Google's Phone Plan Raises Concerns for Customers

By Joe Wilcox  |  Posted 11-06-2007

Google's Phone Plan Raises Concerns for Customers

The beta name for the Google phone platform is full of arrogance and disdain for potential customers. For people saying Google is the new Microsoft, Google just might be worse.

The long-rumored Google phone is instead a mobile platform code-named Android, to which I assign real meaning and connotations. Isn't Google saying that it sees users as mindless automatons? For a company whose major product is an algorithm, should anyone really expect the Google huggy, kissy customer embrace? After all, search is very impersonal. People may search for things of personal interest, but the process is methodical on the front end and mathematical on the back end.

The Google worldview is looking more like this: Customers are programmed drones who repeatedly click the mouse on Google search and advertising services. Click, click, click. The mouse goes. Click. Click. Click. The stock ticker rises.

In May I asked: "Do Google's attitudes make it more dangerous than Microsoft ever was supposed to be?" And answered: "Yes." Android is more evidence of the Google attitude and mimicking of Microsoft of 15 years ago. For Android is an empty promise—the worst kind of vaporware. The company has a code name, a promised product, a late 2008 delivery date, a list of partners and almost no details. Either in its arrogance Google refuses to share details or else it has none to share. I say both are right.

Android is the worst kind of FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) announcement. The timing is the giveaway: days after OpenSocial and right before Facebook announces its advertising platform. More broadly, Google has given enough lead time before next year's FCC auction to create doubt about the company's intentions. The lack of real Android information further feeds uncertainty about the extent of Google's mobile intentions.

Google's FCC auction pitch was for openness requirements that sounded a lot better in July than they do today. Based on the little Android information disclosed and reading between the lines, any openness benefits Google but eventually could lead to a closed-network model. Consumers could trade one master for another.

What Google wants is a more open mobile platform for selling contextual search and advertising. What the company expects: developer drones to embrace an SDK (software developer kit) slated for release next week and to begin creating products and services, now. But the phones are at least a year away. Meanwhile, developers could (and should) create real applications for real operating systems, like Symbian OS and Windows Mobile, today.

In Friday PBS blog post, "The Next Microsoft: Google is learning too well from the master," Robert Cringely checklists some of the ways Google is out of touch with its customers and becoming a monopoly in the process. But he's wrong about something. Google isn't the "next Microsoft." Google is worse than the last Microsoft.

Google controls more information and has a more crucial and growing economic role than Microsoft ever did. And based on the extent of information disclosure and other behavior, Google has about half Microsoft's humility, which can't be good.

Next Page: Google as "Deity?"

Google as


Hopefully, I can rightly preserve the context of a April 2006 blog post by Jess Ross, a designer and open-source developer based in Minneapolis (that's MPLS to locals). He wrote:

"I have this theory that Google is going to become a deity. We turn to Google to give answers to our problems, and Google provides. Google is ever present, an unseen force that knows more about us than we know ourselves. Google can see deep into our psyches and hidden desires, seeing the searches we share with no one else." But a deity presumably wouldn't profit from personal prayers information, the way Google does. The business model is rife with conflict of interest. Google mines data from customers it serves and then profits from it. The goldmine with the most valuable nuggets is the mobile phone. It's a captive, personal device for which customers can be clearly identified and their habits more easily cataloged than PCs. The mobile phone is an advertiser's dream machine, for the company that provides the demographic data.

Does Google know more about you than you know yourself? I don't recall my searches from last week, so not even last month. But Google knows and reminds me how long ago I went where whenever there is a new search. That's just the little information the all-mighty Google reveals to me. I'll ask: Do you really want to know what Google knows about you?

Microsoft is no candidate for sainthood, not that all-mighty Google would grant such designation. But Microsoft is repentant, or at least cowed. Whacked aside the head by stagnant share price and U.S. Justice Department and European Commission two-by-fours, Microsoft has changed. Call it brain damage or perhaps the simple desire not to get whacked in the head anymore. Microsoft is more focused on customers now than ever in its history.

Steve Ballmer deserves some credit for the change. In nearly eight years as Microsoft's chief executive, Ballmer has shifted the priority to customer satisfaction. For a company with a huge install base to which the same products are sold over and over, the customer is the right priority. Microsoft is more people-focused than ever.

Microsoft's slogans are all about people: "Your Potential. Our Passion"; "People Ready"; "Open Up Your Digital Life." Google's slogan is, well, what? There's not much people branding beyond the name's use as a verb.

Right, but there is Android. And, what are you to Google?