Are people afraid of Google?

You know someone is using their power not-for-good when people become afraid of them. I know lots of bloggers who won’t criticize Google because they are scared they’ll be denied access (which has been done before) and no one in the tech world will be really harsh about them because, well, you might want to work there!

They are certainly a cool company in lots and lots of ways. I know lots of people who work there. But don’t for a minute think they are perfect. I’m going to talk about just 3 issues that need to be heard (at least by my imaginary readers! 🙂 )


On Scoble’s blog, I read about a user struggling to get a response from Google for a GMail account that was taken over. Now, compare this with eBay (who every blogger is happy to fry at the drop of a hat). [Before I get into it, FULL DISCLOSURE — I used to work at eBay and had a great 5 years there. But I admit that there are lots of things eBay could do better. So, to any imaginary readers who want to flame me, this is not about what eBay can do better!]

My dad’s account got taken over on eBay because he used a really silly password. He lives in India and got the account because I used to work there. He never used it. First off, eBay emailed when the baddie changed the email on record (they email both the old email and the new one) he didn’t have to discover it himself. Second, in the email on what to do, they included a link to a web page. At the bottom of the page was a link to live chat. I got on live chat and after about 30 minutes (which apparently was longer than the average 17 minutes), I got a live CS person (who started off by apologizing for keeping me waiting). The account was immediately shut down after I provided identity details. The fake Chinese auctions were all ended and his Feedback was reset to zero. They called him (in India!) the next day to do more verification and give him access to the account again.

Now, you could say that eBay cares because an eBay account take over costs eBay money and it does. But it also costs the user and that’s what I care about. That they moved so fast. I didn’t have to once use my old work connections to get it to work this fast. It was the normal process!

Now compare it with person’s experience where he had to blog about it and email and call executives to get a basic response – FOUR days later! Comments on his blog say “hey, it is a free account”. Well, you know what, eBay is a free account too. And if you are a buyer, it stays free. So…? Free doesn’t equal crappy service.

You could say that taking over an email account is not too bad. Actually it is worse for the user from a security perspective — the baddie can figure out which bank accounts you have, can figure out which papers you subscribe to, where you shop, all by reading your mail. The baddie can go to all those places and change the password. How? By sending it to the same email account that was just taken over. It is potentially one of the most stressful things that can happen to you. FOUR days to respond to this? Shame!


I know of companies who recount meetings with mid-level Google employees who ask searching questions and then go off and build the same products at Google. But these CEOs won’t talk about it publicly because “what if Google wants to buy us?” These CEOs have just been ripped off like how Microsoft used to do! Trampled on with impunity. Come on people, speak up! [Updated: The MSFT comparison was getting too much attention and that wasn’t the point of the post, so as you read on, ignore it. I am trying to make a larger point.]


There are blogs that used to cover search – all of search. Now, they just cover Google. Yes, Google might be dominant in search, but then change your name to Googleblog. By giving minimal coverage to startups and other players and fawning over Google, they will lose readership.


Just like any other company, there are so many things that Google can be doing better (I have more ideas if you care 😉 ), but no one calls it out. Everyone just fawns over them. Because if you don’t fawn over them, then be ready for the repercussions. That’s silly. That’s like the Republicans telling you that if you don’t agree with them, you are a traitor.

A great company wants to hear how it can improve. Wants to hear about its flaws. Rewards people who tell it how to improve.

Here’s the thing. If no one speaks up, the people who run Google will not even know that these issues exist. In such a large company, do you think that the triumvirate even knows that their middle managers are misbehaving and violating the “don’t be evil rule”? No. And they’ll never know if no one says anything.

I think Google does a lot right. I am an avid user of GMail and have gotten my entire family onto it. I primarily use Google search. I used Blogger and even tried the beta. I use Google on my mobile. I admire what they’ve been able to accomplish and many of the decisions they’ve made. But I don’t think they are perfect. As a user I want them to be a great company that cares enough to improve the things that need improving.

People should *not* be afraid of a company’s who’s motto is “Don’t be evil”

Ok, you can flame me now. Go for it. Oh, I forgot, I only have imaginary readers! 😀

Post Script — I completely disagree with people who say “how dare you email a VP” (to the blogger, Rebellin). Whatever. At eBay, people emailed VPs all day long (yes, because there are lots of users who have issues) and a lot of VPs participate on community boards and share their real email with the community. And the VP either responded or sent it to someone who took care of it immediately. They even had an Office of the President where staff were assigned to handle escalated issues. That’s how grown up companies do it. No, I am not drinking the eBay kool-aid. And yes, I know Google is doing better blah, blah…