Like many 23-year-olds, Google is facing ‘trust’ issues

Like many 23-year-olds, Google is facing ‘trust’ issues
Google is now 23 years old!Unsplash
  • Google has completed 23 years on the internet.
  • The tech giant is synonymous with the internet and most people can’t imagine the internet without it.
  • But it’s also had its fair share of problems such as antitrust cases, regulatory issues, internal conflicts and more.
Google completes 23 years and in true Google fashion, it has a special Doodle with a birthday cake.

While celebrations are in order, Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google’s $1.9 trillion parent Alphabet, and his team will do well to remember one of founder Eric Schmidt’s famous quote: “ego creates blind spots.” At 23, Google is as ubiquitous as the air we breathe, a tech giant that tracks everything from what we eat to where we go and who we like.

Like many 23-year-olds, Google is facing ‘trust’ issues
Google Doodle for the tech giant's 23rd birthday.Google

Google’s dominance in the smartphone market with the Android operating system, as well as the online advertising market and internet search, is no secret to anyone. It’s synonymous with the internet and most people can’t imagine the internet without it. And so, the responsibility of behaving fairly is just as big.

Countries around the world are taking a critical look at the technology that has embedded itself in our society and asking companies like Google to earn their trust. It is important to note that in at least three cases, the verdicts are pending but the company has been found guilty of similar charges in the past at least thrice.

Antitrust cases

The European Union has launched three antitrust investigations into Google which have resulted in the biggest fines for the tech giant. The investigations are based on complaints against Google having dominance over digital advertising, its Android operating system as well as Google Shopping.

Google was accused of showing its own products in the search results, and ads that use AdSense. It was also accused of the Android operating system that put Google apps on the forefront, and also made it difficult for other app stores to exist with the Google Play Store.

2010Accused of promoting its own products in search results and downgrading rival products.Google was found guilty and fined around $2.7 billion.
2016Google’s AdSense dominance over competing ads. Google was fined $1.7 billion.
2013Smartphone makers had to push Google apps on Android phones, tough competition for alternative app storesGoogle was fined around $5 billion.
2020Misuse of monopoly over its search engine.Pending
2020Pushing its search engine over vertical search businesses like Yelp. Pending
2020Google’s advertising on websites and apps. Pending

All of these antitrust cases and investigations point out the same allegations of how Google unfairly controls what we search for, what we read, watch and purchase and a lot more. This prevents rivals with similar products from offering their services to customers.

In addition to these cases, several countries are reconsidering regulations and policies. Australia made history this year by passing a law that requires companies such as Facebook and Google to pay local publishers for news. Google initially threatened to remove its search engine from Australia but it later struck deals with news publishers for news.

Recently, another South Korean government also passed a bill that would allow third-party payment systems on Google and Apple app stores. If the bill is signed then it would make South Korea the first country to impose a law on Google and Apple preventing them from forcing their own payment services on in-app purchases.

Google and Apple both have been criticised for their 30% app store commissions through in-app purchases. In response to the backlash from developers, Google and Apple both reduced the 30% cut to 15%. Google actually deferred the Play Store policy to April 2022 after backlash from Indian startups like Paytm.

Google has also been facing an antitrust probe in India on allegations that the company prevents OEMs from making devices that run alternative versions of Android. Google’s requirement of pre-installing its apps was also found to be in violation of India’s competition law.

Epic Games, which is in a legal battle with Apple, introduced its own payment system for Fortnite and has since been unavailable on iOS.

Internal issues

Internally too the company has several issues with those about diversity in the limelight. Back in 2019 Google’s diversity chief left the company following an uproar from employees over the workplace culture. Its most recent diversity report also showed little progress. 50% of Google’s workforce is white, 42% Asian, 6.4% Latinx, 4.4% Black and 0.8% Native American.

Google was also in the news for Timnit Gebru’s exit who was co-leading the company’s AI ethical team. Gebru was asked to retract a paper on the dangers of large language models which she refused to do so. Gebru said that she was fired but Google refuted this claim stating that she actually resigned. She also accused the company of racism and retaliation. This led to Google employees, academics and civil society supporters condemning the firing, and even CEO Sundar Pichai apologised for it but without admitting any wrongdoing.

There’s a lot else happening at Google

Google has earned its cred as an innovator ahead of its times with products and services that have a profound social impact.

Just as in its early days, there are tonnes of interesting projects underway at Google, many of which are not as popular as Gmail or the search engine. Whether it is the continued pursuit of the smartphone dream ⁠— from Nexus to now, the Pixel series ⁠— or the jump from multiple messaging apps to a bundled offering called ‘Chat’, Google doesn’t give up.

It continues to work on futuristic products like AR glasses or autonomous cars, and robots too. While these ideas and innovations are welcome, their commercial success will depend on whether people trust the company to behave fairly.


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