The Kingdom of Google


By Joe Campbell
December 2nd, 2008

“To love Google, you have to be a little bit of a monarchist, you have to have faith in the way people traditionally felt about the king,” Tim Wu, a Columbia law professor and a former scholar in residence at Google, told me recently. “One reason they’re good at the moment is they live and die on trust, and as soon as you lose trust in Google, it’s over for them.” Google’s claim on our trust is a fragile thing. After all, it’s hard to be a company whose mission is to give people all the information they want and to insist at the same time on deciding what information they get…

Given their clashing and sometimes self-contradictory missions — to obey local laws, repressive or not, and to ensure that information knows no bounds; to do no evil and to be everywhere in a sometimes evil world — Wong and her colleagues at Google seem to be working impressively to put the company’s long-term commitment to free expression above its short-term financial interests. But they won’t be at Google forever, and if history is any guide, they may eventually be replaced with lawyers who are more concerned about corporate profits than about free expression.

Jeffrey Rosen in an insightful look into how Google tries to balance local censorship and its’ commitment to the freedom of information.

I am a bit of a monarchist, in the Federalist sense, as long as there are checks and balances. I’m a big fan of Google, but I realize the problems Tim Wu and Rosen point out are real – and that an organization now that takes steps to protect individuals will not necessarily continue to do so. But Google needs some well-publicized Achilles heel that can be used if it turns evil.

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