying to show them they can skip a step and thus search faster.  User first.

But as I've said, not everything we do is going to be the preferred thing for every single user.  Some people simply won't like something even though millions of others do.  Since Google is very data-driven, we will have statistics and metrics that show improved experience for every change that remains.
+Brian White My main point is the autoplay.  The search results (and ranking) show that if you simply search for "auto play", without keywords such as "stop" or "disable", etc., many of the posts are strongly negative.  Further, the supportive posts come from SEO and advertising types, which is itself intrinsically suspect.

The fact that the behavior translates to other sites compounds this.

And if you want to provide an explicit tool for people to cue up a bunch of videos or randomly generate a playlist, then do it.  What exists simply doesn't fit the bill.

The search dialog thing was another annoyance.  What I see is that it appears briefly as the page opens, then disappears, using Chrome.  I haven't tried Firefox lately.  I may post a screenshot.

Given the very many missteps of G+, and my own experience with what data-driven approaches can get you (sometimes they work, sometimes true metrics are too difficult to define to prove useful), I'd say that Google's approach appears highly flawed.  From a UX PoV if not an advertising revenues one.

Google themselves admit this is a problem:  "Today, users are (rightfully) mad at misbehaving content for doing things like auto-playing annoying ad audio, but they should continue to pressure web site authors to change this behavior."

... and then take precisely the wrong approach:

"For “behaving” content, we think it’s reasonable for a user to click on a tab and use the content’s media controls to stop playback."

As I indicated:  I've got a situation where I've got multiple (eight videos on the reddit page in question) videos EACH OF WHICH I'VE GOT TO MUTE AND STOP INDIVIDUALLY.

I'm sorry, but that's just fucking wrong.

Really:  my best option at this point is to figure out how to reference videos without directly embedding them, on my own pages.  And figuring out how to just plain fucking block them in my browser to prevent them from playing at all.  I'll use the external apps for all viewing.

Oh, and the "tab indicator" really doesn't work when I've got multiple windows on multiple desktops.  Total. Fucking. Fail.
+Brian White That was a very good write-up, and it is nice to see opinions from the inside.  I do actually believe at this point that the average google employee cares a lot about service to the user.  Unfortunately, one member of upper management can outweigh everyone underneath them.  You say that you have taken lary and Sergey to task over this kind of stuff, and that you have seen others do so.  You have to admit that this strongly implies that while they are willing to listen, they aren't exactly on-board with your general feelings.  Lets face it, there are plenty of times that google puts metrics ahead of users.
For a couple of easy examples:
Since we are on plus, have you noticed that the volume control on circles used to include an "All" option which has been since removed?  I don't follow a friend so that I can have a 20% chance of not seeing her announcement of the birth of her child.  So, now if I want to be sure not to miss something I have to not only visit my home stream, I also have to individually visit the streams of anyone who I want news from.  This drives up internal metrics at the cost of user annoyance.  It gives a short-term inflated perception of heightened user "engagement" at the cost of eventually driving me to some other platform if I really want to know when an event happens.  Bad for the users, but it was probably a feather in some manager's hat when it happened and a metric ticked up.
+ Spamming is pretty well the exact same thing:
Google implemented +s as a way to show approval or acknowledgement of a post, and once people were in the habit of adding +s to things indiscriminately, google started spamming those +s out to everyone in their circles.
"I approve" and "I want to share" are completely different things, and I do not like my stream being clogged up with people approving of the fact that someone had pancakes for breakfast.  Yes, I know that I can decline to spam with +s, but I am not allowed to decline to receive them .  Once again perceived traffic goes up, not because people are actually engaged, but because people are being spammed.  If the best interest of the user was really #1, we would be allowed to decline to have this crap appear in our stream. 
Those are just easy examples.  Seriously dude, I believe you when you say that you work with good people, but in order for me to believe that google places users first, I only ask one thing.
Show, don't tell.
Well, +Edward Morbius, I understand your frustration but I also confident that everything you mention was discussed and the choice made with considered reason.  You're looking at one aspect of it and how it directly affects you.  I don't know the particulars regarding the things you mention, but if an extension is capable of providing functionality desired by some individuals then that is generally the preferred mechanism as it means we don't violate one of Chrome's basic tenements: Simplicity.  (The other two being Speed and Security).  There's also this little thing called the "html5 specification" which we have to follow (though extensions do not) that may apply in some cases.

Do keep complaining about it, though!  (Though perhaps tone down the language as it actually weakens your arguments.)  That's the best way to improve the product.
+Brian White  Telling the user he's wrong, being a slave to broken standards, and simplifying a system or tool to the extent it no longer fits the domain space are all fundamental class errors.

I presume most features implemented in Google products have been discussed, and choices made with deliberation.  Hasn't kept you from making some spectacular blunders in the past.  Nor the present or future.
The problem is that Google (nor Googlers) recognize that Google having access to our data is a privacy problem. Google's happy to spend all day campaigning against the government having it, yet casually comfortable with all of its own uses for our data at the same time.
+Edward Morbius In google's defense, the way to address broken standards is to get the standards fixed, not to bypass them.  Bypassing standards leads to IE
I believe the difficulty +Jake Weisz is that Google's response to its algorithms profiling your data is pushing additional information of interest your way. The Government's response to its algorithms profiling your data is showing up outside your door with guns. 
+William L. Weaver The problem is that neither has an opt-out.
The other problem is an utter lack of transparency.  I would be far less annoyed with google collecting creepy amounts of data about me if I had the ability to review, and correct that data.  I do not, and therefor it is a problem.
+John VanRoekel, a number of years ago there was a big internal change.  A lot of people in my department were unhappy about it.  I stated, publicly, that people should write their thoughts on our annual internal survey but was instead told by my boss's boss to not wait and say what I thought needed to be said.

So I wrote a short email detailing what had been done, what I thought was wrong, how I thought it could be done better, and why it was important.  This was sent to probably 1000 engineers company-wide and management all the way up to SVP (Alan Eustace), one stop above the person who made the decision and one below Larry.

I expected to receive a reply on the lines of "Thank you for your opinion but here is why we were right in what we did." Instead I received from my VP, "That's interesting.  Tell me more."  I was actually quite shocked, though pleasantly so.  I then continued to have a public discussion with my VP going back and forth on the subject a few times until both sides felt understood and that, should something like that need to be done again, it would be done a better way. Awesome!

This attitude permeates the company. Larry and Sergey (and sometimes Eric) stand in front of thousands of Googlers every week and take tough questions.  Sometimes there are explanations, sometimes there are apologies, and sometimes changes get made right there.

Google Fiber's policy change to allow personal servers is an example of something brought up by a "lowly engineer" during one of those times.  Larry took the question about why we weren't allowing it, said, "I don't know", turned to (somebody) and said, "Can we make it happen?".  A few weeks later, it did. Awesome!

Regarding your specific things, "send feedback" to the team.  It does get read.  Maybe it's a bug or maybe it's possible another way or maybe it was a bad decision or maybe you're simply the minority (no offense :-).  I have no inside knowledge to share other than feedback does get read by humans.

The distinction between like & share is a tough balance between simplicity and control.  No choice will be right for everyone.  I have some complaints myself.  We don't always get it right.  But we try and we listen and we iterate.  We mustn't sacrifice the "good" in an attempt to be "perfect".
+John VanRoekel That depends on how you defy the standard.  I mean, there's Netscape, which gave us ... animated gifs, <blink>, and <marquee>.

Probably a few others, but point is that these didn't break the Web.  There's "embrace, extend, and extinguish" and there's "extend sensibly".  Working code and rough consensus.

The problem today is that much of the Microsoft domination strategy now plays out in the standards process itself.  E.g., DRM in HTML5.  I wouldn't mind breaking that fully.
+Brian White Don't worry, I don't expect you to personally justify everything google has messed up.  My point is that there are places where google makes clear choices that sacrifice users upon the alter of metrics.  The removal of an existent "All" option is a clear and irrefutable case.  +spamming is nearly as bad.
As for submitting feedback.  That is probably google's worst failing.  Google may have a great internal trouble-ticket system, but their engagement in that area sucks.  None the less, users (including myself) have been very clear on what they think about +spamming.  It is not a kind opinion, time has not softened it, and google refuses to budge.
At the end of the day, any time that google takes control of user's content out of the hands of the users and takes it upon themselves.  They are doing a disservice to the users.
As for the whole "What is the product and who are the customers?" question.
Will google offer me a pay service where they will feed me no ads, collect no data on me that I do not explicitly authorize, and in no way access any data that I trust them with?  Because that is the only way that I truly become the customer.
(Typo edit)
P.S. Search my stream for #BugReport.
Every one of those has been submitted as feedback, with relevant people tagged in.
The majority have not been fixed.
+John VanRoekel While agreeing with you regards Google's lack of transparency in feedback, my experience is that many of my own public suggestions to Google (also posted as feedback -- and due to my policy of deleting my G+ content, no longer visible on my profile page), some were addressed.  By no means all, and probably not even most -- maybe 25%, but I still consider that a pretty good percentage for a major site.

It also takes time.  Even modest changes are usually a minimum of 30 days, a few clear bugs maybe a week or less (some tagging/markup errors), but other features took 3, 6, or 12 months or more to roll out (the line count for truncated text in body posts, for example).

The feedback system, and lack of public engagement on G+ by Google staff on Google-related issues (with a few exceptions -- we're picking on Brian here, and Yonatan is another who occasionally contributes a bit) is particularly bad.  I found myself blocked by one Community Manager, +Natalie Villalobos, and +Shimrit Ben-Yair has stopped engaging (with anyone) regarding G+ on public posts since early last November.

The "send feedback" function is pathetic, particularly the inability to readily review your own feedback and the utter lack of return feedback from Google on it.

So I've stopped giving feedback, particularly with what I consider to be the ur-bug of Google's on morality and evil nature.
+Brian White My problem is that Google hasn't fixed any of its privacy mistakes. In most cases, it hasn't admitted they're mistakes. And most condemningly, the only Googlers who've ever convinced me they even understand the definition of privacy are ex-Googlers.

As long as Google releases products with "opt out" switches, instead of "opt in" switches, nobody can realistically say Google puts user privacy first. Google's bottom line, the money they make on using that data, comes first. Philosophically, "opt out" means Google believes they have an entitlement to your data, but they'll stop it if you ask them to.

That's the problem. It's not Google's data. It's MY data.
+Edward Morbius  I understand that fixes can take time, and I don't begrudge any company taking the time to do it right.  While they are fixing the problem, one would also expect that the issues would be addressed in "Known Issues" Except that google's  "Known Issues" is a wasteland of non-information that never includes known workarounds, and often continues to list problems as open well after they are fixed, or never lists them at all.
The moment that anyone reports a problem, the text of the report should be checked against existing open trouble tickets.  If the report is a match for an open ticket, then the customer should be directed to that ticket with the option to "Join" their complaint to that ticket.  (this is just a localized search which google used to be good at, and it would drastically reduce the need for individual review of tickets) If their complaint appears unique, then it needs to be expedited to a human (A lot more free now) and, if legitimate, immediately opened as a public trouble ticket.  Anyone who opens or joins a ticket should have the option to receive updates whenever that ticket changes, to include known work-arounds, level of progress, and when the ticket is closed.
This would reduce manpower required, increase transparency, and improve responsiveness.
Instead there are six or seven different ways of reporting a problem, and the only one that has any feedback at all has a backlog of over a year to even confirm that a problem exists.
The system is completely broken.
And yes, I have pointed all this out before.
+Jake Weisz, opt-out vs opt-in is an excellent example of balance so let me comment on it because it is frequently debated internally.  First, recognize that most people will keep the default, whatever it may be.  We want to provide the best service we can to you, the user, and the more information we have, the better the service we can provide.  Google Now is the clearest example, but there are others.  So in most cases, it's of benefit to the user to have to explicitly opt-out to the collection of information. Money is not the goal. Providing the best service is the goal.  This just happens to make us money as well.

Remember that no external party ever receives your data (legal requests and illegal snooping notwithstanding, both of which we fight against) and internal parties generally do not have access to the same and those few that can access personally-identifiable-information have such requests logged and audited.  Your information is quite safe with us... but of course you have no proof of this other than our word and a general lack of compelling evidence to the contrary.

But your concern is a valid one and, as I said, is debated hotly.  I cannot talk about the company's plans, but I will say there are some.  It won't make everybody happy -- that's a fact of any plan -- but will hopefully make some people less unhappy.
+John VanRoekel, you are quite correct that our problem-reporting system has its own problems.  Fixing it isn't nearly as easy at you make it sound, however, and localized search is a very different beast than websearch.  Just ask anyone who uses the Google Search Appliance on internal networks.  Every problem that goes unresolved is a missed chance to delight one of our customers. And we know it.
+Brian White In opt-out vs opt-in, there is a third path of "Explicit-Opt" where the user makes the choice rather than google making it without telling them and then letting them go back and change it after the fact.
Google has no problem pestering me about my phone number a couple times a month when I log in.  How about the next time they are going to make a change to my settings, they simply pause me at my next log-in and ask?  That way everyone is aware of the option, and nobody gets stuck with an option that they don't want.
+Brian White Google is preying on people who "keep the default". If we want the service, we'll turn it on. Sure, you can say "if we don't want it, we'll turn it off", but here's the problem: Most users aren't following Google update news like us rabid G+ fanboys are. Which means most of the people who aren't opting out, don't even know you're co-opting their data in new and more invasive ways. You have no excuse for providing someone a service they did not ask you for, and you're abusing them without them even knowing about it. If you didn't ask them permission in advance to do something with their data, in a clear and understandable way, you shouldn't be doing it.

Illegal snooping IS withstanding. You know it happens. Between Heartbleed and the NSA tap, both being recent revelations, you can't tell me, in good conscience, you can act to write software that uses and stores my private data, and tell me there isn't more holes in the Google firewall that haven't been plugged yet. Telling me "Your information is quite safe with us" after Heartbleed and the NSA leak is a joke. I'm smarter than that, and so are you.
By the way +Brian White kudos to you for having the stones to engage on this stuff. I hope that our combined skepticism doesn't deter you in the future.

+Jake Weisz let's operate under the assumption that +Brian White is telling the truth as he believes it.  We may disagree with him about how google does business, but that doesn't mean that he has drunk so deeply from the cool-aid that he is out to actively deceive us.  Sure it is possible that on some level every bit of data that passes through google gets actively forwarded to the NSA.  But if more than a handful of people knew about it, it would eventually come out.  If such forwarding is happening then +Brian White is probably not one of those in the know.

+Brian White Like I said, I believe you when you say that you trust the people you work with, but you have the luxury of watching the sausage being made.  You may know that people work hard to keep the rats out.  The problem is that out here we keep finding whiskers and tails, and we really wish that google would be more open about that.  So when someone like you offers a little bit of openness, we tend to pounce.
+John VanRoekel I'll echo your kudos to +Brian White for engaging on it.

I don't believe +Brian White is intentionally being deceptive, but I mean, when you stop and think about how long Heartbleed and the NSA taps weren't known about? It's crazy not to assume there's probably more to come in that regard. I'm sure it will eventually come out, yes. But I doubt we've heard of every security issue Google has or will ever have revealed.

I think there's an internal culture problem at Google, where trusting Google is doing the right thing is often assumed. Obviously there's limits to how much a current Google employee can say about where they do and do not agree with the Google party line, but what I've heard from former Googlers who no longer have to worry about an angry note from the manager, many of my suspicions aren't far off.
+Jake Weisz Did you catch Heartblead? Because I sure as hell didn't, and neither did about a zillion security pros.  It was crazy sloppy code that none of us caught even though it was all public. I can't blame google for that. 
As for the NSA tapping into insecure fiber.  That was pretty dumb on google's part, but I suspect that somebody balanced speed and performance vs security and blew the call.  Some things I will lay firmly at google's feet as acts against the user, and some things I will lay at their feet as dumb mistakes.  There are plenty of things in both piles, but we do have to keep them clear.
Sometimes the things that we attribute to malice, are simply incompetence after all : ) 
+John VanRoekel,  the option of forcing a choice is well known but has its own drawbacks.  One, it's keeping people from what they want.  Two, it's asking something that has no recommended answer (if there was, it would be the default) and many people will balk, going back instead of forward.  Both make for a horrible user experience.

In general, allowing collection of information is always an explicit action by the user, even if just accepting a default.  Look at location history on Android, for example:  You have to go and manually turn it on.  The use of directly submitted information is a different matter.  Settings are chosen to give most users what they want and options to those that want differently.

+Jake Weisz, you may read every checkbox and make an informed decision each time but the vast majority of people (something like 80%) will not.  We're trying to help them.  We're not trying to help you because you read and make informed decisions every time.  These people want good service from Google and this is part of how we provide that.

Google asks for a phone number for security and recovery reasons.  Nothing makes a user more unhappy than being able to access their account; this step tries to prevent that.

No excuse for providing someone a service they did not ask for? ??? Not an entrepreneur, are you. Nobody asks for new services.  Smart people see services people need and create them.

With regard to your personal information, I said "quite safe", not "perfectly safe".  And I'll argue that your data is safer with us than almost anywhere else.  It was Google that discovered Heartbleed and was the first to fix it.  We now encrypt all our network traffic, even over our private lines.  They can't be snooped any longer.  (At least, no more so than any strong SSL connection.)  You can probably count the number of companies that do that on one hand.  The NSA has had more data leaked outside than Google has.
(obviously I'm not getting much actual work done today)

I promise you, +Jake Weisz and +John VanRoekel that there are a great many people inside Google who share all the same concerns you do and actively fight to address them.  Google is its people.  It's not some faceless mega-corp.  There is no perfect solution.  We do the best we can... and we don't always get it right.  Sometimes we take it on the chin.  Hindsight is much clearer than foresight.  But the intent is always to provide the best service to our users.

Oh, and Google does publish to you what it knows about you:
+John VanRoekel I'm not saying Heartbleed is Google's fault, but I am saying that it's not exactly good form to say your data's secure enough on our servers, that nobody should be concerned about private "my eyes only" data being there. Like Instant Upload pictures, which my Glass is going to send to Google whether I want it to or not. (In that case, Google doesn't even offer an opt out. It's a requirement of using the device.)

+Brian White Why has Google decided user experience always trumps privacy? Why does Google assume everyone would prefer user experience over privacy? Why can't I have an opt out to end all all opt outs? Let me opt over to an opt in only system. Then, when everyone switches to it, they can't blame you for "bad UX".
+Brian White (If they give you crap about it, I'll vouch that you were serving the companies interest : )

Google is made up of its people, but most decisions are only made by one or two of them, and those decisions are not always in the users best interest (I have yet to find a single google employee who will even touch the removal of the "All" option. It appears to be indefensible.)
So, yeah, I accept that there are lots of good folks working there.  But they aren't always the ones who get to make the call.

(typo edit)
+Jake Weisz That is why I ditched my android and went with a windows phone.
With the android devices, integration with google's servers was a requirement for the function of the phone.  My Nokia allows me the option to store things locally, or to use Microsoft's data services.
The choice is important.
+John VanRoekel I'm very likely switching to Windows Phone soon. And Google's lousy support for it will help me move off of Google's services faster than I've been able to manage myself so far.
+Jake Weisz, you are absolutely correct to be concerned about your private information.  Never stop.  Always ask.... nay, demand to know what is being done with it.

We understand that you are giving us the privilege of knowing things about you and we do our utmost best to treat it with the respect it deserves.  But we're not infallible and despite how much we try, mistakes will be made and oversights will be found.  We hate that but it's a fact of life.  We make it possible to not send us that information if you so choose.

The user experience does not trump privacy.  It's a balance.  A very difficult balance.  But people use our services because they are useful to them so we need to make them as useful as they can possibly be... or someone else will.

Decisions about privacy are covered by entire groups who review everything.  It's a major issue.
Perhaps what you say is 100% accurate. The primary trouble is that /I can't know that/ - for all that Google's internally very open, there's this massive information firewall between internal operations and the public. Trust is a two-way street; if you want us to trust you, you have to trust us more than you currently seem to.

(The secondary trouble is that organizations of people are fully capable of taking actions that no single individual within the organization would endorse. Perhaps Google has effective process / organizational safeguards against this... but again, I can't know that.)
Wow. I missed a lot of discussion last night, most of which I'm ok with. But for those that say that Google should give some insight into all the data that it has about you and a way to control it, I'll leave you with this:
+Andy Bohm google officially divides the info that they gather about us into two parts:
"Information you give us."
"Information we get from your use of our services."
There is a third unacknowledged class that boils down to:
"Things that we derive from a combination of the above"
An example of the first would be the body of this reply.
An example of the second would be the IP and routing information associated with this reply.
An example of the third would be google's persistent assumption that I want to be continually pestered about sports and linux administration because some people I interact with are interested in these things.

The dashboard gives us OK control over the level 1 info (which we already had, but it is nice to have in one spot)
It gives us nearly zero control over the level two info, which is where the interesting stuff is.
And it gives zero acknowledgement to the third level, which is a pity, because I don't give a tinker's dam about sports or linux admin, and I would really like to stop being pestered about it.

If you really want to feed me relevant ads, than a good second step* would be actually allowing me to tell you when stuff isn't relevant.

*The first step is reversing the decision that removed the separation between ads and email, forcing me to run an ad-blocker.

(Edit to remove redundancy)
+John VanRoekel I can only assume the Sports/linux thing you're referring to is from Google Now and those cards are easily controllable.

The other part you refer to, the derived information is at

My earlier link in this thread lets you permanently opt out of that personalization altogether.
+Andy Bohm Nope, I don't use Now.  They are the persistent top choices in + for "Follow things you love" and Communities that you absolutely must join" advertizements.

As for tracking cookies, I simply don't use them on my personal machines.

Another great example of the uselessness of the dashboard:
It dutifully reports to me all the information on the android phone that I made the mistake of briefly associating with my account, and yet has no mechanism for me to remove that information even though I no-longer use, desire, or even own said phone.
Likewise, it lists a couple of apps that I downloaded through the play store, without a mechanism for disassociating them from my account.
+David Wright ya gotta aim that kind of accusation at people my friend.
Backing it up probably wouldn't hurt either ; )
+John VanRoekel, you realize that you're complaining that the options Google offers you aren't what you're interested in while consistently holding back sources of information that could be used to improve the recommendations.

It's been well established that asking people what they want is a waste of time.  They either don't truly know or can't be bothered to tell you.  Good in theory... lousy in practice.
+Brian White Ah, but once you have pestered somebody with something long enough, giving them the option to say : "No.  Seriously.  I am not interested in this." would probably be very useful : )
I am not saying that google should ask people what they want.  I am saying that google should be willing to listen if people are willing to tell them.  It is a subtle but important difference.
As for withholding information, I give google far more information than they are willing to give back to me.  As I look through google's privacy policy at the amount of information that they reserve the right to collect about me, and then I look at account controls and the dash-board and a bunch of other places, I am only allowed to view a very small percentage of what they admit that they collect, and I am allowed to edit an even smaller amount.
If google really wants to know what I want, I am willing to tell them, but saying that they will eventually guess it right if only they can gather more data, is not an argument that I find convincing. The results have been less then stellar so far.

(Edit to fix italics)
I love Google but I'm very skeptical about your claims.

In the end Google, Facebook, et al are advertising companies who take user information & sell them to advertisers.

Is that evil‽ No, but it's where most of Google's revenue comes from.

That said Google's business interests do conflict with the interests of users at times as the Windows Phone +YouTube app fiasco demonstrated.

Contrast that with Vimeo who (arguably) has few users on Windows Phone yet made an app to allow those users to easily upload videos.

Does Google screw over their users at the request of the advertisers‽ No!

But they are more beholden to the advertisers than Apple & Microsoft (but definitely not Facebook). 
The latest gmail bruhaha is clearly misguided. I understand this, but then again I have a copy of Wireshark on my computer and I know how to use it; any unencrypted email I send can be read by anyone with the right access to any router or server that email travels through. If people understood this they would be more angry about what happened to lavabit. Personally I don't mind seeing ads for tea on half the sites I visit, but I'm not happy with the NSA having all my cell phone metadata.
+Brian White I agree with you that most people may not be able to express what they want, but as +John VanRoekel says, they (we) definitely know what we don't want.
One neat thing about Cortana in Microsoft's soon to be released upgrade is the ability to edit what it knows about you. You can remove/correct and preemptively add information.
In order for the product to be, you need the users to need it. And in order for the users to need, you need the product to be And I think that Google gives both the product and the user, and when the user is satisfied, everything comes smooth. The thing that not everybody understands is the Google is made by humans and to fulfill their needs, it is not made by research and reports on market trends (though this comes but on a later stage for leveling the product), so Google is a human-centered company or entity (I liked this), and the way it does things it is simply and delightfully human. 
Well said +Brian White, excellent post. I particularly like your comment about the difficult balance, and the seriousness with which these issues are taken within google. I would like to see more official efforts to educate users about google's priorities and safeguards, they really should make more of an effort to help people understand how apps and targeted ads actually affect individual privacy. It shouldn't be this big complicated mystery that encourages paranoia and suspicion. 
+David Wright and you smell funny.
Now that we have the unfounded ad hominem attacks out of the way, have you got anything useful to add to the conversation?
If you genuinely believe that Google is the most "moral" company you have ever worked for, +Brian White , then you won't be afraid to consider the opposite point of view raised in this article on 27 April 2014 (or is the article what your thread here is in response to?):
I don't think that "you are the product" and "we treat you well" are necessarily mutually exclusive.

Kobe beef, for example.
+Darnell Clayton, Google never, ever, ever sells your information.  To anybody.  Period.  Google uses what it knows about you (royal "you") to match things offered with people that want them.  This is a service not really any different than a house Realtor who connects sellers and buyers.  The better we do it, the more transactions take place.  For each transaction, a buyer gets what they want, seller gets what they want, and Google gets compensated for bringing them together.  Everybody wins! This is a good thing. A useful Ad -- something that connects you to something you want -- is a service well done.

In my opinion, Google is far more beholden to our users than our publishers.  Publishers will go where the users are.  Users will go where the service is the best.

Regarding the YouTube app for Windows Phone...  Google has a lot of engineers.  And they're all busy!  We have to prioritize what we work on.  This is the same reason not every bug gets fixed in a day or two.  YouTube works just fine under Windows Phone using the browser.  Not ideal, but it's there.  When/if they acquire significant market share, I'm sure that will change.  The MS version of the app auto-skipped ads and offered to download a local copy!  Duh!  Remember that Google doesn't own the copyright on most of the YouTube stuff so of course they had to put a stop to that or the owners of the content would have had a fit.

+Jim Gomes, people don't accurately communicate what they don't want much better than what they do want.  Why don't they want it?  Was it uninteresting?  Offensive?  Placed at a poor position on the page?  You can't ask, because people don't want to take any time to explain the reason.  Yes, you know they don't like it.  You don't know why and it doesn't help you provide something they will like.  You can't spend significant resources to design, develop, debug, and maintain a feature that generally won't be used and, when it is, provides no useful information.
This is turning into an interesting thread, +Brian White. :)

I bet you wish you hadn't started it. :)

BTW I don't think this is a reasonable response RE your statement, "The MS version of the app auto-skipped ads and offered to download a local copy!  Duh!  Remember that Google doesn't own the copyright on most of the YouTube stuff so of course they had to put a stop to that or the owners of the content would have had a fit."

I think that your response is misleading.

I don't think Owners of clips would care less if Microsoft's app offered a local copy. There are hundreds of apps already that download a local copy and they've never been complained about.
+Darnell Clayton, I cannot speak for Facebook, nor can I speak officially for Google in this capacity, but I have worked for Google for over eight years, including with very high level Search folks, so I can tell you straight out that Google does not sell individuals' info to advertisers.  Or loan this info.  Or rent it.  Or donate it.  Google provides a marketplace; for instance, an advertiser says, "We have froobnitzes.  We want to sell them to people who are searching for high end froobnitzes.  We'll pay you money, Google, if you'll show our froobnitz ads to people searching for this item!"
+Jim Munro, I read the article.  (I hadn't seen it before.  I was just fed up reading one-more-use-comment of the line with which I started my post.)  I was Search SRE for 2 years but was never involved with ranking.  I do have two kids, though, so know a thing or two about dealing with questionable behavior.  :-)

The article seems to be about websites being treated unfairly, or perhaps arbitrarily.  Google's algorithms are somewhat arbitrary (being coded to accomplish some desired goal) but they are applied universally.  We've even pushished our own sites when it was found an external agency was using inappropriate tactics (paid links, as I recall).  I'll argue that this is "fair".

Mr. Bachynski seems to believe that Google should do everything it can to help every website in the world... or at least those that have grown dependent on Google's rankings.  Now that's unfair.

It is my opinion that he is failing to recognize one important fact:  We build our services for the users, not the websites.  The "arbitrary" algorithms are chosen such that, when a user does a search, they get results that provide what is desired.  If a website is trying to appear to be a good result while not actually being so, then they deserve to be, not "demoted in the rankings" but rather "returned to their proper place in the rankings".

Google absolutely must do this! If they don't, then Bing, Yandex, Yahoo, Baidu, or some other search engine will do so and users will move to that.

One of Google's core beliefs is: Focus on the user and all else  will follow. That's "user", not "webmaster".
"Even Ads is viewed as a service to our users.  Random ads are garbage.  Useful ads are a benefit.  Yes, it's also a benefit to our publishers and yes, it's also a benefit to our shareholders.  Since when did win-win-win arrangements become a bad thing?"

I as your customer am not counting this as a win. So it's Win-Win-Lose. I am the loser when someone's ads are better targeted at me, for two reasons.

First, because I don't need any fore-brain action to ignore garbage ads. Whereas a well targeted ad actually gets my attention. I don't agree that this is good for me, because my attention is in short supply.

Second, because the targeting data you are using and distributing makes me less anonymous, thus stripping away a layer of privacy in a way that makes me quite uncomfortable.

Look here Google, I like your products. I'll pay money for them. But I won't pay in attention and lost privacy.
This is a good chat, mate, but consider that it's probably not accurate to say "Google absolutely must do this! If they don't, then Bing, Yandex, Yahoo, Baidu, or some other search engine will do so and users will move to that."

Specifically, apart from a couple of exceptions, Bing, Yandex, Yahoo, Baidu do not primarily use penalties.

It is only Google that has imposed upper limit thresholds that punish websites while all the other search engines simply ignore excessive signals.

It is only Google that has made Negative SEO possible yet while Google knows about NSEO being common practice, nothing has been done to mitigate the damage.

I think that was the point of the article, Brian. He's saying Google gave up the right to imagine itself as "moral" when Google abandoned the concept of the level playing field. He's saying you can't expect to be able to pick and choose and retain the moral high ground.

Consider the frustration level required to drive Josh to burn his bridges with Google.

These would be great topics to discuss conversationally, Brian, if only you could join us on the Dumb SEO Questions HOA tonight or any other Thursday night.

May I send you an invitation? If you are in Montreal, we start at 8am your time.
+Paul Vixie, no information is distributed.  Advertisers get zero information about you when an Ad is displayed for you.

That aside, it's an interesting perspective that good Ads are a distraction because it forces you to expend energy to ignore them.  I don't personally agree with it but its understandable.

As for a possible paid service that avoids all ads...  I really can't say.  It's an interesting possibility. How much would you pay to never see an Ad? I'm sure there many people at Google who would love accurate information on that type of thing.
it's not just seeing the ads. i don't want any google n-gram to include any of information unique to me. that is, when someone deletes a gmail message that had me as a cc, i want it completely gone.

for the value of google's products (search, calendar, youtube) i would pay at least as much as i pay my cell phone company, if i could be sure that all of my information and activities remained google's closely guarded secret. i'm not going to worry about them having to answer subpoenas about me, that's the law. but if i could get complete privacy and still use google's services, i'd pay at least $100/month.
+Jim Munro, to clarify, I meant that Google absolutely must do everything they can to ensure the user gets the best possible results for their searches ... or they will be replaced.

Are there better tactics?  Probably.  You can bet your bottom dollar that the team that manages search rankings spends a lot of time and money looking for them.  So while it's easy to cite some theory about what works and what doesn't, you can be reasonably confident that groups of Googlers are constantly putting these ideas through real-world tests to see what works best in practice.

In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they're not.
(a favorite engineering quote of mine --- goodnight all :-)
Thanks for taking the time to answer my question +Brian White! :-)

I guess Google more or less matches user data with advertisers then sells our data.

I still disagree with the notion that Google is too busy to create a Windows Phone YouTube app (or pay someone else to do it) but hopefully that is rectified soon so my friends can enjoy the fun!
No, +Darnell Clayton, as +Brian White explained, Google does not sell our data, more, less or at all. If you think about it, there's no business incentive for them to do that, quite apart from the moral issue. Also, people, let's remember that all of Google's apps and products are free to use. There is no elite opt-out of advertising option, everybody is treated equally, and what makes this possible is ad revenue. Google keeps getting paid by advertisers because they have a business model that works, as well as providing a good and secure user experience. 
+Brian White I like the idea of gaining a deeper understanding of a user's preference. However, the lack of understanding isn't limited to negative preferences. The same questions can be (and probably are) asked about what the user wants. Why did they want it? Was it interesting? Funny? Nostalgic? The answers to both the positive and negative preference questions are found in the same way: more context and behavior patterns that can be analyzed. This is what has to be done to gather useful data, but it is also the very thing that worries people. They want something useful to be generated (i.e., relevant information), but don't want to give the engine high quality fuel. I'm more interested in tuning the engine to enjoy my ride on the information superhighway (yeah, I said it). I have a certain level of trust in Google, because they have demonstrated a commitment that merits that trust. As you say, mistakes have been made from time to time, but every time that has happened I have seen Google take it as a learning moment and make changes to ensure it doesn't happen again. And the mistakes have never been jaw-droppingly stupid either. They have been honest mistakes.
As a fellow HWopsen dealing with DataSec, I agree with every thing +Brian White has made about security and user privacy. Some of you might have read about our other security engineer cussing at NSA publicly a few months back. If I had any decision making power in the matter, I'd go to prison before turning over your data.
Aahh, +Brian White, I realise now that I have jumped to a confusion. :)

 I assumed you were the other +Brian White with a new profile pic. I wouldn't have put most of those questions to you otherwise. I am sorry, mate, thank you very much for taking the trouble to step up and answer me anyway. :)
Every company can justify what it does to make the employees feel better. Oil companies are providing needed energy, weapons manufacturers are making the world safer. I'm not comparing Google to these companies, but saying that the company is moral doesn't change that it is an advertising-based company. It is very easy, while it is doing fantastically well, to justify that you have forgone opportunities to make more money in ways that may be less ethical, but I wonder if the company was doing poorly if you would be able to still make that decision, or if your board members or stock holders would allow you to.

In the end, you make your money by providing eyes to ads. Doing better ad targeting gives your customers ads that are more relevant, but it also gives your advertisers better responses. You may not be evil, but the people who pay you are advertisers, not gmail users, and therefore, the advertisers are your customers, and the gmail users are your product. It is in your best interests as a publicly traded company to provided better value to your advertisers, this may be aligned with providing better value to your users, but that is strategic, not moral.
+Sir Frank Warwick Would you say this to newspaper journalists as well? Because even as you pay (a little) for the product the main income of most printed magazines comes from advertising.
+Kai Laborenz The newspaper model is similar, even if people do pay for them (which clouds the issue), and this is a long-standing issue in journalism which is the fight between what people "want to read" and what they "need to read." So, I think you are refuting your own argument here.
+John VanRoekel  google's  "Known Issues" is a wasteland of non-information

Total agreement.

Also with your other observations of the bugreporting process.  Should be vastly more open, IMO.
+Brian White  opt-out vs opt-in

First:  I agree and sympathize with the "people keep the default" point.  Even for very obviously horrible defaults.  Say:  screen resolution, which was still at ~800x600 or worse well after 1024x768 or better was available, not to mention higher refresh rates, as Web monitoring tools started showing in the late 1990s.  That ... blew my mind.  Literally, 90%+ of users are too terrified to change anything, which is why getting sane defaults from the start is so critically important.  That's one of Steve Jobs' great insights, and the Debian project strives for this as well (though for a more technical audience generally).


And that, frankly, is where Google lost me.  Integrating SEPARATE accounts I'd configured under a single SOCIAL service, when I'd repeated both refused the option in dialogs, eventually modified CSS so that I wasn't even presented with the dialogs (so there was no way I could approve them), and explicitly noted my refusal of this in multiple G+ posts (e.g.,,,

When Google decided that it was going to ignore my privacy concerns and do what the fuck it wanted regardless, it lost me.  Really.  Forever ... to the extent possible.

I'm aware that a lot of people don't like being auto-registered for spam or privacy violation.  Since that's pretty much Google's business model, y'all might want to consider what your future path brings.  Even Zuck seems to be getting that point:

+Alex Schleber: Just as I predicted over the last 6 months or so, #privacy  and #data sovereignity take center stage post Snowden / NSA!

And as to that "to the extent possible"

For those who say "Google doesn't force you to use their shit":  but it does.

I can close all of my personal Google accounts (which I haven't), avoid all of their services, and claim DNS authority over all their domains locally so as to never contact them.

I cannot stop other people from doing so.

Google runs email service for many other people.   Including hosted domains which I'd have to closely inspect to determine whether or not they're hosted by Google or not.  (OK, yes, if I ran my own mailserver I could simply deny peering with Google's mailservers).  It spiders my content (which I can refuse, but see CEO of Axel Springer SE, Mathias Döpfner's letter:

Effectively, no, I don't have the choice without a virtually complete digital shutdown (which I've already largely achieved).

Google's problems stem from two fundamental problems:
• Scale.  At its size, it simply cannot help itself.  As a great philosopher[1] once said:  "Quantity has a quality all its own."
• Moral rot.  Something's twisted inside Google.  Really.  I've watched the company for 15 years.  Initially it did do the right thing.  It's really lost its course, or it's managed to show its true self.  Either way, it's kind of scary.


1. Joseph Stalin, if you're curious.
Google actually do sell your data and a number that identifies you.  Therefore, your data and the number that identifies you really is their product.  Stupid to say that it isn't, but being the product is not necessarily a bad thing.

All ads are garbage, targeted or otherwise... that's why we all have ad blockers.

It doesn't make any sense to say that a company is moral.  People can be moral, companies cannot.

It is a really weird kind of propaganda when we are encouraged to view google as some kind of loving, generous, kermit-the-frog-esque, fantasy friend with their pretty colour picture that reminds us of children's TV.
+Brian White Anyhow, your central tenant appears to be that "Because google is made up in balance of moral people, it must therefore take moral action"
Leaving aside the Stanford prison experiment which modifies that "Must" to a "Might, if we are lucky" If you can get me a straight answer as to how removal of the "All" option directly benefits the customer I'll let the rest drop (And if you don't think that shutting me up would be an accomplishment, ask +Sarah Price : ) My only caveat is that it has to be a direct benefit.  If the answer is along the lines of "By bothering the customer there, we get to raise our metrics, which makes us look more active, which allows us to sell more ads, which lets us do good things" you are in the territory of roads to hell being paved with good intentions.  Not "Directly good for the customer"
You honestly might need to shout that one at larry or Sergey when they are on stage.
Absolutely the best read I have had over morning coffee ever. The ultimate benefit for me is that the discussion is happening, the questions asked and the moral discussion of R&W in the market place is taking place. When this does not take place, when 'because we can' replaces 'should we' a company begins to stagnate.

Mtn. View is my home town, I grew up there and my family still lives there, I am proud that I can say when trying to explain where I come from to someone in my new home Cuenca, Ecuador, that, " I come from where Google is headquartered", without one exception in all of the 7 Latin American countries in which I have traveled and lived, they understood smile and said "YES GOOGLE!!", most of the time they say "I use it everyday". I resigned long ago from FB, for so many reasons I cannot begin to list them all. But my resounding pride is to be from a place  where so many people derive benefit from search to maps to translate. I use it everyday to communicate, navigate and connect and share. That is the ultimate end for me. I do not feel 'sold' or 'used', my user experience is solidly in the PLUS category. 
+Jim Munro, you're in trouble now.  The other +Brian White (who, for those who don't know, is part of the WebSpam team) and I have an agreement that if someone gets us confused, they owe us both schwag!  ;-)

What can I say about the G+ thing...  First, sometimes teams make choices they feel are good but become problematic when many teams make the same choice.  The ubiquitous "Skip For Now" dialog for something that is at least semi-important is a good example: Okay in one place.  Bad everywhere. This is a known issue.

Your account should never auto-upgrade from Google to Google+ but if you want to use services that makes use of the extra information in the extended account, something has to give.

+Kevin Goldsmith, it would be in Google's stort-term best interest to screw over our users and do everything for the publishers.  It is (quite obviously, in my opinion) in Google's long-term best interest to do everything we can to delight our users.  Keep the publishers happy, of course, but delight the users.  A little less money today, but 1000x times that amount in the future.  That's the business case.

But Google's moral case aligns with this.  Datacenters in Africa, Internet balloons, self-driving cars...  They're all part of the basic strategy to make our lives better.

+Lee kowalski Walker, absolutely not.  No personally identifiable information ever leaves the company.  Not your name and not some substitute number.  No.

+John VanRoekel, you'd have to look at whether the people do "moral" things that don't align with the greedy choice to tell which is cause and which is effect.

It's all about finding the best balance between many different parties.  No solution is perfect for all.  It's my observation that we balance on the side of the user.
+Brian White Jut let me know the answer that you get concerning the removal of the "All" Option.  I consider that to be a fair litmus test.
+Lee kowalski Walker Not really moot.  Several security companies have looked into it, and there is no evidence that google sells people's information.

They do sell market data that is biased on aggregated and anonymized
data (Both public and private) which is probably where the accusation comes from, but again, nobody has ever shown that this data can be used to separate out an individual, or to find out specific info about an individual.

I am a huge fan of holding google accountable to the high moral standard that they claim, and calling them on it when they fall flat, but we shouldn't beat them up over something that they are innocent of, especially when they offer plenty of real opportunities. If nothing else, if a majority of the accusations are false, they may feel justified in ignoring all of the accusations, and that would not be healthy.
Yes, it is moot.  The fact remains that we are the product, exactly what information about us is paid for is moot.
There are a lot of great tech companies out there, but ultimately, what makes me love Google is the people who work there. +Brian White, you guys rock.
+Lee kowalski Walker From the point of view of the advertisers, the product is our eyes touching their ads, and the payment is in cash.
From the point of view of us users (and you are apparently one) the product is search and email and + and a bunch of other things, and the payment is our eyes touching ads.
Think of it as the companies paying us in services for us to look at their stuff, with google acting as a broker.
The question at that point is: Even if you assume that the company is made of of people who want the best for users, does that necessarily mean that the company does what is best for users?
+Brian White argues "Yes"
I say, that this is a dangerous assumption, and can be proven flawed in general, and wrong in individual instances.
This "For the good of the users" question then gets tied up with the idea of google being "Good" or "Evil" (which is their own fault, they have made historical claims on that matter)
+John VanRoekel  Google is paid for providing user data in at least some cases:

Mind:  that's mandated by law, and apparently Google are resisting, at least mildly.  But there's no question that Google provides user data and gets paid for it.

While most people here are focused on commercial transactions between Google and advertisers (as I am myself), that's not the only problem.  And Google (and Facebook, and Yahoo, and Microsoft, and ...) are well aware that the Snowden disclosures have made their very fount of strength -- an emperor's riches of personal data -- an Achilles heel as well.

That has nothing to do with my points and certainly doesn't dispute anything I wrote.  Really puzzled as to why you even tagged me in that post.
+Edward Morbius I don't consider that "selling." google was told to provide the info, and the government covered the cost of compliance. 
Sure, I wish that google put up a real fight over it, but that is a separate issue from what is under discussion here.
+John VanRoekel Agreed.  I don't have proof that Google are selling data to advertisers (or other users), but I also don't have proof that they're not.  I do have proof that they're being forced to disclose data regardless of any messaging or positioning of the company on that point.  And no, I'm not OK with that.
+Edward Morbius Well, my company advertizes with google, and we can't buy that data*, and reputable 3rd parties have looked at what can be bought and stated that they can't get personal data out of it, so I'll give google a passing grade on that count.

*We (or any company) can buy top spots on google shopping however, which does fly in the face of "Placement in search results is never sold to anyone"
+John VanRoekel, we put up as much fight as we can.  Here are some details:
Way of a Warrant

However, there are practical limits on what can be done and what can be said when the penalties involve being charged with Treason and put in prison.

Products still appear in generic search results and their placement cannot be affected by vendors.  "Shopping" is not search though results will get propagated to Search results just like ads if the search seems to indicate that the user is looking for a product about which we know.  That's a good thing if we get it right.  It's somewhat annoying when we get it wrong.  :-)

The conversion of a limited "product search" to a commercial "shopping" page wasn't simply a money grab.  I won't disclose anything of the internal discussion about it, but here's the public announcement:

If you want to reason through the "it's not just a money grab" argument, consider how much money Google makes off search and how much "trust" is associated with that.  Now add the negative media comments and speculation designers would be certain to get in response to the change and how that would affect the Crown Jewel.  Does it really sound like a financial benefit if the only thing the new format provided was some paid placement on a side page?

+Edward Morbius, one of reasons you have proof of our release of information to the government is because we provide it in a transparency report.  I believe there are crimes that justify warrants and should have information turned over.  I also believe the government gets them for things I wouldn't believe are justified.  But that's just me.  The company has to follow the law.
+Brian White I'm aware that Google have their transparency reports.  And while I'm increasingly critical of the company, that's something I applaud.

I'm also aware of far too many companies (and other institutions) which do transact in individual data, largely without the people concerned being aware of it.  How?  I build or worked on several of those systems, I've known people who've worked on others, I've interviewed with still more, and occasionally I've accessed the data.  It's a "market for lemons" problem, ultimately:  in a world where there's a huge market for secretly transacting in personal data against the interests of those whose data is being transacted, anyone who is in the data collection business smells bad.

We're also relying on future instantiations of Google to resemble present ones.  Seems to me there was an item in the news not too long ago about the founder of Vkontakte electing on a change of locales after a change in corporate structure:

Vkontakte is often described as "the Russian Facebook".  Among the reasons for the change I've seen discussed were requests on user information in Ukraine (not specifically mentioned in the ArsTechnica story above).

I really see Google's present course as untenable.
+Edward Morbius, your concerns about the future have merit.  There are people inside who worry about the same.  This is why I'm always glad to see Larry & Sergey answer to them, live, on stage, every week.  While I believe Larry & Sergey would do well even without that, it provides a lot of added insurance that we will continue to walk the straight and narrow as best we can.
+Brian White Thank you again for the thoughtful reply, and I really would appreciate it if you would press the issue of the removal of the "All" option in + circles.  I know that it probably isn't your area, but getting an answer (Even if you can't share it) may prove informative.
Then again, now that +Dave Besbris is at the helm, perhaps that kind of behavior will be reversed.
Excellent piece writing Mr.Brian ! Thanks for an informative inside view of my favorite company ! I am the guy with a family that has four Android phones four Android tablets and all of us use chrome. None of us have had any issue with privacy but they are not informed enough to care and any questions they may have I can help them with.
+Joe Mesterhazy, if your hypothetical person is being pulled by a massless string down an infinitely long, frictionless superconductor (please pick one up in the basement of the Physics building on your way out...) and passes a sign on a storefront window advertising something for sale...  Is said person a "product" of the company that created and placed the sign?  I say no; the creation and placement of the sign is the service provided by the company.
Hypothetically, for those who still argue with this...

If we use FREE Healthcare provided by the Canadian Government... I guess we aren't the patients but rather subjects.... Or something like that. I mean, we aren't paying for the services provided, so we must be the subject for some study or something... right?

The Government of Canada must be some evil twisted organization that has some hidden agenda for providing free healthcare to it's citizens.
+Ivan Josiah Lapis Government-provided healthcare is paid for in taxes.  What you're gaining is risk sharing and (with progressive taxes) some wealth / income redistribution, both good things.

Advertising-supported Internet services are paid for in higher prices for consumer goods which goes to support advertising, as well as scams and rip-offs sold through the channel.
+Brian White Why do I respect Google after Eric Schmidt departure ? The Success of Larry Page is based on his leadership :“they build products that leverage technology to solve huge problems for hundreds of millions of people. “Look at Android. Look at Gmail. Look at Google Maps. Look at Google Search. That’s what Google do. They build products you can’t live without using .”Google was created for bringing a better future (by using advanced algorithms) ... No doubt... Google is using our data to enhance our lives. However, facebook was created to spy on weak folks. At the end, I'm so happy to be here on Google plus (Safe social media) 
 +Brian White   I completely agree with your words and sentiment with a single caveat:  We - the millions of people that make use of products from Google without consideration (in the legal sense) - are users and users only.  We are not customers and THAT is the distinction.  I can accept that Google employees care greatly about us as users.  But I will also say that users ≠ customers.  People that advertise on Google and pay Google for that privilege are your customers.
So I'll concede we may not be the product, but I ask that you concede that we are not the customers either.  There is a distinction.
+Jim Preis, you can distinguish people any way you like.  The technical definition of the word is not relevant. We view our users as our most important customers. Publishers are valued customers, too, but we put the users first as best we can.
+Brian White I disagree.  A customer gives something of value in consideration.  That transaction instantiates that person as a customer that has a right to demand according to his/her expectations.  As users only we cannot demand such from Google with integrity.

So while I don't like the fact that when I upload thousands upon thousands of songs from CD's my wife and I collected over the years together but only one of us can use the Google Music service to listen to them, I have no right to demand better from Google.  My only option is accept the circumstance or not use the service.  I have no recourse as a customer would.
To live up to standards, correct mistakes and make it better next time takes a lot of effort. I never ever got any personal comment on my criticism from the guys at Facebook, but I got feedback from Googlers multiple times. This is how well Googlers relate to users/customers. Thank you +Brian White for the service and for trying to live up to the values you descibe in your post. 
Hi Brian,
I am impressed, first by your post, then by your involvement in the comments. 
I am french and in my country, Google is very critical at this time, as if he had become the devil himself. 
However, my bank, tax services, the police already have information about my private life and do not give me much in return. 
Google gives me, him. 
In fact, I do not know many companies whose employees communicate as they do here in a "home system" with a total freedom of thought. 
I do not know either business that is as innovative and forward with a real vision for the future of our societies. 
I know of no company that offers many products so satisfactory that it is difficult to separate. 
In a recent post, +Vic Gundotra said about the G+ team « they are invincible dreamers» and I think you are one of them. Dreamers are visionaries. I love it.
So thank you very much +Brian White for your testimony and if I am a product, I am a fulfilled and responsible product ;)
By the way, Google don't force people to use their services like Gmail or Google Search , so you shouldn't complain about their free services.... 
Not violating user privacy makes business sense because it keeps users from resisting giving up their personal information that is, in fact, Google (and other big data companies') bread and butter.

However, it is irrefutably true that if you are not paying for the product, your information and behaviors are the product, and the true customer of Google or any of the freemium services is one of two markets:

Those who pay for premium services after trying the free version (as in F2P games)


Those who pay for the harvested personal information and behavioral information of the captive audience of a free "honeypot" application envioronment (such as Google Apps of whatever variety -- G+, Search, and so on).

Now, my main personal email is shava23 on gmail, and my job title is Privacy Advocate for a company that promotes online privacy.  I consider myself to be the loyal opposition on this stuff.

Privacy is not an absolute, it's a slider.  You should choose how much privacy you -- individually -- wish to give up for the value you receive from a service.  Read the privacy statement and learn about the company.  I think I get good value from Google.  I am willing to be Google's product, and not only that but I think part of the value I receive is access to their broad community of users, to whom I can promote privacy awareness.

If you see that line, "The product is you," and it stings?  Then maybe you aren't doing enough to disperse the negativity around it, the idea that Google is providing VALUE for using our information as their product.

If you were more transparent, it wouldn't sting.  But you are not.  Google and all the other companies have preferred to anesthetize the public on privacy awareness as much as possible, rather than consider such things as being in their enlightened self interest in the long term.

That lack of transparency has led to your databases attracting the undue attention of powers beyond your control (the NSA for example) and ugly things have followed on that politically this past year.  That is an unintended consequence that is worth feeling some sting over -- because some of us were warning about that years ago. 

John Alexander was dreaming of something like Google's data for TIA and was forbidden by law to collect it.  But he was never forbidden to buy it or take it from a for-profit corporation under NSL.  So we didn't anticipate the future exactly either -- who could?

Google should be working with the privacy community.  A good many of us see that the current models need to learn to bend before they break or get regulated against and make the net a have and have-not environment of a new sort, a new digital divide from the loss of fremium services, do you see? 

But as long as big data sees the word privacy as a binary of with us or against us, you will never see that some of us are here with thoughts on new answers.
+Shava Nerad, sorry, but using your information to help you does not make you product.  Buying a house through a realtor does not make you the product.  Visiting a store after reading an advertisement does not make you product.  Google's "product" is that we match buyers with sellers.  We sell a service.  We don't sell you.

It's true, though, that we could communicate more about what we do to try to protect you.

+John Welch, don't confuse an incomplete product with a distaste for our users.  :-)  As you've do doubt noticed, things move/change very fast with Google and one drawback to this is that some things are incomplete and documentation can be out of date.  This is the practical limitations of resources (including time) rearing its head.  We release early and iterate. This has its problems. But doing the opposite just has a different set of problems.

And sometimes, trying something in a radically new way... turns out not to be a good thing and we have to go back and start over.  But I'm glad we try!

There is certainly a lot of room for improvement but I think if you look at (most?) Google products over time, you'll see that they do improve.
For all of the following, bold emphasis is mine.

From Google's Terms of Service, dated 2014-04-14 ( ):

"When you upload, submit, store, send or receive content to or through our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content. The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones. This license continues even if you stop using our Services (for example, for a business listing you have added to Google Maps)."

So whatever you post or store, Google has a license to extract and use or sell as they wish without your further permission. No strings, other than an titular and overly broad limitation to operating/promoting/improving their business.

Remember when you posted that heartfelt eulogy you wrote for your grandmother's funeral? Google can use that any way they want.

That boozy party pic that showed maybe a little more than you intended is safe on Google Drive, right? Because Google Drive is private, right? No. According to the Terms of Service, Google can grab that photo and use it: publish it, sell copies, email it to your Mom. Anything their legal team can remotely justify post facto.

Writing a play, script, or book? If you post it, email it from or to a Gmail account, or store it in Google Drive, Google can publish it, perform it, or create the sequel. They don't have to ask you or compensate you because you agreed to this when you used the service.

And you granted that license in perpetuity, forever, even if you decide this is as incredibly invasive as it sounds and you delete everything you can and close your account. Google keeps copies and uses them. They say so in their Terms of Service.

In the United States, without this loophole provided by the Terms of Service, the above is a violation of the Initial Ownership principle if copyright law (, the default right to primary and exclusive ownership of things you create. Denying rights? That's evil.

Maybe you're a low-key user. You just have a small community of close friends on Google+ or Gmail. Your privacy settings are locked down tight and you never post publicly.

Better be extra-double-certain about those privacy settings:

"If you have a Google Account, we may display your Profile name, Profile photo, and actions you take on Google or on third-party applications connected to your Google Account (such as +1’s, reviews you write and comments you post) in our Services, including displaying in ads and other commercial contexts."

Incidentally, +Brian White, using users' "name [...] photo [...] actions [...] +1’s [...] reviews [...] and comments" is sharing user data. Full stop.




Admittedly, these are bog-standard boilerplate inclusions. And that's part of the problem: it's thoughtless, and doesn't adequately consider Google's substantial role in online services. It also says, effectively, "you shouldn't trust our products for any purpose, and even if we're responsible for the problem, screw you."

This doesn't match Google's overt, public presentation of their products and services, and, frankly, this kind of corporate doublespeak is patently dishonest. That's evil.

It's also evil because other industries don't get this free pass. Car companies are on the hook if their mistake harms you. So are pharmaceutical companies; food services; makers of aircraft, firearms, bicycles. Even doctors and lawyers!

But not Google. They cannot be held responsible, period.

Admittedly, Google's above policies have not, to my knowledge, been tested in court, but for now it's all "not my fault" disclaimer-ism.

That's evil. And a bit childish and dishonest.

From Google's Privacy Policy, dated 2014-03-31 ( ):

"We may use the name you provide for your Google Profile across all of the services we offer that require a Google Account. In addition, we may replace past names associated with your Google Account so that you are represented consistently across all our services. If other users already have your email, or other information that identifies you, we may show them your publicly visible Google Profile information, such as your name and photo."

This is terrible. If my lunatic former spouse or thieving ex-business partner or my current boss has my email address, that does not mean I want them to be able to also stalk me on Google+. Or Maps.

Remember that "it's your data" thing? My name is my data. My pseudonym is my data. You don't get to choose my name or my presentation. That's for me and me alone.

Assigning me a name and telling me where I can and cannot use it. That's evil.

"We will not combine DoubleClick cookie information with personally identifiable information unless we have your opt-in consent."

Except it defaults to opt-in, taking consent from me. Silence doesn't mean yes. Making that assumption? That's evil.

"Google processes personal information on our servers in many countries around the world. We may process your personal information on a server located outside the country where you live."

This is an important admission, and is an example of good transparency. It's also important for incrementally faster service. There's an crucial implication hidden here, though: your data is subject to the laws of the country in which it exists. If you live in Europe but your data passes through or is stored on servers in the United States, your data is subject to legal collection and analysis by the American government. Or Russia. Or Turkey. Or Syria. Or wherever your data gets routed. In effect, this strips you of some of your rights as a citizen of your nation, and replaces those rights with some of the rights granted to citizens of the nation to which your data goes. Or no rights at all, since you aren't a citizen of those nations.

Google's behavior here is not patently evil, and broad distribution and redundancy are good for performance and reliability, but there's a cost exacted in privacy. And you should know the costs. Google owns the largest, fastest DNS system in the world. They might offer value to their...customers by offering optional routing isolation.

"Information we share

We do not share personal information with companies, organizations and individuals outside of Google unless one of the following circumstances applies:

With your consent

We will share personal information with companies, organizations or individuals outside of Google when we have your consent to do so. We require opt-in consent for the sharing of any sensitive personal information.

With domain administrators
For external processing
For legal reasons"

So, Google shares your information. They say so. They describe what they share, and with whom, at least generally. They explain this in their Terms of Service and Privacy Policies.

Google is a business and they do what they do for money. They explicitly use your data - your name, likeness, writings, activities, location - to further their success and to increase their profits. They are not immoral, per se, more amoral or focused on their own brand of morality. And sometimes that particular brand of morality is evil. 
+Brian White You may also use my information to help me, incidentally.  But your company lives by brokering access to my eyes and by selling my information to others.  It's ok.

But the way you are helping me is paternalistic.  Your insistance that it's just helping me is very paternalistic.

You help me by choosing ads, for example, to display in my gmail margin according to my contents.  I remember a year ago when this meant I was getting advertising for black backpack premiums as a reward for renewing my AARP membership (renewed through 2016 tyvm) during the Boston Marathon Bombings.  The client there is AARP, and you may have been doing them and me both a disservice, although I laughed it off at the time.

You are not helping me by advertising to me.  You are helping me by providing me a good email client, and a good network to share ideas.  I tolerate the advertising, and largely tune it out.  The advertising is the rent.  I'm ok with paying rent by giving you access to my behavior and info in exchange for your services.  But let's be honest about what the transaction is?

The advertisers are your clients.  I am not.  I and many millions more like me are the attraction which pays your salary, and for the servers and the Googleplex.  The aggregate data from our online lives is sold to marketing companies, or their ads are presented on our screens or our mobiles and other devices.  We click, we buy sometimes.  As the slogan says, "Contented cows give better milk!" ;)  I have no problem with that.  It's a basic premise of satisfaction for any contact population whether the population of production, the customer base, or the employees ( to keep them at their best productivity.  That's in the enlightened best interest of Google, to keep us happy.

We are aphids feeding on the honeydew of your roses. (  It's a symbiotic relationship.  You provide something beautiful, and we turn it into something sweet for you.  Why should that be a problem, if we are all aware of it?

Where does Google's revenue come from?  Doesn't revenue come from customers?

What is Google's obligation to shareholders, under US law?

You absolutely have a fiduciary duty to keep me happy because without a happy product (or user population if you prefer that term), your customers will be unhappy and your shareholders will be very unhappy.  But please do not try to propagandize me by falsifying the terms. 

But please do not try to tell me that I am your customer, or that the people who use the phrase "If you aren't paying for the product, you are the product" are full of hogwash."  That is disingenuous.

I would much rather we talked openly and honestly about why it is that Google wants a happy userbase and why their services are WORTH how our information is used and our behavior is modeled, as fair rent, and value for what we receive -- which is, within a generation, a life-changing institution in the world of ideas and how people relate to information in their daily lives.

"Let me Google that:  noosphere."  Yeah, that.  You have changed how the world thinks about culture and information.  AWESOME.  That's an ethical burden.  Don't be evil.  Be transparent and honest, Brian.  Let's teach users what incredible value they are really getting for the privacy they are giving up.  Isn't that fair?

Or are you afraid they won't think it's worth it?  C'mon.
Just to clarify -- Brian is talking about how Google presents adds to users of its various services. 

I am talking about how it presents ads but also how it aggregates anonymized data about its userbases and sells that data to partners.

The developers of the various Google services never really see that second business, where the data is stored indefinitely in a PRISM-like repository for data mining by any sort of demographic key that a client marketing, academic, or governmental client comes to them with money or NSL in hand with.

So from each Google service group Brian's view is exactly correct -- they are trying to help the user experience.  Once the data is aggregated and stored for data brokering, or for setting the prices on AdWords for their own internal needs, the individual groups don't see that.

But advertising placement is 97% of Google revenue, and it is the aggregated data from all of the users that allows them to sell ads.

$33.2 billion out of $33.3 billion revenue was ad placements, based on Google's magic formulas based on our demographics and behaviors.

So of course Brian wants us to come back, use Chrome, use G+ and keep filling in forms, surfing, interacting in ways that leave breadcrumbs and keywords.  We are worth billions in aggregate, we millions of users -- of course we are.   And that's ok.  We've had freemium media since what, the advent of radio soap operas?  And all of us grew up with TV, even old ladies such as myself.

Just as TV viewers were, as "the viewing audience" who were measured so much less accurately by Nielsen.  And the TV viewers were also the "product" sold to the advertisers by the TV show producers, so they could deliver TV shows.

And for those of you who have never seen it, that is exactly the sentiment of the original Adbusters video reference on Google's YouTube, here:

The Product Is You

which refers to the influence of television on the shaping of the personality.  It's a much older form of the fremium model before the term existed, and AdBusters (who started the Occupy movement in the US despite being the Canadian version of "The Onion" for advertising -- very odd, true facts!) is very derogatory in their presentation of the idea.

They don't present it as something that should be a conscious choice.  It's just presented as BAD.

So Brian, here's the bending rather than breaking option:  Look at this as a middle way, a third way solution.  Google can fight the AdBusters and privacy hawks, and end up with Streisand effects out the wazoo. 

Or Google can own the value of the services and use the strength of their media reach, which is unmatched, and educate the public on the idea that privacy is a slider, and that you articulate privacy choices just like you budget your money (which is also of personal value) to get things you want in your life.  Privacy is treated as a currency of exchange.

Stewart Brand is often quoted for his 1984 statement: "Information wants to be free," but that's cut short.  The full quote is:

"On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other."

Google is the epitome of this statement.  How about sharing the richness of this paradox with your users in the most respectful way possible? 

Google is worth it, and if you are really so pro-userbase, you need to trust your users to GET IT.
"Random ads are garbage. Useful ads are a benefit."

Sorry, but that's just a completely naive view on advertising. Advertising is emphatically not just about passing information from seller to buyer. Never has been and certainly isn't today. Advertising is active and purposeful manipulation that aims to create the desire to buy - not to fulfil a pre-existing need. Your "useful" ads is just scary good manipulation, and it's hogwash to claim that it's actually for the good of the user.
BTW, full disclosure, I am a marketing professional (privacy evangelist, Blackphone), but I am speaking for myself.

And Brian, if anyone in Google marketing or strategy wants to seriously talk about a pro-user pro-Google privacy education program that would put you folks in a position of thought leadership, fit into the Play Store strategy, and inoculate your public image from a lot of gov rel blowback this year, I bet my CEO would loan me out. ;)
+Shava Nerad please elaborate on your claim that Google "aggregates anonymized data about its userbases and sells that data to partners"
+Michael Verona, nice of you to quote all the things you don't like but ignore the "so that your content works better with our Services" part as to why.

All of the rights you mention are required simply to accept your upload, recognize it as a cat, encrypt it, store it, make it searchable, send it over the internet, and display it on your friend's screen.

You claim this lets us to much more than that.  I'm not a lawyer, but you're probably right.  But we've also stated publicly many times that we do not.  Whatever legal right may come from the EULA, we certainly counter in a myriad of ways.

And be accurate:  The ToS does not say Google will continue to use the data.  Don't add things just to try to make your point stronger.

Of course Google shares your data! Services like GMail, G+, Blogger, etc. are all about sharing data.  The ToS must reflect and allow this.  However, we let you control who gets that data and we never, ever, eh-ver sell your data.

+Shava Nerad, I've never claimed that Google is just helping you.  My initial post quite clearly says that we try to put the user first but that advertisers and shareholders also benefit.  I claim that we always try to put the user first, but that's "first" (not "only") and it's "try" (it's a balance and we don't always get it right).

+Timo Tiuraniemi, giving a user something they find useful, which includes a link to a purchase that fulfills a need or want, is of benefit to the user.  It's of benefit to others, too, but I don't see why that's a problem.  Giving a user something they don't need, don't want, and would rather not see, that's garbage.  Not all Google ads are useful, but we try to make them so.

+Terence Kam, you do have to watch.  My advantage  over others is that I get to watch from the inside.  I wrote this post and have address comments because I want to give people a glimpse of how it truly is.

Google isn't perfect.  I don't agree with everything they do.  Some of our services need improvement.  Legal requirements tie our hands when we try to protect you... and in how ToS agreements are written.

But we continue to fight for our users even in the face of their wrath.  We constantly try new things and improve old things.  We do most things well.  And we continue to try.  I'm incredibly proud to work for Google, not because I drink the free Kool-Aid offered with every meal but because, on the balance, they do great things for people.

Some people have already made up their mind about Google and will continue to find more evidence to support their beliefs.  If that's you, well, you're probably already in the middle of drafting a reply refuting my comments rather than taking some time to actually consider them so there isn't anything else for me to say.

Some people are scared by Google's reach.  I think this is a good thing.  You should be concerned and you shouldn't take "trust us" as an answer. We want you to push us and question us. We're not foolish enough to believe that we can't end up going down the wrong path while believing it's the right one.  It's as much your responsibility to keep us honest as it is our responsibility.

Some people don't know what to believe.  That's fair.  There is a lot of conflicting information around and much of it can be interpreted multiple ways.  I strongly suggest (and this applies universally) that you not believe what anyone says (except me, of course ;-) unless it also makes sense.  There are (at least) two sides to every story.  The truth is usually somewhere in between.  Seek out those other stories, evaluate them fairly, and arrive at your own conclusions.
+Warren Rehman From Google's privacy policy:

" We may share aggregated, non-personally identifiable information publicly and with our partners – like publishers, advertisers or connected sites. For example, we may share information publicly to show trends about the general use of our services."

In addition there is a standard clause regarding government requests, which are typically not anonymized.

Former NSA officer Bill Binney told me in conversation last June that the NSA is obliged to compensate a company for such requests at fair market value via a shell (civilian) corporation, so there isn't a large telling influx of federal dollars to betray an NSL request. Part of the machinery of captivity, as it were.
+Terence Kam, one small change...  Our most valuable asset is not the data we have about our users.  Our most valuable asset is our users.  Without you, all that data is largely useless.  So yes, we protect [our users].  We protect it by trying to provide you with what you want better than our competitors do.  And we protect it by protecting you (and your data) as best we can.  If we lose your trust, we lose everything.  It's not just the right thing to do, it's the smart thing to do.

By the same token, we provide indirect access to the user for advertisers, not to the user's data.
+Brian White you missed my point: ads are not about giving user useful information, and Google is not just doing everyone a favour by linking the user to a product that she might be inclined to buy. Ads create the want and need to buy the product advertized by preying on our vulnerabilities, hopes and fears. The better Google analyzes their users, the better the ads are on hitting the right buttons on an individual level.

Of course it's not all black and white, and AdWords can be useful when the user is actually looking to buy - e.g. when googling "cheap hotel dublin". But it's just completely false to think those are the only kinds, or even the majority of ads google is pushing to users.

So I claim that giving the user garbage is ofter better for the user because that means the manipulation probably doesn't play out as the advertizer thought, and the user can exit without spending her money on useless stuff.

A longer story on some of the tactics employed by advertisers:
+Benoît Girard, you shouldn't., at least not blindly.  See a few comments above (search for "strongly suggest").

But you should recognize that I have 1000x more knowledge about the inside workings and mindset of Google than people simply analyzing the company from the outside.  After that, it depends on whether you believe that I'm telling you what I see as the honest truth, or at least as much as I can express in limited time and space over this medium.
+Terence Kam  One of the interesting things about Google is that it is structured almost as a cluster of silo companies.  This means that any particular group can't overly stomp on another group's interests -- for example, if the advertising group's interests hold a lot of political clout potentially, they can't come over and bully the management at Chrome, theoretically.

This is an improvement over, for example, Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), where I was something of a wunderkind in the early 80s myself.  DEC was something of a similar company in that time period to Google's image maybe coming up to this time -- the cool engineering and innovation company that young engineers wanted to go into if they liked the corporate environment but valued innovation.  At DEC, if you ran awry of the systems or database groups for example, you were toast, plain and simple.

The downside of this, is that it allows groups within Google (G+ is infamous for this -- they even cut special "closed door" hermetic deals for Gundotra's group) and the upper management to be isolated politically from other groups, in terms of policies and impacts. 

Even co-founder Larry Page was isolated from the management of his own company within Google for a while. 

And this is just part of the way the company has evolved.  Rather than "don't be evil" the motto of the company may as well be "See no evil, hear no evil, say no evil."  When the nymwars were incoming, the sh*tstorm inside Google caused a couple googlers to leave, and a great deal of turmoil on the internal forums, and intervention from the internal ombudsperson, well before the policy hit the open air, but that never reached the general public -- message control is pretty tight.

So, it's one big happy family, until you look harder at impacts and start asking questions.  It's a walled garden of wonderful ideas that often don't hold up to reality checks, but don't need to because like many gated communities the Googleplex is supported by an excess, a grand excess of money. 

I have no objection to gobs of money.  As philanthropists such as Bill Gates know, money works better when it takes its lessons from reality, rather than trying to shape it with wishful thinking.
+Timo Tiuraniemi, I think I understand your point, now.  There is certainly no shortage of shady advertising campaigns in the world.  We do our best to prevent fraudulent and misleading ads but how we can protect our users from themselves, which really is what you're asking, is not something to which I have an answer.

+Terence Kam, our boss is not Wall Street.  Control of the company is squarely in the hands of a few individuals.  That provides a certain amount of freedom and insulates us from the short-term mentality that is so pervasive on "the street".  This does not ensure good management but at least it avoids one kind of bad management.  I know Patrick (Google CFO) personally; he's from Montreal and visits our office frequently.  Our "story" is always long-term.  We report quarterly, think yearly, and plan for decades.

When Google went IPO, the founders released a letter.  It begins, "Google is not a conventional company. We do not intend to become one."  If you wish to be a part owner of the company named "Google", you should recognize that you are buying into this idea and plan accordingly.

+Shava Nerad, I remember DEC fondly.  Ken and his crew did great things in those early days of the computer age.

Inside Google isn't all happy.  Even within my own extended team of some 400 people world-wide, there is frustrations and egos and entitlements.  (Present company excluded, of course. ;-)  It's something we're trying to improve.

Sometimes we look at other teams and think, "What on earth were you thinking?"  Sometimes I've even said it out loud... publicly!  But deep down we know that the other team really is doing what they think is best, that they've carefully thought it through, and that they have chosen the path they're on carefully and deliberately.  Occasionally they get it wrong.  More often than not, it turns out I'm the one who is wrong thinking they've got it wrong.

Who knows what would happen if Google was fighting for its life.  Morality tends to take second place when survival is on the line.  That's not a worry that keeps me awake at night because, as I've already said, Google's survival absolutely depends on having the trust and confidence of our users.  If we lose that, we lose everything.  Because of this, what is "right" in a moral sense is also what is "right" in a financial sense.  That gives me great confidence in the future direction of the company.
+Brian White I think that most of the things you have written sound reasonable, but IMHO more fitting for the Google of the first years. After Google became the Giant it is now, and there are shareholders to please and money to make, it doesn't help to have a romantically distorted picture of all those Google people only wanting to create a better world. Of course there are people at Google which think Customer Value first (and maybe CV only), nobody will deny that. But like any other company they are most probably not the ones calling the shots...I love Google Services and use nearly all of them, but it's important that as a customer (or as a 'product' - I don't really care what you call it) you know what both sides of the deal are. And it's definitely not only: Google just wants the best for you, period. 
+Terence Kam, of course advertisers indirectly pay (the majority) of my salary.  It is smart (and right) to treat them well and provide them with a useful service.

But sellers generally go where the buyers are and the buyers are our users so it's smarter (and righter) to treat our users weller and provide them with a usefuler service.  (I speak english gooder.)

It's a balance but it doesn't have to be a trade-off.

+Shahpur Azizpour, the company has changed over the years but that "romantic view" of making the world a better place is still very present.  Our leadership points in that direction (the CV-first cry is called by the guys at the cop) and a great many worker bees march to that cry.  And a great many worker bees just follow along because that's what they do.  As long as we have the second to ensure the direction of the first, then it all sorta works out... for the most part.  But it's always a balance: "user first" is not "user only".

+Mike Folley, don't trust +An Thraxan...  She looks like a member of the Resistance.
+Brian White Um he is my husband and I am a devout Enlightened player! I did not embroider my handbag for nothing ya know! XD
+Terence Kam, Google makes money by having happy advertisers.  Google attracts advertisers by having happy users.  Google does not make more money by having advertisers make less and we don't make more money by having users  be unhappy.  I'm not seeing a lot of "conflict" here.

Sure, we could have more short-term revenue by screwing over our users but that would obliterate our long-term revenue.  So there are laws!  They are natural laws!  And they're obvious to anyone who cares to look for them.

Google's interests align with those of our users.  Not perfectly, but more than enough to not have a "conflict".  Sure, users would probably be happier with all those free services and no ads at all, but we've still got a win-win thing going on here.  If you don't want to see any ads at all, there are extensions in the Chrome Webstore to do this; we don't try to stop them.  We believe you have that right. Conflicts of interest appear only in win-lose arrangements.

+An Thraxan, ah, okay.  Looked like more Resistance art on your page.  My humblest apologies to my fellow Enlightened!
The problem is that advertisers and customers have a conflict of interest. And Google stands in-between. I wouldn't call this a win-win situation. 
It's pretty simple: Until the day that Google gives users full View and possibly even Edit capabilities on our "data dossiers", it doesn't matter whether or not individual contributors like +Brian White believe that they are good people, and that Google must therefore be "good" as a whole.

BTW I would highly recomment he read this:

to get a sense for how this management layers stuff really works.
The problem is when the love triangle leads to obscurantism. This week, for example, Google and a group of peers in big data did a bold thing standing up to some draconian US policies that interfere with their operations and ability to relate cleanly with us, their userbase.

They have, as courtesy, but not compelled by law, historically declined to notify any user whose records were yanked as part of a legal investigation under subpoena or warrant from the US government. The govt's assertion is that alerting a suspect in an ongoing investigation can bollux up the case.

However, since the establishment of the USA PATRIOT Act after 9/11, carriers and online providers have been subject to a variety of laws including (I kid you not, Google the term) "secret interpretions" of laws that allow the Intelligence Community (which is a named branch of government now, 17 spy agencies including Homeland Security as only one of them) to put companies such as Google under National Security Letters.

Under an NSL, Google has to cough up what the government wants, and never disclose it internally or externally. In December, they got permission to disclose how many NSLs they receive, three months delayed. They are in the four to five figures, quarterly, per service.

By stopping the former courtesy to law enforcement, and informing users when they can where records are being pulled for warrants and subpoenas, the NSL requests stand out in relief, as whitespace as it were.

In this, you see Google and the others taking great risks. It's a judgement call as to their motivations. Are they anti-regulation? Standing up for civil liberties? Standing up for their users? Cushioning the blow of future revelations regarding past cooperation? Likely all of the above. These things are rarely simple.

But I honestly wonder why so many Americans go wild over House of Cards and hate following our real political systems. The real world is far more rich and amusing -- the biggest LARP in the world.

Google's interests align with keeping users happy -- if keeping users happy means changing reality or lying or mind control (PR/advertising/incentives/memetics/lobbying) they can spend eight figures to do so without breaking a sweat. And money buys an arbitrary amount of credibility in this culture, it is the droit du seigneur to the consumer consciousness.

Google's interests do not align with the user enlightened self interest, but with the interest in keeping them attracted. It isn't prurient, but neither is it pure.

So I see Google as a company full of idealistic people, led by exactly the sort of executives and board that can keep a $33.4B revenue multinational tech giant going in a competitive market. At final examination, power demands choices matched to the environment in the circles of influence one faces.

When Google is facing off against the NSA and similar counterparts, and against competition with less ideals -- they will be increasingly pushed to decisions that compromise their motto, the larger they become and the greater the dragons they must face.

Isolation can't save them -- it just removes them from the zeitgeist of the userbase and makes sloppy decisions about markets, privacy, and regulation, or causes them to import Gundotra when Orkut runs afowl of social, legal, and cultural norms in Brazil for example.

Google's history is nearly a reflection of the American experiment in optimistic expansion, isolation, manifest destiny, and ugly American incarnation in the outside world. They are the perfect translation of the evangelistic aspie-American engine of information over knowledge or culture. It's fascinating. They do so much good, but often just a bit lacking in social niceties valued in other cultures.

(And before anyone gets on my case, I am an aspie-American, which is why I am quite so fascinated with Google watching after over three decades online.)

But although they are very large, it's hard to remember that compared to, say, IBM or HP or even Cisco or Apple they are a young company.

They will, with any luck, have a long and fruitful maturity ahead.
+Alex Schleber Mind you -- I work for a start up, in marketing. I would suggest that it's part of the costs of the system we live in, that these power issues underly money.

It's very much like people who want to become vegan because they have never visited a farm, or been invited to feast on a whole suckling pig. Politics and corporate business both have elements of "sausagemaking."

Properly, this sort of education should be part of civics and/or business education perhaps in high school, but as charged as the education system is today, no matter the content, teachers would get fired. ;)

But instead we have a nation of consumers who don't know how to critique an ad whether it comes via Google or a political party, nor how the money flows influence the players delivering it to them, whether the browser devs or the TV network.

Until the public can understand those mechanics transparently, with full tradeoffs, there won't be a lot of trust, Brian.

You are up against a half century or more of wider social neglect in civics and media literacy, under the weight of successive waves of revolutions in media and how civic systems relate to media.

Google could take that problem on, through the Foundation or as corporate. I would highly recommend it as being in the "strategic philanthropy" range that Page and Brin and your chair seem to tenaciously adhere to in their directions.

We can fix these things, likely, with focus, effort, and money -- and that gives Google an advantage if they want to take it.

I am in no way saying Google is evil, but that they are experiencing inevitable growing pains, and trying to hide them is inconsistent. Trying to share what you have learned by growing is more consistent with your founding values.

Don't be afraid, educate and trust your users.
+Terence Kam, Google collects information because it allows us to provide you, the user, with better service.  This includes, but is not limited to, things like Now and Local Search.  It also allows us to better connect you with sellers providing things you want.  You can argue that this is self-serving on Google's part -- it is of great benefit to us -- but it is also a benefit to you if it's giving you what you want.  We never sell your information.

+Shava Nerad, we do try to educate our users and the public in general.  It's not uncommon for us to be burned at the stake for such attempts.  Some just don't believe us.  Others assume there is some deeper, malevolent intent.  Still more concentrate only on what is not said, not accomplished, on not complete.  People love conspiracies, preferring to believe in the bad when Occam's Razor clearly favors the good.

Mistreating users is clearly bad for the long-term success of a company that depends on its users being present as much as possible.
Lying is clearly bad for the long-term success of a company that depends on the trust of its users.
+Alex Schleber, I know nothing about it, but it's certainly no attempt to sabotage FF which we view as an excellent browser.  I'm a developer for Chrome and the can tell you that the YouTube folks would scream "Bloody Murder" (and rightly so) if we even suggested such a thing, which we would never do.

As my previous job was SRE tasked with running Google services in production, I will speculate that some version of FF has some problem with some subset of content served by YouTube and so some feature was disabled to prevent that case happening until such time as we have a proper fix on our side or FF fixes it on their side.  But again, that's pure speculation based on experience; I have zero knowledge about this.
+Brian White  Google collects information because it allows us to provide you, the user, with better service.

And where's my opt out?

Where's my review option?

Where's my "delete everything you've got on me and snoop no more" button?

Kool aid.  You've drunk it.
I understand that Google has experienced public backlash (and the backlash is always louder than the support) Brian, but the education I've seen isn't systematic, it's based on PR close to home.  Maybe I haven't looked far enough. 

I got really interested in this during the nymwars, when I was an ardent, fanatical booster of Google, and some policies came out that rang completely dissonant to my prior experience, and the answers never did harmonize with what I knew from external realities (but I did get to predict the advent of the Play Store six months in advance -- that was fun!).  I for a while became part of the backlash on that issue, and have remained as a supporter who wishes for reform.

People would be less apt to argue for conspiracy theories if more adults were literate enough to argue for Occam's Razor but they don't know who Occam was and why he had a razor anyway?  But take a look at high school history.  The US is good.  Russia, Vietnam, or whoever we are fighting at whatever period were bad guys, and/or relativistic bad guys who are now our friends in the case of Japan and Germany and such.  Wars are neatly packed into the time before the standardized test, typically two week chunks.  Inconvenient truths are usually swept under rugs by fearful teachers for fear of inconvenient reports going to even less convenient school boards.

Conspiracy theories are generally the made-for-TV-movie version of history or current events.  They squish events from 32-bits to 8-bits and tie all loose ends up so they fit in a 90 minute max exposition.  Real life isn't like that.  Real life is full of fog-of-war and loose ends, and casts too big to keep track without a score card with motivations that don't fit on cardboard cut-outs.  Conspiracy theories are generally considered to feed paranoia, but this is not the case. 

Conspiracy theories actually are a comforting mechanism for the fearful, who want a concrete blame figure upon which to focus in a world full of amorphous fears.  A conspiracy theory serves to give a focus to unformed social anxieties so that the person with phobias and anxieties and paranoia can say, "I can now relax, because my enemy is so big and powerful, I can rail and whine but I have no hope of overcoming them.  I am without agency, I can only recruit others to understand our hopelessness."  It's a form of millennial apocalyptic cult in many cases. 

You can only educate the rational ones, but when you do -- they will grow to be your advocates, and gradually become a social consensus, the "memetic baseline" which is considered to be reality. 

But the schools are not cultivating a sense of historical narrative in which the way our culture moves in political and business and technical progress actually works.  And until the electorate is more literate in our actual political, business, and technical realities, our republic is in a great deal of danger. 

Companies such as Google are crucial to that process.  The government is not likely to take up the burden -- too many within government want to diminish the educational system till it is weak enough "to drown in a bathtub."  It is likely up to the surplus capacity of the private sector to save this republic.  And it is in the enlightened self interest at least as much as your efforts in DC, God knows, to push immigration reform with the tech lobby right now -- save the people here, now, too.

Then, perhaps, you will find that the people will stop seeing your moves as conspiracies so much, if they actually understood the realities of the system they live in every moment of their lives, transparently, as conscious choices and tradeoffs.

If you could give that gift to the people of America, would you give it to them?  To your user base internationally?

Red pill?  Blue pill?

To make all of it transparent?  Harness every young and old systems thinker who grew up with the concept of ecology from age five to hang concepts of larger systems on, but no one in their environment who was willing to exercise that muscle to describe human cultural systems in those terms?  History.  Politics.  Management.  Economics.  You know the drill.  The parts that aren't textbook but represent applied systems and case studies, relationships and drama, compromises and states(wo)manship.

These aren't secrets.  They're just literacies that are never taught and are hard to write in linear terms.  You can't Google them.  They are taught by stories or experience.  The real life game of thrones or house of cards.  The game of life.  The entrepreneurial life.  The path of power.  The dogs of war.  The hero's journey.  All those hokey sounding things that really don't just exist in books.

I teach a class, "How to Save the World in Your Spare Time" at MIT to teens at the Educational Studies Program, and in 90 minutes I can take a pretty typical urban teen and turn them into a project planner in system dynamics frameworks with a base literacy of coalition building and media access/literacy to set them working with a group on a goal they are passionate about, because they already understand models from ecology and the Internet they can apply to those issues. 

But we delegate our children to be raised disempowered and passive -- at most, to compete for small stakes with one another.  Warehoused.  And then at 18 -- adults and citizens with ambitions to consume and have their own children consumed by that same education that conditioned them.

If we are going to compete in a global society, we need to get back the American character that Google represents -- curious, brash, innovative, something of a bull in a china shop at times, unwilling to take "no" for an answer, less worried about the "permanent record" than setting records.  Yes, we are ugly sometimes, we Americans, but my God we do amazing things.  No one can match us, when we are "on."  And we are killing that now, in the name of order, control, conformity -- like we are trying to change places some odd way with the Japanese from the 90s.

We need to become a people who step out, rather than sit in our ergonomic chairs night after night, and who are thought leadership, rather than a demographic.

If you worked at DEC and you worked at Google, you know what I'm talking about.

How many generations can we wait, at the rate of change of change since Toffler wrote his book?

If Google wants to do no evil by sins of omission -- you have to change the world.  Plenty of us are willing to help!

You need to stop treating users as aphids on a rose stem to be tickled for honeydew (not just protecting us and feeding us), and teach us to be fully human conscious Jeffersonian citizens of the civic and commercial world -- conscious of our tradeoffs in privacy, both to you and to government. 

Otherwise we the people may evolve into a society of inert creatures who can no longer produce enough engineers of brilliance to staff your Googleplex.
Google Adwords is the only ads I sell with my firm +Schabus PR&Marketing - because Google first and foremost wants users to be informed, not spammed ... and it's always in your hands as a user to block even those ads . Kudos, Google!
+Edward Morbius, your opt out is here: (courtesy +Andy Bohm, above; see his comments) or here:

Your review option is here:

Your delete option is here:

Your "give me all my data so I can take it elsewhere" option (which you didn't actually ask for) is here:

I'm sure you'll now find other things to complain about in order support the belief you already have, or whine that these somehow aren't enough or not exactly what you want.  Be careful that it is not you drinking the kool-aid of others who have no access to the inside and can't be bothered to make any sort of extended deductions... not to mention the conflict of interest they may have between the telling the truth and telling something that others will read and pass along (while viewing advertisements on their page).

+Terence Kam, are you having trouble reading or simply not doing it?  I have always said that we try to put our users first but it is a balance and is good for advertisers and shareholders as well.  Re-read the original post if you missed it.
+Shava Nerad, the "nymwars" are a huge thing inside as well.  They have been discussed frequently, longly, and loudly.  Both sides have compelling arguments.  Neither side has a perfect solution.  I tell you this so that you'll know that, regardless of whether it actually is or is not a good thing overall (it's certainly both good and bad depending on context), it was done in the spirit of being a good thing and that internal discussion does force a certain amount of honesty in the plan.

Because I do have inside (and thus confidential) knowledge of these discussions, I cannot comment on them beyond this.  I won't be answering any questions or addressing any comments about this subject.

On the greater subject of transparency and "user interface", it's an issue known to the entire company and one on which I have inside knowledge so, again, cannot discuss.

I never worked at DEC (I was at Nortel, down the road) but had a couple friends who did and heard things about the company.  I was sad to see them go under.
+Armida Evony there IS an opt-out from ads. You can block ANY advertiser you don't want to see (click the little i-icon where the ads on the search plstform are) ... the "elite" opt-out is. Business account with +Google Enterprise ... my gmail is used internally in my agency, it's free of ads, but it costs. 
+Brian White:  Thanks for that.

I've just installed the advertising cookie opt-out plugin.

It'll be interesting to see what if any difference that makes as I've already got installed:

• AdBlock Plus
• Ghostery
• TrackMeNot
• ScriptSafe
• Disconnect
• EFF's Privacy Badger (just installed)

... and do much of my Google-related browsing in Incognito mode (which as I understand has the side-effect of nuking cookies.

The "review option" isn't what I'm looking for.

It's a summary of the Google services (and profiles) associated with this account.  It is not a summary of the data which Google have compiled on me otherwise (sites visited / tracked, search history, YouTube history, Gmail history, related smartphone tracking data, including location data, etc.   That is the type and class of information I would prefer to be able to review, to know how it's been disclosed and to whom.  For the most part, I see no reason for Google to retain more than a minimum duration of that data (a few weeks at best).  Since I don't have that option, I've elected to stop feeding the beast for the most part:  using DDG search, bailing on my Android device, disabling GPS and other services when I had used it, etc.

I have disabled Web history, which may help.

The situation's further confounded by the fact that I have a number of personas and/or associations used w/ Google, and, say, attempting to find out if Google has drawn any relationship between, say, "Edward Morbius" and my true real Earth identity of Kim Kardashian (now you know, people), well, that would just blow my cover entirely.  (Please don't tell anyone, and believe me, I'll deny this as Kim).

Mind that while I'm picking on and concentrating on Google here, the complaints I have are not specific to Google.  While I don't participate in Facebook, I'm all but positive I've got some sort of shadow profile there (probably several as I maintain a few online identities for various reasons).  And LinkedIn.  And ...   Most of whom, yes, are far less transparent about this than Google is.  But as good as Google is about this (and compared with the industry as a whole you are, I admit), it's not good enough or clear enough.

I cannot disable / repudiate / disassociate certain services.

In particular, my dashboard shows a Blogger account, a YouTube account, Contacts including G+ Circles data, Docs, Tasks, and Webmaster Tools. 

While I had created a Blogger account, I subsequently deleted the associated blog and, to the best of my knowledge, the account.  Yet it still appears.  I've zeroed out all associated information as far as possible and disabled public access ("sharing") of my profile.  I'd prefer it were simply and completely disabled and diassociated.

YouTube was, of course, a particular point of pain between myself and your employer.  Oddly, while I see an associted YouTube account according to the Dashboard, when I click "Manage YouTube Account" or "Privacy Settings", I get a page with the banner "There was an issue signing you into YouTube. Troubleshoot here."  Curious.  Makes me suspect changes in process.

So that bit's weird and unsatisfying.

I don't have a partial or selective delete option.

Since November 15, 2013, I've been manually deleting my G+ content and profile attributes.  Note the "manual" aspect.  That includes the 1,868 posts I'd made to that date (as of Feb 5, 2014 I was down to 539, a fair number of those a private "curation" Community), as well as my comments and circles.  To put it mildly, G+ tools for managing such content are limited, and my primary tool has been a bash one-liner which extracts post URLs from my Google Takeout archive, prints them a line at a time, from which I can launch a browser tab to the specified post, confirm it exists, decide if I want to re-home it elsewhere (I've been doing that to my subreddit), and then deleting the post.  I've since also written a rudimentary G+ takeout extractor (based on the JSON archive) which spits out Markdown-formatted content based on the posts, which helps in removing content.

That still leaves post comments.  For those I've got to perform a full-name search and filter out 1) other Edward Morbiuses (thank the FSM my name isn't "Eric Schmidt" (, as well as 2) mentions of my name/account by others and 3) posts on which I'd previously interacted but have since deleted content (these continue to show in search history).  The inability to limit search scope by data, by account (see above), by type of post (e.g., Community posts), etc., makes this ... tedious.

There's the nuclear option of removing all content and my account, but that's not quite what I'm aiming for just yet.  Later, probably.  

I'm familiar with Google Takeout.

See above.  It's useful, though as I noted it requires some additional tools to be particularly useful, and I do commend Google for this.

On another note:  I've been noticing numerous authentication / session glitches over the past 48 hours or so.

I keep getting kicked out of my G+ session, including while in the midst of doing stuff (my first attempt at writing this post, I've since gotten wise and am composing in vim).  This started ~Friday evening or Saturday morning, as I recall.  I've seen a couple of other mentions of it.  No determinable pattern that I can distinguish, though something makes me think that Google are in the process of untangling G+ from other account services, possibly.

You write:  "I'm sure you'll now find other things to complain about in order support the belief you already have..."

Brian:  I can understand that it's not comfortable being under the spotlight, being picked on, and having grumpy old cusses such as myself goading you like this.  Truth is:  I've been inside the Googleplex, I know people there, I've worked in the industry, with social networking and other associated data (and SN is hardly the only place that such data is assimilated and used), I've got very good ideas of what's stored, what's used, and how it can be accessed both officially and within the scope of business, and outside.  I've seen how data can be used against people, I've helped design systems to do just that, I've used it directly and personally myself to useful effect, and had it used against me.  I'm quite familiar both personally and through reports, news, and research of specific instances, going back decades.

Spider Man's got it right.  Great power:  great responsibility.  And as I've said above:  Google's much better about this than other actors.  Zuck's "dumb fucks" comment is one I'll never forget (and I've quoted it along with some supporting statements in answering FB recruiter inquiries indicating negative interest).

My big concern is actually that there's nothing Google can possibly do to make a Big Data business model inherently acceptable despite its best possible wishes, intent, and ability.  Post-Snowden, I'm only that much more convinced of this.  One line of inquiry I've followed over the past couple of years is how it might be possible to provide the revenue-generating services Google requires without maintaining intrusive personal dossiers, and I've made a few suggestsions in that regard.

While I can appreciate your feelings and sentiments in skewering me with that line, honestly, that's the sort of thing you should have written out, smiled at on screen, and deleted.  It does you no gain.
+John VanRoekel  "and therefore unfair to absolutely require." (re: proving a negative)

I disagree.

If you've got the option of structuring systems such that the negative you're trying to prove could simply never happen then you're out ahead.

Taking this discussion beyond Google and privacy for a moment, OpenBSD have demonstrated this in the realm of system security for a couple of decades in that they proactively design their operating system and the code that runs on it in such a way that common classes of systems vulnerabilities simply don't happen.  This doesn't mean that oBSD doesn't see any vulnerabilities in its default install (and if you go beyond that, bets are off), but they've got a loudly advertised (top of every project website page) of only two externally accessible exploits "in a heck of a long time".

Back to Google:  DDG minimizes the attack surface by not collecting user data in the first place.  Distributed and self-hosted systems minimize the attack surface by replacing centralized, hub-and-spoke system architectures with distributed, peer-to-peer networks (or at the very least, far more hubs providing smaller targets and more work for the attackers:  hackers, advertisers, national security services, subpoena-armed lawyers, etc.).

Google's initial business model was "provide search services and monetize the personal information derived therefrom".  That's since been expanded:  Email, chat, maps, mobile phones, social networking, and more.  Frankly, to extents that creep out numerous folks, other than myself.

And (as I've indicated in my previous posts), as critical as I am of Google they're among the better, if not the best, large actors in this space.

It's still far from enough.

And that is IMO an intractable problem.

So:  no, they can't prove a negative.  That's the point.

The should focus on not having to.
+Terence Kam, which part of "balance" is giving you trouble here?  So you can find examples where you think Google is not doing what they say but then you really don't know.  It just sounds good.  I, on the other hand, have listened to the internal discussion and debate as to why, after considering it at length, it was decided to not do so.

I won't be discussing the reasons.  You probably wouldn't believe me anyway.

FireFox also decided to not do this particular thing, but then everybody assumes they must have been bought rather have put any careful thought into the decision.

If you actually choose to look, you can find plenty of examples that Google does put the user first.  Even in this comment thread, we have ways of opting-out of all tracking (provided by Google even though it's obviously a detriment to the bottom line), "takeout" so you can leave easily, plus numerous corrections to various misinterpretations.

Google strives to create a Win-Win situation.  We never aim for Win-Lose; it would be stupid to do so (see previous comments).  If you think it would be better for us to go for Lose-Win... then I invite you to start your own company and see how that works for you.
+Terence Kam, that's a perfectly fair request though what you're asking for is a Win-Lose arrangement.  You'll have to look elsewhere... at least until such time as Google releases a paid service where you pay directly to use all of our services instead of having advertisements served to you.  (Note that this is a reflection of an earlier discussion in this thread, not based on any inside knowledge of such a thing.)

If such an idea appeals to you, I suggest you "send feedback" with the suggestion along with how much, on a monthly basis, our services sans-ads would be worth to you.  That's really the best way to get someone on the inside to pay attention to the idea.
The issue with relying on a company's moral compass is that those compasses shift over time. People change, the leadership changes, the company ownership changes. It is inevitable. And at that point the collected data becomes vulnerable to the kind of uses that was not considered possible before. Morality offers no protection because nothing lasts forever. Except perhaps the data Google has collected into their vast data centers.
+Brian White a perfect balance is basically impossible. So we are most probably talking about win - (minor or major) lose situations. I tolerate the Google ads, but they are not part of a perfect win situation I would picture for me as a user. Customer Value is good and all, but if you don't get the business value at some point you can stop your business. So if Google told me: 'hey listen we want to give you the best possible free services, while also making loads of money with your data. That's the deal, take it or leave it. ' It would be fine for me. But if you say: 'we just want a better world'. My first reaction is, do you think your users are stupid? Just making a better world alone will not keep your business running. And as soon as business interest comes in, there will be compromise. If it doesn't come with the first release of a product or service, it'll surely come afterwards. 
+Juha Lindfors, one of the reasons behind the stock split/dividend was to ensure that those setting the direction remain the ones setting the direction.  If you add to that the legal implications of all the public statements that have been made as well as a dozen government bodies watching over us, I think the likelihood of significant change in Google's policy is very small.

+Shane Dillon, it sounds like you're saying that, if you don't get everything you want exactly as you want it then you're losing.  If that is your outlook, then I'm afraid you're going to have a very disappointing life.  Win-Win means both parties come out ahead in the deal, not that both parties get everything they want.  And that's not ahead of the other party but ahead of where they were before.

Some people believe there is no such thing as Win-Win.  They believe that in order for them to come out ahead, somebody else must come out behind.  These people are missing out on real opportunities in life.
+Brian White I think there are real win-win situations. But I don't think that Google created a lot of them, or is in the position to do so consistently. Even if this only means that the regular user doesn't even understand what he is accepting by using Google services. This is hardly only Googles fault but neithertheless: if somebody doesn't fully understand the deal, can he ever be in a real win situation? 
+Shahpur Azizpour, I don't think you're correct there.  I think most people understand the deal with Google very well:  We give you services that are useful to you and in return our machines try to match you with products they think you'll want to buy from which we will receive from the advertisers a small amount of money for each successful match.

You could argue that many people don't realize the full extent of what Google could technically do but since both policy and practice say that we don't do those things, why make that an issue?  Besides, I believe that most people actually do realize what Google could do but also trust that we don't.
+Shahpur Azizpour People mostly "win" without fully understanding the deal. In fact I would argue most people who have a relatively comfortable life (like us in the first world) have no idea how most of the world works around them.

Just because you're "winning" doesn't mean there isn't some "cost".
+Brian White Yes, so ultimately it is the legal system and regulations that are necessary to keep any company, including Google, in check. It is not the current culture or the current business sense or the current management that offers any long term guarantees. "If you're not paying for the product, you are the product" is as accurate for Google as it is for Facebook or Microsoft or any other company that offers free service in exchange of user data and profiling. Or, in the opposite, is not accurate to any of them at all. But most people do see the current generation of social media/cloud service companies in the former light.
+Juha Lindfors, you should read through all the comments.  None of what you say turns out to be true.  It's just a cynical way of looking at things that is not borne out by the facts, the policies, or the natural laws that make for good business.
+Brian White I have read through the entire thread. And when it comes to money and business, I'm always cynical.

There aren't many examples of tech companies that have survived through the various eventual disruptions that arrive from time to time. There aren't many tech companies where founders have remained in complete control of what the company does. You want to think Google is an exception. Sadly I think the history (albeit somewhat short) shows the odds are heavily against this.

Since Nortel was mentioned, it reminds me of the call in many companies for engineers to file as many patents as possible for "defensive" reasons. A good cause. Yet look at where the Nortel patents ended up in the long run when the company's fortune turned. Currently being abused by trolls to extract money out of a dysfunctional patent system for as long as they can. 

User data is different from patents, but it isn't hard to imagine a similar possibility. All it takes is a disruption in the ad serving business, the kind of disruption that Google created for the previous ad agencies, and if the company isn't agile enough, it may well find itself in a position where it's most valuable asset, the user data, is being auctioned off to someone who cares less about privacy than you or the rest of current Googlers do.

Will the laws and regulations protect the users at that point? I hope so, but I'm pessimistic. 

Will the good intentions of founders and current employees protect users at that point? I'm almost certain they won't.
+Juha Lindfors, Google's data on its users of little value without the actual users.  Therefore, Google's most valuable asset is that its users trust us enough to continue to use our services.  It's in our best interests to protect our users and their trust.

The future is unknown, that's true, but you can't live your life based on what might, possibly happen some distance in the future.  Google has done the best it can to protect user data, such as anonymizing logs after a certain time, against such a possibility.

Also, the value of collected data diminishes fairly quickly.  For example, knowing that you're travelling to a city next month provides for opportunities but know you travelled there last year provides little.
When it comes to my personal data, I do care what happens to it in some distance in the future. I've no knowledge how long Google is keeping data about me. Maybe you could give a more precise figure? Until how long is my data identifiable and can be traced back to me before it is anonymized?
+Juha Lindfors, you should care about your data.  But you should also recognize the steps taken to protect it.  Note that comparing private data to patents as an asset for sale is not a good analogy since there are very strict laws about the transfer of private data.

Data you submit directly is kept as long as you keep it.  If you choose to keep your email forever then obviously Google has it forever.  When you delete it, we delete it.  Control of this is largely here:

Logs retention policy is 9 and 18 months:

Private data is obviously a big legal issue so I can't say much but I will assert that the vast majority of Googlers have zero access to such, the few that do primarily access only anonymous versions of such, and the rare access that does require personally identifiable information (PII) is logged and those logs audited.  The logs access request process is quite clear that doing any queries that look for or track a specific user can result in being fired.  I could be talking to you on the phone and you could say, "Sure Brian, you have my permission to look me up." and I'm still not allowed to do it.  I'm not even allowed to look up my own information!

Someone once asked me why we keep any PII if we're not allowed to look up something specific.  When I've seen PII used, it was not done to associate the results with a specific user but to associate activity across time in order to learn and/or determine trends, the resulting conclusions associated with broad sections of the population rather than any specific person.  But you need some sort of "key" in order to associate through time even if you discard that key after the analysis.

And to be clear, the PII we protect against is not just single personally-identifiable bits like a cookie or an IP address but also large data sets that, in aggregate, could point to a single person.  To make up an example on the spot, the last digit of your phone number plus the last digit of your zip code plus the last digit of your SSN plus the last digit of your birth day plus the first letter of your name could be enough to uniquely identify a specific person even though each datum individually obviously cannot.  Any time we want to collect a new piece of information, even if obviously not PII, it goes through a privacy review to ensure that, when combined with other non-identifiable bits, doesn't end up resulting is something that is identifiable with a specific person (or even a narrow subset).
+Brian White if most people really understand the deal, then I wonder why you still to this day see articles where some journalist is writing about the outrageous insight that emails from Gmail users are 'scanned for keywords'. And the people are surprised every time. It's like saying that most people read the small print of contracts. We all know that the majority doesn't. So with Google there are probably a lot of customers thinking they are winning but their opinion could easily change if they really understand the deal and the implications. And with all due respect, if a company tells me that they won't do evil things, it doesn't say anything at all. The definition of evil varies greatly depending on the own viewpoint. 
+Shahpur Azizpour, uh, yeah.  Then there are all the stories written by journalists about things people already know.  Those articles make for spectacularly interesting headlines that are sure to make a name for whomever journalist publishes them.

If you're going to use something as example, at least try to find something that has some chance of equal reporting both ways.
+Brian White why do you thing journalists chose topics as headlines? Because everybody already knows it and nobody wants to read it? Would be a pretty strange selection process if you ask me. But if you don't like that example it's OK, how about the comparison with the small print on contracts? Do you also think that most people know exactly what they are signing?
+Shahpur Azizpour, I believe that there are publications (and their journalists) that choose to interpret the facts in such a way as to make for controversial articles and sensational headlines in order to "sell newspapers".  Not all.  Certainly some.  Possibly most.

When you work for and have insight into a company in the public eye -- any company in the public eye -- this reporting bias becomes obvious very quickly.  "Good" news doesn't sell.  Bad news, controversial articles, accusational stories... those sell.

Regarding the "small print" on legal contracts, that's a good example!

As I said before, I believe most users understand the deal.  They may not fully comprehend all the legal mumbo-jumbo behind it or things that may arise in exceptional circumstances but those are the legal wranglings, not "the deal".  Rent a car.  Stay in a hotel.  Buy some software.  Unless there is fraud going on, the deal is pretty much always the same:  Customer pays vendor.  Vendor provides service.  Customer promises not to abuse the service.  Vendor promises a good experience.

Google's policy is well publicized and we have to abide by that agreement as well.

See my previous comments to Michael Verona for why the EULA is the way it is.
I find your presence of faith disturbing.

<< You are not product; you are our customers!  That's simply the way we view it and it permeates the company from bottom to top.  Everything is done to make a better service for you. >>

i once watched a friend of mine in the internet security industry try to search the web for something, using some second rate search engine like Bing. i noted, <<if you were using google, you'd've found it by now.>> his answer: <<we're a customer of google. i know what they're selling. i know what we're getting from them. i'm happier using some other search engine.>>

<< Even Ads is viewed as a service to our users.  Random ads are garbage.  Useful ads are a benefit. >>

no. this could not be more wrong, and shows an extreme likelihood of Groupthink on your part. garbage ads are easy to ignore. useful ads are distracting and creepy.

here's a thought experiment for you. is there any price at which google would keep me out of its index? as in, no mail i send or receive to a gmail user would be indexed, no searches or other web hits trackable to me would be indexed, i would be completely invisible to google, to government search warrants, to google's customers in all their forms?

if you name a reasonable commercial price like $600/year ($50/month) i will pay it, and i will move my e-mail to your gmail servers where i will surely get less spam, and i will put my calendar into your system, and my docs, and i will sing your praises because your services are really quite good.

but your answer will most likely be "no" because i am worth far more than $600/year to you in the profit you receive indirectly as a result of having my information. that scares the hell out of me, and, once you leave the googolplex and start thinking for yourself, it will scare the hell out of you, too.
+Paul Vixie, "useful" is distracting and creepy?  Good grief!  How do you get through your days with only things that are not useful?

You're unbelievable!  Here Google is actually releasing a product to provide a feature because some people don't like to see ads and all you can do is complain that it's not good enough?  You must be a real joy opening presents on Christmas morning.

Let's be honest here. You're not worth it. Please don't take that personally because it's not personal.  It's true of every individual.  You want GMail with no search index?  You can't develop a product or even customize a product for one person.  Hundreds of people spend thousands of hours developing our products and their features.  They're targeted to the majority.  It's not practical to build a second system for someone who doesn't like one specific part of it.

It's not the money.  Honest.  It's the opportunity cost -- the opportunity to spend those engineering hours doing something that's beneficial to millions of users instead of just a few.

And your argument is BS anyway because an incremental $600/yr would still be a net revenue win to Google given that you're not using any of our services today.  I think plenty, thank you.  You're just making stuff up.
<< an incremental $600/yr would still be a net revenue win to Google given that you're not using any of our services today. >>

show me.
Let's see...
- Paul Vixie doesn't use any Google services
- revenue earned from Paul Vixie == $0/yr
- Paul Vixie pays $600/yr to use services with no data collection
- revenue earned from Paul Vixie == $600/yr
$600 > $0 so net revenue win!

Besides, plenty of Google's data collection can be turned off.  Location tracking on your phone for example.  But you'll lose features like predictive travel and local information.  It's in our best long-term interest to give users what they want and that includes privacy protection and data control.  It's not perfect but it's significant and it's improving.

Where's the URL where I can sign up?
I didn't say it was available.  Do you even read?  Go back and search for "you're not worth it".
<< I didn't say it was available. >>

so, my assertion that it's not in google's best interests, holds for the moment. let me expand on it to make this easier for you: for the purpose of the experiment, assume that there are at least a million people on earth who, like me, would pay google $600/year to let us use its services but otherwise forget us. my position is, that would not be in google's best interests, because they make more than that from indexing that million.

if you wish, change one million to five million. the principle would stand.

go ahead and ask sergey and larry, they're honest men with nothing to fear and nothing to hide, they'll give you a straight answer.
Well, +Paul Vixie, these questions have been asked publicly (within Google, anyway) of Sergey and Larry and others.  I've witnessed them.  And I've heard the answers.  And I'm telling you, you're wrong.  What those exact answer were and what the plans are for the future, I of course can't repeat for confidentiality reasons.

However, given that we just starting testing a service that allows people to completely opt-out of all Google advertising (for more than an order of magnitude below your $600/yr, I'll note) and the only things that come from data collection and processing are better ads and numerous products/features... your "assertion" is patently false ...which you might see if you hadn't already made up your mind.
<< completely opt-out of all Google advertising >>

that's not what i asked for. nevertheless if it comes to pass i will check it out. and if it still falls far short of what i asked for, i'll go on asking for what i actually wanted.

<< which you might see if you hadn't already made up your mind. >>

i think this is hostility, and i've been ignoring it. thought you should know.
Google is like a nextgen TV Network (Australia has a Lot of Free To Air) they provide Great Story, News and much more for Free but sell ads its just like Google, only difference google services are computer science based  and that needs data to provide great integrated services and a byproduct of this data can be use to direct market to people instead of pissing them off with useless ads where people tune out.
+Paul Vixie the primary reason Google indexes email is search, spam filtering, and other useful services. If you want a mail service that stores only cipher text, Google's not going to do it because it doesn't mesh with the company's mission to organize information.

Your basically asking if Google wants to be a commodity mail client company that sells dumb opaque storage and the obvious answer is, they don't because it's a commodity and there's little competitive advantage they can bring.

The groupthink claims are flat out nonsense. 
ray, you may have misunderstood me. i'm not asking google to sell me services, which as you point out, would not be to their advantage if all my text was opaque to them and they could not leverage my content in other ways.

rather, i am offering to pay google real cash on a monthly basis to exempt me from their index. for example, when i receive mail from a gmail subscriber or if i reply to it, they currently learn n-grams that they can attach to my identity as represented in their system.

i'm willing to pay the blood money to stop this practice, for myself and my family, and i won't ask google to perform any services in exchange for that, beyond the privileges of both being forgotten and being never remembered.

offer that and i'll begin to consider whether google's "don't be evil" is more than just a bumper sticker for the simple minded.

+Paul Vixie but how would you verify such a service? It seems to me that you'd be paying for their word. Wouldn't it be simpler to just use an end to end encrypted email product?

I mean it's an interesting idea but realistically what percentage of the population would be interested In this? I doubt the fees could cover the software development and ongoing compliance expenses. Even if Google did it and absorbed the costs, there would be no way for anyone to verify they weren't being indexed except by sending email to fake accounts and seeing if search worked.
i would rely on their auditors for verification. also my many friends at google who are good people and would not let their employer lie about whether they actually implemented this.
Problem is U.S. spying: Huge U.S. venture capitalists are exploring the internet to finally gain strategic advances over certain foreign industries, economies, countries, politics.

But as #Snowden revelations have shown, NSA even is storing ("full take") and analyzing a foreign company's phone calls to gain that strategic information. V.C. have access to these data.

From 'game theory' point of view, that's called game, based on "asymetric information", like a chess game with a blind person, who can only guess your moves.
The sentiment and facts stated in the O.P. are entirely accurate, and I will personally vouch for them having worked very closely with Google in roles that permitted me means to personally verify these truths. That said, while there have been improvements, Google's public voice regarding these facts still falls quite short, and Google habitually cedes to third parties the narrative regarding controversial matters, empowering haters and leaving the majority of users (and the public at large) vulnerable to the haters' F.U.D. and confusion. Google needs to own these stories for the sake of the company and the global community. Simply being in the right isn't enough.
Would it help?  Or would those against Google just use it as an example claiming that Google hides the truth behind excessive PR?  It seems that for every statement Google makes, there are those that tear it apart for what isn't done or isn't said -- not to mention those that simply call "liar".

While it's true that Google has enough reach that they could control the story in the media to some degree, that would be "evil".  Hell, they could easily control it on the web with some changes to search/news ranking but that would also be "evil".

That's not to say that there can't be improvements.  It just has to be done carefully and with users' best interests at heart.
+Brian White I've spent a lot of time looking at this specific issue. First, you're not directing your comm efforts at the haters per se. They're a comparatively small segment, and will never be convinced. However, they can have asymmetric impact when given the opportunity to fill an information vacuum. That's when they gain control over the large segment of users (and the public at large) who just don't understand what's going on and are genuinely looking for what appears to be an authoritative voice to explain the situation.

Because people come to me with Google issues a lot, I see this firsthand every day. And I've noted how when I discuss Google-related issues in public forums (they come up frequently in radio interviews) I get piles of emails the next day that amount to How come nobody ever explained it to me this way before? Now I understand!  Up to that point most of what they'd heard was garbage from Google adversaries.

But I don't have a good answer when people ask me why Google doesn't have explicit, clearly written official statements on so many important and relevant topics -- one example is the matters surrounding security issues related to the various versions of Android and available workarounds. This comes up all the time, still. Every day. But the same thing happens with privacy and security issues, where people don't understand the existing docs (the teams have done great work improving them, but large numbers of folks in the real world are still unable to understand them sufficiently). I could give other examples but you get the point.

The Streisand Effect can be real in the PR sphere in some instances, but you can't let it paralyze you. If you do, you cede critical stories to adversaries and haters, or to third-party tech-oriented publications that may distort the facts and that won't reach most users anyway (the most frequent comment I hear is how people want to get this information directly from the horse's mouth -- from Google).

I'm not saying this is easy -- on the contrary, it's hard. But it's necessary.
I understand, and it's a known issue that we need to communicate better with our users.  A lot of effort has been made in the past couple years to improve it.  There's still further to go, but things are better than they were.
Still... Google makes its money by interesting people enough in their products to connect the users to paying advertisers.

Therefor, the user is the product.
As If stated several times, now, connecting people is the service, much like a real-estate broker connects buyers with sellers.  Neither the buyer or the seller is the "product"; connecting them is the "service".
Ha-ha, no sir. The one paying is the client, and the product is the deliverable.

Quit fooling yourself. What's the big deal anyway? If someone doesn't like it, they can use Apple products... Or ad blockers, privacy plugins and custom hosts files on their machines!
If connecting people were truly the product, Google would charge both parties involved like a dating website.
A real-estate broken charges only the seller but the service is providing a connection.  And many (most?) dating websites charge only the men.
Technically it may charge only the seller but in reality that cost is usually shared by the buyer in the form higher sale price. The buying agent needs their cut.
Google isn't any more moral than anyone else, the 'don't be evil' motto has haunted them in scandal after scandal. Google earned £3.3 billion in the UK, and paid just £20 million in tax in 2014.

Their system of tax avoidance was the most convoluted of any tech. firm involving shell companies, a HQ in Ireland, and an offshore account in the Caribbean. The laws the UK Parliament brought in to tackle tax dodgers was even colloquially called the Google Tax.

Google's employees should take on management across the globe on tax avoidance. If you did then perhaps I would take you more seriously. As it stands Google make great products I enjoy, and its innovation ethos is one i appreciate greatly, but your employer is no different ethnically from any other firm, and their activities ought to be scrutinized, even by ardent fans. 
+Sarfaraz Hussein Merchant, I've noticed that a significant number of people interpret "Don't Be Evil" as "Don't Do What I Don't Want".  Then they find others with similar beliefs and claim it to be truth.

If tax-avoidance is "evil" then the vast majority of people on Earth are evil.  I for one don't personally know a single person who willingly pays more tax than they absolutely have to.  Do you?

For a company, paying additional money as tax is (in my non-lawyer opinion) likely a violation of the fiduciary responsibility of the directors who are effectively managing the assets of thousands (millions?) of shareholders.  It would not surprise me to see the directors sued by shareholders (i.e. the owners of the company) if they just gave away shareholder money.

Google has publicly stated that it is willing to pay more corporate-tax.  It's just not willing to make back-room deals to pay more tax.  Governments simply need to change their own laws and we'll comply.  No need for new "Google Tax" laws -- simply fix the ones that are already there.

Unless of course, there is nothing to fix!  It has been well established that "corporate tax" is a poor way for governments to make money off of companies.  The tax laws of the EU reflect this.

Google contributes a large amount of tax revenue from the income-tax on the people it employs, property-tax on property it owns, and capital-gains-tax on investments it makes.  You give only the corporate-tax amount.

The politicians know all this, of course, but it makes them look good to rant about these things which in turn makes them more likely to be elected.  It would not surprise me to see England's "Google Tax" law get struck down because it violates EU tax laws... but by that time the election will be over.
+Brian White​​​ The instruction (or platonic ideal?) ‘Don't Be Evil’ is a statement of ethical intent; you yourself regard Google as the most ‘moral’ company you have ever worked for. While I will not deign to query your employment history I will state tax avoidance on the scale Google perpetrated may have been entirely legal, but it went entirely against the spirit of the law, and such actions cannot be anything but unethical. 

Google justifies paying a lower tax rate than a cleaner, and its employee’s in who's moral compass you encourage us to trust also leads you to justify their getting away with billions in tax because Google pays its staff a wage, or as its UK head bizarrely argued on television because it runs Campus initiatives for start-ups. Eh' say what?!

Eric Schmidt’s admission of guilt if not responsibility, and your support for Google’s actions only further highlight that the interests of Google and its employees are not necessarily always aligned with those of the public. And that is the crux. One only needs to look at the financial services industry to see how hollow similar arguments have come to be.

I’ve no doubt Google is an extraordinary place to work, and it may well be one of the better ones, but Google’s business model which is based on selling ads is a fairly old one, even if its implementation is not, and it certainly doesn’t represent a paradigm shift in morality. The efficacy of its behaviour is determined like all corporations by self-interest. That is no bad thing. That is capitalism, but we the public, and our elected representatives have interests too. Google prospers in large part because of the societies in which it does business; in turn it has a responsibility to pay its fair share for their upkeep, and to respect the integrity of the data it collects. The public can't accomplish that by trust. By all means enjoy what Google does, but a healthy dose of cynicism is no bad thing. 
+Sarfaraz Hussein Merchant, you need to do some research.  Google pays corporate tax on all its earnings; it just pays all EU tax in Ireland.  This isn't against the spirit of the law -- it's explicitly allowed by the law!  It's allowed because the experts who developed the EU tax laws wanted it that way.  In addition, tax experts still think it should be that way.

Google setting up EU headquarters in Ireland (and paying its corporate tax in Ireland) because the tax rate is lower is no more unethical or against the "spirit of the law" than a couple choosing between filing jointly and filing separately depending on which gives the lowest tax bill.  It is your explicit right.

Why don't you be upset with Ireland for offering the low corporate tax rate?  Many companies operate out of Ireland because of this.  England could offer competitive rates if they wanted but choose not to.  They would rather have fewer international companies and have them each pay more.  That is a perfectly reasonable choice but they should have more sense than to go on whining about the down-sides of that choice.

When you go shopping for physical goods, do you always ensure it says "made in the UK"?  Or are you willing to short-change those hard working English laborers by instead buying something "made in China" just because it's cheaper?  Most people will... and Ireland/England tax-rates are no different.  That's how the free market works.

You do realize, don't you, that the reason countries/states/cities/etc offer "tax breaks" is because the benefit they receive from having a company locate within their boundaries exceeds the revenue "lost" in the tax break?

This is not a new thing; it's been around since the EU was formed in 1993.  If it were truly wrong, you'd expect the EU courts would have changed it by now.

I'm sure that if you had a financial manager and he said, "I'm just going so send an extra $1000 to the tax-man because you're such a moral person," you'd fire him on the spot.  And yet you expect Google to just give away the money of the company's owners in the very same way.
+Brian White​ I'm afraid that's nonsense. The UK is Google's' second largest market after the US, but through accounting loopholes Google was reporting pre-tax losses on operations in the UK. Google UK (essentially a shell entity) sells the products, but customers buy from Google Ireland where the Irish state takes a small share, at one stage income was sent from Ireland to a Dutch holding company for tax arrangements. The bulk is finally sent from Ireland to a holding company based on the island of Bermuda which holds Google's intellectual property rights to avoid paying tax to the United States which is where Google does all its R&D, and is based. Eric Schmidt publically boasts about this tax dodging 'I am very proud of the structure that we set up'. Presumably as he shares an island notorious for being frequented by Russian oligarchs, and Latin American drug lords. I don't know in what universe you believe that is the spirit of the tax law either in the UK or the USA.

The Conservative UK Chancellor is taking action to go after companies like Google, clearly he sees there is an issue, as does the public. Angela Merkel and successive French leaders have lead opposition to Ireland's tax regime through calls for EU tax harmonisation. Frankly, I prefer the British method, but everyone but you refuses to recognise there is a problem.

You may like to believe Google is motivated by the good of mankind, that you're employed by Cyber-Jesus because it has quirky office space, and multicoloured piping, but I certainly don't, and neither does Eric Schmidt. You belong to the most successful firm in the history of advertising. It does some remarkable things in technology, but at the end of the day as your executive chairman says: 'We are proudly capitalistic. I'm not confused about this.' He's not so why are you? 
+Sarfaraz Hussein Merchant, I never said there wasn't a problem.  I'm saying that Google, Facebook, and others are not it.  "Tax evasion" is illegal.  "Tax avoidance" is a company's fiduciary responsibility for reasons I've explained previously.

Google has no issue with paying more tax.  They believe in doing their part to support the countries and communities in which we operate.  Fix the laws so that it's a level playing field for everybody and we'll be first in line to pay the extra.  Blaming companies is just politicians looking for a scapegoat because otherwise they have to blame themselves and the laws they agreed upon.

“The tax strategy of Google and other multinationals is a deep embarrassment to governments around Europe,” said Richard Murphy, an accountant and director of Tax Research LLP in Norfolk, England. [...]  "The tactics, permitted under tax law in the U.S. and elsewhere, move royalty payments from subsidiaries in Ireland and the Netherlands to a Bermuda unit headquartered in a local law firm." (emphasis mine)

"However, the complaints about so little tax being paid in the UK when set against sales in the UK is, I’m afraid, simply nonsense. For it is missing the important part: the system is set up to encourage companies to do this."

So don't get all high-and-mighty about how you're this good and ethical person, even though I'm sure you don't pay one dime more in tax than you absolutely have to, and yet have the nerve to say someone else is wrong just because they're better at avoiding tax payments than you are.

Change the system, not those that work within it.
Imagine a basketball game or football game where one side plays according to good sportmanship and the other plays to maximize fouls which is completely legal strategy.

The government sets the rules of the game and all companies work within the rules. The proper solution is to change the rules so everyone has to agree to a new set that achieves a desired outcome like more revenue for government.

No one paying taxes is going to voluntarily play by their own internal set of rules which are more strict than the law requires.

Next time you pay your taxes why don't you avoid taking any deductions? 
+Ray Cromwell  Google employees don't appear able to differentiate between tax deductions, and outright avoidance by claiming a loss. Whether I pay any taxes, or live in gingerbread house that I use to lure fat children to eat, is irrelevant. Lest you forget; +Brian White  set your employer, and himself up as paragons of virtue. He presented Google as somehow above the muck, but even Starbucks, which has an atrocious record on tax avoidance, draws the line at offshore tax havens. If Google had no issue with paying tax it wouldn’t need a series of holding companies in several states, and Caribbean islands frequented by the dodgiest criminal elements on the planet. It sets a new low. 

These are moral questions, not just financial, or legal questions. If you accept Google acts in its financial interests above moral ones then great that is progress indeed. It then follows that you should also accept that not everything Google does is necessarily in the interest of its users, and whose interests it may not always place above all other considerations. 

If politicians as you rightly say get it wrong on taxes, and corporations like Google ruthlessly exploit those weaknesses, or if they get it wrong on privacy protection then the public is responsible for demanding the government addresses those issues, and not rely on Google, Apple, or Microsoft, or I’m sorry to say their employees to do the right thing. These are industry leaders, and are big enough, and should be tough enough to get an occasional grilling by the press. Journalists may get it wrong from time to time, but scrutinising tech. and the financial industry is more important now than it has ever been. 
The government is the only one that can fix the problem. Corporations would face shareholder lawsuits if they voluntarily decided to take on tax liabilities they didn't have to when their competitors weren't facing the same restriction.

In a competitive marketplace, everyone must be subject to the same rules for it to work.

If what the international corporations were doing was illegal they would have been taken to court ages ago. European corporations similarly dodge US corporate taxes using legal schemes.

Any mechanism that fixes this would require international agreement.

+Ray Cromwell​​ I employed the example of tax avoidance to illustrate that no company acts purely in the public interest, and to highlight the limitations of employees to correct their behavior. i neither claimed Google's actions were illegal nor was I engaged at any point in a jingoistic rant against American firms. I mentioned Bermuda precisely to illustrate that Google was avoiding paying tax to the US where Google is based, and where its technology is developed. And I'm afraid Google’s actions went well beyond pacifying shareholders, or even the activities of other US firms involved in similar behavior.

The press subsequently ran through Google, forcing government action, and rightly so. Similarly, Apple's bad press forced it and Samsung to engage with working conditions in their assembly plants, and we recently witnessed Google, Apple, Intel and Adobe settle for around half a billion dollars a case involving locking their employees in and keeping wages low.

So, I can't for the life of me fathom why you think we should buy into this idealised myth of Google, or anyone else, or make time for loyal employees bemoaning critical articles in the press, or extolling the corporate goals of any giant as essentially virtuous, and utopian in nature. That is to partake of an American beverage commonly referred to as Kool-Aid. 

When Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the NSA’s surveillance activities he did in my opinion the right thing. He afforded the American people something they had hitherto been deprived: the opportunity to debate what level of surveillance they believe is appropriate. We can debate endlessly how much access governments should have, and what data they should be allowed to collect, but Google collects a great deal of data too. So it’s an utter waste of time to focus on limits of government activities in regards to privacy, and not involve technology firms in that greater public debate since all our online activities are being archived, and employed by the gate keepers who provide us access.

It is not good enough to say trust Google, Apple, Yahoo! or Microsoft just as we wouldn't accept a similar argument being applied to the NSA, MI6, CIA, who are supposedly overseen by elected officials. It's not an argument to say that they act purely in my interests , and move on. None of them have proven to be entirely ethical, that is why we have a free press, public debate, and organic legal infrastructures in place.

Societies desperately need to grapple with issues like international tax avoidance, but also online privacy and the commoditisation of our identity, and construct a comprehensive legal system that currently doesn’t exist to make clear the limits of the pubics consent. Right now thats non-existent, and the technology is evolving, and that should be troubling to everyone.

Asking the public to simply trust you, and +Brian White​​ to make those decisions for us is simply not good enough, nor realistic. Further, it would set the worst kind of precedent for the participation of ordinary citizenry in public life going into the 21st century. 
By your standards pretty much everyone is evil because almost everyone tries to legally minimize taxes. I see a distinct difference between a motto that essentially meant don't shit on your users when It was coined and a kind of white knight corporation that not only doesn't shit on its users nor break the law nor harm the environment or adheres to other progressive causes but also willingly ignores tax credits, incentives, deductions, and jurisdiction in order to purposely pay more taxes.

The standards you hold for google were never claimed by google themselves, nor do they apply to almost any entity in the world I can think of. This is a red herring canard.

Basically your argument is, google said don't be evil, you take your own definition of evil as tax minimization strategies and therefore Google gets no trust or credit on any other issue.

Seems pretty fallacious reasoning but you're entitled to your opinion.

+Brian White I think Google is exceptionally good. That just makes the few bad things easier to point out. But that shouldn't bother you, it just means it's easier for people to help keep Google good than it would be at a place like Microsoft where active evil is still part of the culture. Having said that, Google being on the wrong side of the tax haven debate because a few people convinced the triumvirate that there might be something to trickle-down economics early on is excruciatingly painful, in part because of the social stress it causes both internal to Google and across the Google/customer boundaries. It's also weird to see Google try to stay neutral on some set of political issues but not others, e.g. universal health care and free public college.
+Ray Cromwell​​​​​​​​​​​​​​  By my 'standards' entities are neither necessarily good nor evil. Indeed, the premise of my argument is that we should avoid falling into the analogous mistake of arguing they can only exist as one of two diametrically opposed states of morality. Some like Google are better in many respects than others, and whose products are certainly worthy of veneration if not always the organisations themselves. Your depiction of Google as the 'white knight' and presumably society as the damsel evokes a fantasy.

This is our fundamental difference as the only distinction I draw is between Google’s interpretation of ‘Don’t Be Evil’ which doubtless can produce beneficial outcomes, but which applies only when Google (or yourself) says it applies, and on the other hand there's the public's interpretation of that motto. It was the latter's standards on tax which Google fell short of, and not (as you so generously attribute) my own.

In short, we should hold all entities to no other standard than the ones we as a society agree upon. That demands the public's education, an engaged press, and polity. Only through this process can we construct the necessary architecture to determine and enforce what we should all define as an ethical tax structure, or where to set the limits of privacy.

’ Seems pretty fallacious reasoning but you're entitled to your opinion.’
Perhaps, perhaps not, but opinions even fallacious ones are occasionally necessary when we engage in a public discourse. That appears to me to be preferable to a kind of Manichean outlook that can be fortified when we tie our own sense of identity up too closely with bodies in which we inhabit, have faith in, or indeed are employed by, and thereby relinquish our capacity for critical thought when presented with the party line.
+James Mason, Google has learned to pick its public battles.  It fights for the things it believes are the most important and leaves the rest for others.  We also get burned at the stake if it's not the exact answer everybody wants.  Net Neutrality is a good example.  We're absolutely in favor of it but when we tried to find a good compromise, we got blasted from all sides.  Now we prefer to lead by example where possible: Google Fiber is net-neutral.

As for tax, it's unethical to cheat.  It's unethical to lie about it.  It's not unethical to make use of every deduction that the government offers you.  I don't know a single person or company who does not do this.  You'll note that Google has never tried to hide what it is doing.  Plus, as both I and +Ray Cromwell have pointed out...  If a company does not do its absolute best to pay the minimal amount of tax, they leave themselves open to being sued by the owners (i.e. shareholders) for failing their fiduciary responsibility (i.e. "unethical behavior").

The laws are quite clear.  When you're managing other people's money, you must act in the best interest of those whose money it is.  With respect to a company, that means the shareholders, not the government.  But it's not only the law, it's also "right" to place your owners' interests over those of the government.  If you disagree with that, ask yourself if you think companies should turn over all their information (e.g. encryption keys) to the government since that is obviously in the government's best interest.
+Brian White "It's not unethical to make use of every deduction that the government offers you." Are you sure? That doesn't scale very well. It's like saying that it's not unethical to extract so much profit that customers no longer have any money remaining to spend.

Google's stock voting structure was chosen specifically so they could not be sued even if they didn't do everything possible to maximize their income.

Even if it is ethical to take every possible deduction by shuffling money across borders in ways that legislators of any country never imagined or anticipated, is it ethical to leave so much cash idle in tax haven accounts compared to traditional low risk tax deferrals like municipal bonds, which could be used to finance infrastructure repairs?
+James Salsman, now you're being naive.

"It's like saying that it's not unethical to extract so much profit that customers no longer have any money remaining to spend."  It is most definitely not unethical.  It would be, however, absolutely stupid to do so for any company that thinks long-term (which Google certainly does).

 "Google's stock voting structure was chosen specifically so they could not be sued even if they didn't do everything possible to maximize their income."  Absolutely untrue.  Google's stock structure is such that a few people have majority voting rights which gives them the ability to pick the board of directors and determine the outcome of any referendums put to the shareholders. That does not protect them from legal liability to the minority shareholders! To suggest otherwise is simply ridiculous and shows a complete lack of understanding on your part of how public companies operate and are held accountable.

"... in ways that legislators of any country never imagined or anticipated ..."  These tax vehicles have been around for decades, possibly centuries.  Google isn't doing anything new.  Governments could have changed these things long before Larry and Sergey were ever born but they did not.  Why would you guess that is?

"... leave so much cash idle in tax haven accounts compared to traditional low risk tax deferrals like municipal bonds ..."  Google will obviously do with idle cash what has the best low-risk return-on-investment.  Avoiding tax is a pretty good ROI.  Plus, there are better ways Google can contribute to the economy than buying bonds.
+Brian White how is the decision that idle tax haven accounts are superior to municipal bonds arrived at? The effects of such decisions are widely felt and cutting into profits:
Do the majority shareholders have a right to keep the minority party, in your hypothetical case, from threatening to sue in ways that keep them all from maximizing profits by maximizing customer aggregate demand?
+James Salsman, I said "avoiding tax is a pretty good ROI".  All bonds that I know of are bought after-tax so you have less to invest.  If tax rates are high then it takes a high yield on the bonds to make up for that and no bonds have a high yield these days.  I have no idea how the financial guys make the calculations but I'm sure they make very detailed ones.
+Brian White if someone has reason to believe their reasoning is flawed, what is the right way to report that?
+James Salsman, the most effective way for a topic like this would be to go to the annual shareholders meeting and ask a public question of the directors.  At least, that's the best idea that I can think of.  Or have a major finance background and apply for a job.
+Brian White I've thought a lot about what you said. Anything else that I want to ask Google about, there is usually a queue of some kind where the appropriate expert will eventually produce a thoughtful response, sometimes with a delay but usually not. Going to a shareholder meeting, though, there are usually a lot of people who want to ask questions, and no real time for more than a handful, or a dozen at best. The same with analyst calls and the like. Ideally, I would ask Google's new CFO Ruth Porat to respond to the aggregate demand implications of e.g.
but she isn't on G+.
The only shareholder's meeting I've ever attended was Berkshire Hathaway.  :-)

But, since we've been talking about giving out money that belongs to the shareholders, you'll want not just to question the directors but get buy-in from those that would need to approve it.

I'm just guessing, but in the absence of a compelling mathematical formula it would probably require a shareholder vote to change something like this.
+Brian White paying taxes that legislators actually intended and investing the liquid proceeds in municipal bonds instead of keeping them in cash accounts on some tax haven isn't "giving out" money, any more than refraining from using an obscure debug code to get free food from a vending machine could be seen as giving out food.
+James Salsman, actually, since legislators created these tax-free zones, one can easily argue that companies are doing what was intended.  It's difficult to know the intent of the people who created the laws all those decades ago.  What is clear is that legislators do not want to fix the laws to disallow it.  If they did want that, they would have done so.  Vendors would certainly fix a vending machine that gave out free food.

But as I and others have already said: Paying more tax than the minimum that is legally required could be seen as a violation of the directors' fiduciary responsibility to the shareholders and thus be both illegal and unethical.  Talk to a corporate lawyer to find out for sure.  But if so, then only consent by the shareholders can allow things to change.
+Brian White how is it possible that, for example, the "double Dutch Irish sandwich" tax shelter that Google has been using, which require transfers across three national borders, could have possibly have been anticipated by legislators from any of the countries involved?

Legislators do want to fix these laws, but they are caught in a prisoners dilemma which could lead to capital flight if they don't compete to offer low costs on the backs of their citizens and their infrastructure. I don't need a corporate lawyer to tell me that the prisoners' dilemma takes money away from would-be customers:

In fact, a corporate lawyer whose job depends on tax shelters has a huge incentive to say they are a good deal, don't they?
+James Salsman, the suggestion to ask a corporate lawyer was whether it would be a violation of the directors' fiduciary responsibility to not find the absolute minimum tax rate.  A lawyer will tell you the law, not whether you should or should not.

Remember that all that money does not belong to Google but to Google's owners, the shareholders.  The company must do what is in the owners' best interests.  How much extra money do you give your government?  If you wish, why don't you give me some of your money and I'll give it to the government on your behalf.  That's what you're asking Google to do -- give away other people's money when they aren't legally required to.

Of course changing the law is unpleasant and has consequences both good and bad.  Why whine about the way it is if the alternative is worse?  Politicians should simply "grow a pair" and do what needs to be done but instead they're more interested in doing what is popular so they can get re-elected.  Quite frankly, a politician's interests are only aligned with the short-term interests of the public, not the long-term ones.

The Irish government has a counter-measure that is already in-place for new companies and will apply to existing companies in 2020.  Since use of the "Double Irish Arrangement" was popularized by Apple in 1980s, they have had plenty of time to deal with it before it became such a big issue but they couldn't be bothered.  What did they think?  That it would just go away on its own?

The situation is of their own making.  The only way to fix this is for governments to step up, set things straight, and take their lumps "for the greater good".
I'm a little bit late to the party and sorry for not reading every comment made so far.

I also think that Google as a whole is a good company and has the best of its users in mind.
So while Google might be a good company, that does not mean that every employee is also a good person. So when I upload my private stuff to Google Drive or send them with Hangouts and my stuff is not end-to-end encrypted it means Google employees might take a look at it (even if they are not allowed to, that doesn't matter) and might trade it with each other.
What if that employee who gathered a lot of user data turns evil and starts to blackmail the user or Google itself. And with all the information Google gathers it would be possible for an employee e.g. to stalk attractive women. There are a lot of possible bad scenarios.

Now I need to do a Google search to find out where my favorite band plays next and look at Google Maps how to drive there while I watch funny cat videos on YouTube :)
+Nivok Sieben, access to Google's production systems is strictly regulated.  The vast majority of employees have zero access to production data.  Of the couple thousand or so that do (for legitimate support reasons) have such access, each of them is limited to only the service they support and even then they can generally access only non-Personally-Identifiable Information.  They can make requests for PII but those requests are logged and those logs are audited.  You'd better have a good reason.  Trying to correlate any data based on PII is strictly forbidden and will get you fired.

When I was SRE for Search, it was made clear.  Even if I was talking to you on the phone and you said, "Brian, you have my permission to look at my query." I still wouldn't be allowed.  I wasn't even allowed to look at my own queries except for training purposes.

Google takes user privacy very seriously, even internally.  And all the employees I know agree with it.  Trade private information?  My own team would squash me just as I would rain fire down on one of them.
I'm glad you love your company, but I have to disagree with you. When has anyone been happy to see a commercial when on Youtube? No-one. When is the "sponsored link" more useful than the other links on the search page? Never. Do I, or any Google user, see advertising to us as a "service"? Not at all. These things happen not to serve viewers like me, but to serve the companies that pay Google.

Yes, there are people in Google whose first priority is to make Google users happy. They are not the ones in charge, nor can they ever be, because Google gets its money from its advertisers and not us.

Install AdBlock Plus, block ads and tracking, and then you will see what the internet looks like to people who are not being sold. It is a much better experience. 
+Ilia Tchaplinski, to answer your questions: 

When has anyone been happy to see a commercial when on Youtube? No-one.

Wrong. I'm sure that everyone who puts those ads on their YouTube videos is very happy to see them. It's not Google who does that! It's the people who own the content that choose to monetize it. Yes, Google gets a cut but if the owner wants to make the video playable without ads then Google gets nothing.

When is the "sponsored link" more useful than the other links on the search page? Never.

Wrong. Sponsored ads are sometimes more useful than the top links. It depend on what and why you're searching. If I'm searching for "roofer" and get a sponsored link to a roofer in my area then that's more useful than Wikipedia's general article on what a roofer is.

Do I, or any Google user, see advertising to us as a "service"? Not at all.

Wrong. Advertisers are typically also Google users and they certainly see it as a service.

Google's flight search is "sponsored" and I find it an insanely useful service. So do a great number of other people, I can promise you.

These things happen not to serve viewers like me, but to serve the companies that pay Google.

Wrong. They don't serve you directly but they do serve you because they pay for a service that you are using "for free". And I'm going to hazard a guess that you think Google's services are pretty good... or you'd be using something else. There's no shortage of alternatives -- whether others are "good" or not is subjective.

If you disagree, why don't you create your own completely free service and show the world how things should be done? Talk is cheap.

Yes, there are people in Google whose first priority is to make Google users happy. They are not the ones in charge, nor can they ever be, because Google gets its money from its advertisers and not us.

Wrong. Google gets its money from connecting users and advertisers. If users are not happy, they'll go elsewhere. And if the users go elsewhere, the advertisers will follow. (The reverse is never true.) It's only logical to focus on the user and that comes right from the very top. In fact, it's #1 on the "10 things we know to be true".

Install AdBlock Plus, block ads and tracking, and then you will see what the internet looks like to people who are not being sold. It is a much better experience.

Wrong. That's not what the internet looks without ads. That's what the internet looks like when ads are being shown to most people but not you. If you were to completely remove monetization from the internet, it would not be the good experience you claim.

There are certainly bad ads. I have yet to find a news website with anything but garbage, sensational, promoted stories. Google works to at least make its ads applicable and useful. If you read through the previous comments, you'll even find information (from Google itself) on how to opt-out of things. Ad Blocking came about because sites blatantly abused their users with horrible ads -- win-win became win-lose. Now they're being forced to be responsible and that's a good thing.
+Brian White well said. However, is there any practical inconsistency between, "Google gets its money from connecting users and advertisers," and, "If you're not paying for the product, you are the product"?
+James Salsman, absolutely. The customer in a grocery store isn't the product of the grocery store just as the items sold within are not the product of the grocery store. Stores connect buyers and sellers; they offer a service and get paid for that service.
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