2012 has been a hallmark year for Google. I believe that this is the year the public realised that Google is just another corporation.
For years Google was perceived as the benevolent search giant of the internet. The Mountain View based company enjoyed a public image as a sort of pre-self-aware Skynet: technologically advanced but ultimately harmless and there to serve the best interests of the world.
Google helped foster this public image through its free tools, the “don’t be evil” motto (quietly dropped in recent years), and the company’s vocal support of internet freedom. But that image has been tarnished, especially in 2012.
The animosity between Google and the SEO industry are legion and well-documented. We’ve learned to distrust Google and have the scars to prove it. But the public at large was blissfully unaware of the darker side of the world’s largest search engine, until a series of very well publicised mishaps changed all that.
In 2012, the world woke up to the fact that Google is just another profit-chasing corporation, and that its products and services are not there purely for the betterment of mankind, but that there’s a growing element of commercialisation inherent in Google’s offerings.
For SEOs and digital marketers, this has of course been blatantly obvious for years. For the general public, not as much. But 2012 changed that, through a range of media storms that caught the world’s attention.
Below I’ve summarised some of those perception-altering events that befell Google in 2012:
User’s privacy is one thing, but Google has been under fire in an entirely different area for many years: monopoly abuse. The public has mostly ignored Google’s ongoing antitrust concerns, but in 2012 some of the battles caught the media’s eye and – probably spurred on by the privacy issues of recent months – significant amounts of column-inches were dedicated to it.
Everything from warnings from the European Commission to accusations of withholding evidence in Texas to investigations from the ICO to disclosure of paid bloggers – Google couldn’t do as much as quietly pass wind or the press caught scent of it and plastered it all over their front pages.
To top it all off, in 2012 Google was severely criticised for its tax avoidance schemes. Five years in to a global recession, with record-breaking unemployment figures and governments harking on about cutting their deficits, the revelation that many huge companies were avoiding paying countless millions (and in some cases even billions) in taxes was seen as simply unacceptable.
Google wasn’t the only company named and shamed in this public outcry over tax avoidance. It found itself in distinguished company amidst the likes of Amazon, Starbucks, Apple, and Vodafone. But combined with all the bad PR it’s had to suffer in 2012, this latest revelation – and its cavalier attitude in response to the public outcry – was perhaps the final straw.
Despite all of this bad publicity, Google certainly hasn’t become the bogeyman of the internet. The company still boasts legions of dedicated fans, and usage of its products has never been more widespread.
But the public’s perception of Google certainly has changed. Whereas once Google was seen as the world wide web’s ‘Good Guy’, people have come to realise it’s just another company doing what it must do to maximise profits and sustain growth. And that means that Google’s users now know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they’re not the customer – they’re product.
It’s now up to Google to ensure their public image doesn’t get tarnished any further. As things stand there’s no real cause for concern, as they’re no more unpalatable than their rivals. As long as their services remain top-notch, they’ll stay king of the hill.
But with competitors making strong inroads in areas Google is intent on dominating, the search giant better make sure the public doesn’t find any more reasons to shun them.
[Google noose image credit: Alex Moss]