Why we fear Google

Google buying Nest resulted in an outpouring of everything from disappointment to full-on fury, and all of it was completely human.

Companies are predators, like wolves or wildcats or snakes; it's their nature to bite, and we know that when we pick up their products and services. I don't mean that to sound overly dramatic. Just like when I riff on "any company sufficiently large is indistinguishable from evil", it's meant as a reminder mostly to myself. The bigger they are, the smaller the chance they can act in the best interests of all of their customers, all of the time. That means, inevitably, some of the time it'll be my best interests they're acting against. Some of the time it'll be my favorite app that gets gutted or pulled, my most important service that gets compromised or killed, my personal data that gets misused or abused. We know that, all of us, because we've all experienced it. It's why we get nervous when big companies move quickly or do anything unexpected. Most recently, it's why the internet projected collective angst when Google bought Nest.

It's human nature to fear what we don't understand and can't control. It's what's kept us alive for thousands of generations. We are, still, those tribal creatures, wary of what's different and new, of what shakes the world outside. Google is incredibly big, They move incredibly fast. They do an incredible amount of cutting edge things. They have, historically, repeatedly, leapt before they looked. That's scary. And that's why, whether it's Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, or any big company, we can love the products and services they provide, but we balance our love and trust with a healthy amount of skepticism... and fear.

That Nest has enjoyed a lot of goodwill, that Google's acquisition happened seemingly out of the blue, that there have been a string of some of our favorite startups going to, and often disappearing into, giant companies explains some of the initial reactions. When you look at Android @Home's failure to catch on, at Google TV, Nexus Q failing to set the world on fire, the combination of a great home automation brand like Nest, and a fantastic end-to-end product guy like Tony Fadell seems like a great fit for Google. It has the potential to solve a lot of their problems.

I'd love an iOS in the Home project

Apple, by contrast, already understands product. Apple isn't moving into thermostats or smoke detectors any time soon — even if I'd love an iOS in the Home project — and doesn't really have a place for Tony Fadell any more. Google, not Apple, needs a great product company/person. (Apple needs an equally great services company/person.)

Google wants to build the Star Trek computer, and to get to that, they're going to need to be able to access all data, everywhere. They're already getting weather, traffic, and other metrics outside the home. Now they're going inside. That's Google's dream. That's what they want to be. And to be it, they need to get all up into our stuff. Into our comfort zone. Into us. We know that when we pick up their products and services.

There are a lot of clichés that can be trotted out. "When they came for my location, I said nothing. When they came for my email, I said nothing. When they came for me, there was nothing left to say." "I sent you the Terminator. I sent you the Matrix. I sent you Tron. What in the hell are you doing here?" "And AC said, 'LET THERE BE LIGHT!' " There's nothing wrong with that. Cautionary tales are cautionary for a reason.

It's good to be wary. It's good to be afraid. (Just a little.)

It's good to be wary. It's good to be afraid. (Just a little.) That's what keeps us aware and keeps us safe. The scrutiny under which Google operates, however, is preferable to that of some small, relatively unknown company that could just start pulling our data without our permission — something that's already happened countless times in the app space.

I value my privacy. I'm deeply concerned about who collects my data and how they use it. But I'm no more concerned about Google owning Nest than I am Nest existing in the first place. If I don't want a data collector in my home, its not coming in regardless of who's name is on the box. And if I do want one, I want the best one possible.

It seems like the Nest acquisition was a great deal for all involved. And so were the many conversations and concerns it raised. Companies are predators. They see always and only to their own best interests. Whether we ultimately decide our fears are justified or misplaced, having those fears is what makes us human and, hopefully, keeps them in check.

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Why we fear Google


Excellent article! I wouldn't want any company, especially one whose primary business is advertising, to have that type of information about me.

Google's primary business is organizing and learning about the information it collects. Advertising is how it monetizes that function.

What happens when the advertising industry and retail companies realize Google's data is not adding to the bottom line? Ad clicks and sales does anybody here click on ads and buy?

That's not how advertising works. It's a game of percentages. Companies know that they are only going to get a small percentage of people who see their ads to buy their products, so they put them in front of as many people as they can. The more people they show the ad too the larger the group of people fall into the percentage that will buy their product. Someone is clicking on the ads, it may not be you or your friends, but there are people that they speak to or else it wouldn't work.

That's the question Google clearly making money, are companies selling product on click Ads?. The article ShameerMulji is worth reading, 3 words too funny. The success of Facebook and others in stock pricing, where is the real revenue? Starting to look like another dot com bubble.

I joke about it but when it comes down to it I don't care that Google does what it does. I have a nexus 5 and I'm still shocked at some of the stuff that comes up.

From Gmail knowing I forgot my attachment to google now congratulating me on my new job by watching my daily Gps location change. That was the creepiest yet lol.

I don't think it's evil, and Google's future sounds like a sweet one. I'm convinced they purchased the robotics company to get to artificial intelligence. Google now, self driving cars, humanoid robotics. They want the Jetsens, let's just hope it doesn't turn to the matrix

Yeah, whatever Google's motives are, at least it tends to benefit end users. In general, I don't think there's any such thing as privacy anymore. If you're not encrypting your sh*t, think of it as public information, because it pretty much is. As the entertainment industry has figured out, if somebody wants to share something, they will share it. 'But that's not the same thing!', I hear you screaming. Um, yes it is. At the end of the day, it's all just a series of 1's and 0's. Sure, we can pass laws, but we see how well that has worked out for the MAFIAA. The genie is out of the bottle, and there's no putting it back in. Sometimes the internet changes things for the better, and sometimes not. That's me being a pragmatist and saying how it is, not how I wish it was.

That being said, there's PLENTY of other reasons to fear Google. They pretty much own the web already, are in the process of making Apple a niche competitor in mobile, they're making inroads on the desktop with ChromeOS, and they're even installing fiber in some cities. Can you imagine Google running your desktop, mobile, web services, and internet? Shiiiiiaaat, and you thought Microsoft was bad... that would be a thousand hells worse.

Google's vision statement is all about organizing the world's information. Anything venture that supports that vision, they will do it. Google's & Apple's motives are different from one another. They don't compete as much as people think they do. OTOH, with the way MS is re-structuring itself, it'll be set up to compete more with Apple.

To some, diversifying may be the "safe" bet. To others, it means you don't believe in your shit and need a backup plan.

But that's the point, Google is positioning itself at so many intersections we have little choice but to change our trust paradigms.

I did my own 30-day exercise to live without or avoid Google services. Mind, I have been a happy Google power user for years, so I knew it'd be a difficult trial. More than difficult, the trial became impossible to pull off. I stopped using Chrome browser, Google search, mail, maps, wallet and voice. I revoked all my Google single sign in tokens and stopped use of Plus and YouTube. I even flashed CyanogenMod leaving off the Gapps package, which made obtaining/updating apps ridiculously impractical. By the end of the trial I realized Google knew everything about me, everywhere I went and everything I wanted because I invited them in and handed it to them. My exercise changed my habits for good and I switched from Android to iOS to better manage my services dependencies.

I once did the same by switching to Windows Phone. I used My Outlook.com account as my primary email (still do), Outlook Calendar, Bing, Skype, etc. My stuff worked great, but NObody in my circle of friends would interact with my Skydrive documents, calendar updates, etc., because they all used Google-something.

I had to compromise to get work done too since my office was G-locked. So, to iPhone I returned (Windows Phone and Google don't get along). I use Google calendar and Hangouts for conference calls, but (thankfully) that's it. (And the occasional YouTube, but I'm not signed in.)

It can be done, and you can break free from the Google-noose. But, compromises have to be made in the process.

Sent from the iMore App

I use Start Page for my search now, instead of Google. SP sends the results for you so you can’t be traced. Mail.com is now my mail of choice though I still use google for my junk mail service when I join other forums - that will eventually change, I could use my old hotmail accent. I also use YahooMail. Youtube gives you no choice so that I use. I also do not use a cell phone though I may eventually get a dumb one again.

I do believe Google is to be feared. I think Apple is doing its best to protect my info. But particular ‘new trackers via e-mail that obviously link back to Gmail was the last straw. My dream is to be Google free and other than youtube, that may eventually happen.

And therein lies the problem: Even if all you do is use Gmail as a spam account, the ToS allows Google to share your data to any and ALL of it's other applications and services indiscriminately. The only way to control your information, is not to get involved with Google at all.

Makes me wonder when they abandoned "Do no evil..."

I don't fear Google. Don't use any of their services other than search and youtube. I hope they keep buying and buying. Eventually the public will turn on them for being too big and too powerful. They won't be "cool" forever especially the bigger and bigger they get.

The two things I hope don't happen, because it will make me reevaluate my use or purchase.

(1) UI degredation
(2) Minor, but I don't want the device to say "powered by Google" with the logo in its rainbow of colors on my wall.

Other than that, at the end if the day? It's still cool tech.

Sent from the iMore App

I'm a Google fan, I'm not paranoid, very happy that Google jumped into home automation. They have the talent to push home automation into the future. Without Google the SmartPhone would be dumb. I wonder if Apple & Google weren't competitors if this article would have been written? I own both Android & Apple products and it amazes me the childish attitudes many Of the strictly Apple users take towards anything Google. IMO Google buying this company was great for future innovation. Thank You Google.

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"Without Google the SmartPhone would be dumb" --- WHAT???? That is the most asinine statement I've heard this year.

Please Dont say the original iPhone was "smart" yes it revolutionized the/look and feel of smart phones, but it lacked features even "dumb phones" had for awhile.

Lacking features even "dumb phones" had at the time ≠ not a smart phone.

Sent from the iMore App

Having MMS on your flip phone in 2007 did not make it smarter than the iPhone. My Windows Mobile phone in 2006 was smarter than flip phones, it was just not enjoyable to use.

Assinine? I would bet many feel that way about your statements.. No one makes better apps than Google.

You weren't talking about Google apps. What you said was, "without Google, we wouldn't have smartphones". That's asinine. Not my statement. If you're talking about services, I'd say Google ranks among the top. But you weren't.

OK, without Google the internet would suck. Imagine having to use that other search engine or no YouTube. That is all part of Google. I stand by what I said. Thanks for telling me what I meant.

Sent from the iMore App

Fair point, but where are the articles about our fear of Apple for buying PrimeSense, Topsy, Lala or the rights for Liquid Metal?

BTW, where did all those revolutionary Liquid Metal Apple products go?

You did read the entire article, right? In the first paragraph, Rene says, "Whether it's about Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook or any such company, while we can love the products and services they provide for us, we have to respect what they truly are, and balance our love and trust with a healthy amount of skepticism... and fear. "

Sent from the iMore App

Yes I read the entire piece, my point is that if Apple had acquired Nest there would be no "Fear" article, in spite of the obligatory "Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook" disclaimer, since Apple fans instinctively trust Apple.

My opinion is based on every article on iMore about Apple acquisitions, such as the recent on PrimeSense, wich was very positive and full of expectation, with sentences like "with sophisticated motion sensing technology there's so much Apple could do with new and existing products, and likely just as many things we can't yet imagine." I don't recall reading anything about fear there.


And we have a LOT more to fear from PrimeSense tech than from Nest tech, but by reading the articles and comments you would never guess.

Yah but I never see Rene write any Articles about why we should be scared when Apple buys out a small company and there are many. If Google wasn't a competitor of Apple this article would never have been written. That is very obvious. Go back and see if you can find any articles with "why we should FEAR Apple", I don't think you will find any.

Apple is primarily and hardware and software company, not an advertising company. Apple does not need to collect and use personal information to make money the way Google does. There is no need to fear Apple.

That is quite naive, you never heard of iAd?? Apple does collect our information and uses it to make money, exactly like Google. In spite of what Apple fans like to call it, Google is not an advertising company either, just like Apple it collects user data and sells ad space, Google just bases more of its business on it, thus we get all the "free" stuff like search, e-mail, maps etc. Apple charges you AND collects your data.

Vinny, may I kindly suggest that in addition to drinking the Kool-Aid, you might also want to be spending more time reading a pro-Google blog than this one?

Only an objective mind can see how Google has abandoned their "Do no evil" motto, and turned their users into a commodity which they happily sell to the highest bidder. Even their search results positions are sold, which makes them untrustworthy in the market that gave them life. And don't get me started on their respect for customer privacy; it's so bad that several countries around the world have levied millions of dollars in fines against them for privacy violations.

I know you probably won't, but try and put aside your love of all things Google, and take a look at scroogled.com. Then get out there with your beloved search engine, and do some research about all the fines, the indiscriminate changes to privacy policies, the need to opt-out of things that give them more access to share your information with other divisions and affiliated companies.

If you're really willing to look, with an open mind, you'll see how your trusted friend Google, isn't worthy of your trust, and is no friend at all.

There aren't any alarmist articles over Apple buying this or that company or entering this or that market because their business strategy is self-limiting. They are a premium hardware vendor. Their current strategy limits themselves to less than 20%, if not less than 10%, of the market they enter. The DAP market (iPods) was anomalous to this strategy.

Although I agree that Apple is a premium hardware vendor, I don't think their iPad business strategy is self-limiting. Apple has more than 30% of the global tablet market and is the largest and most popular vendor, although Apple sales have not kept up with the market growth.

For iPads, as long as they don't play in sub $300 price tiers, they are limiting themselves to the premium end of the market.

As the first mover, they used to have 80+% of the tablet market, and they've been going down since. Today it's 30%. Next year, it's going to be 20% if they don't go downmarket.

Of course how is giving all your location info, map data, email use, etc. to apple any better? Apple is only less efficient in monetizing that info, so far.

it's not that Apple is less efficient at monetizing info... it's just not a major part of their business model. You have to remember that Apple makes its money by selling consumer electronics. Google makes its money by selling people's info.. primarily yours.

The flip side of the future of doom coin is all the wonderful assistance that comes from living in a technologically advanced culture.
... I can't help but be curious about which path we're treading... Skynet, Star Trek, or Bladerunner... I suppose it depends on where you live geographically. xD

My issue with Google buying Nest is from an iOS users standpoint. No matter what Google is a competitor to iOS with Android. Nest makes things that are controllable with iOS as well as other platforms. If it's owned by Google then what's to stop features from being brought to Android first? iOS features not being updated as often? It's competition and that's fine but there is the possibility that it can hamper their innovation and as an iOS user that is what I'm concerned about. At the end of the day I'm not going to raise a pitchfork because if Nest were to start catering to Android first and foremost it just creates an oppurtunity for another company to step in and pick up the slack. C'est la vie as they say the world will keep turning and the sun will keep rising.

Maps, Hangouts, YouTube, Play Music, etc. are on the iOS app store, and I bet they will be for the forseeable future.

Also, both Google and Nest have stated that Nest will continue independantly. I bet there may a Google logo or legal information on the packaging, but I can't imagine anything else.

Maps was deliberate crippled on iOS until Apple released the Map app and Goggle was forced to add missing features to compete.

LMAO - And Apple is not? Or MS? You should be scared of any big business because they do not care about you at all... Just saying it is not only Google to be scared of today

Apple and Microsoft exist to sell you things. That makes them salesmen. You know what a salesman wants.

Google is a bright smiling face that shows up and with an arm uncomfortably around your shoulder gives you free gifts,telling you that you're always welcome to anything you want. Always smiling. Always... Smiling.

See, it may take you a long time, but you'll realize that Big Brother is smiling under his moustache.

Aside from my hardware choices I basically use Google services as default. My contacts, calendar, some documents, and email are all stored to Google. So, on one hand, I already trust them with a lot of info. On the other, how much information SHOULD I trust to any one company?

The point Rene is making is that this isn't all about Google: it is about any large company having so much control. There are advantages and disadvantages one way or the other when it comes to so much data residing in one place vs in many places but the question is whether we value whatever service comes out of the situation enough to warrant the risk.

The other point to make is one of competition and innovation: with Google and Apple (among others) swallowing up so many small companies how will it be possible to birth a new giant or a new category unfettered by a larger entity's goals?

I actually like the fact google bought them. I feel like they are some of the few that are willing to take risks when others say "why did they buy X company" Also if you hate it so much just don't buy the product. Who knows maybe they will even get the prices lowered somewhat. I myself see no real need for one of these, but still an interesting and mostly untapped area to enter into.

People understand Google, people aren't stupid. From a behavior perspective they don't like to be told one thing, then another thing happens. The shift of 'intent' causes a mistrust. Google has a long history toward shifting intent. People are well aware that Google states falsehoods, and says one thing but choose to do another.

The Nest reaction, gmail g+ reaction and YouTube comments reactions, are just more evidence that users are getting more and more fed up with it.

*"People understand Google, people aren't stupid."
*"The Nest reaction, gmail g+ reaction and YouTube comments reactions, are just more evidence that users are getting more and more fed up with it."

Riiiiggghht. Ask everyday users (aka:the majority of them) what they think about Nest, and the fact that Google acquired them. See if they know about either one.
Not everyone reads tech blogs. Everyone doesn't keeps close tabs on their favorite company's business ventures.
You and I might; but most people do not.

I use Apple products and Google products, I'm comfortable with the data both companies have on me otherwise I wouldn't use their services. I think this is going to be an good purchase for Google and am interested in how they are going to incorporate it with their products.

What I'm actually more interested in is Apple's iBeacon technology and what they plan on doing with it, or more to the point what developers can do with it especially with home automation. Drive up back at home an the garage door opens automatically, the lights turn on, the A/C or heater adjust. That's what I'm really wanting to see coming out.

If people actually feared google and hated advertisements they would be using windows or blackberry phones (where Google is hard to find) instead of embracing google services and using an iPhone (top platform for advertisers by a large margin)

Probably the best piece you have ever wrote Rene. Way to be balanced and unbiased. Seriously. Good job :-)

With all we know about the NSA now and their treasure trove of backdoors into american hardware companies, why are we not this concerned about the fingerprint scanning technology in the 5S? I mean all of this is speculation, right?

Nothing wrong with trying to be objective, but I think your point is a bit idealistic, or driven by your own opinion. I am not afraid of "companies" and if Apple had bought Nest (I don't really think they need them), I would not be concerned at all. Why? I do trust Apple. I don't trust Google.

It wasn't Apple that sent cars collecting data from private WiFi networks "by coincidence" (big joke) and then sat on it for months until governments shook it out of them. Apple does not force me into any social platform to use a service. And they do not allow people to send me email who I never gave my email address to. Can't remember Apple hacking into other people's browsers to bypass security/privacy settings either... to name just a few things.

My concern is particularly about Google and almost Google only (I even trust MS more). They have proven again and again that the customer is their product. Nest's devices are premium devices sold at premium prices, people did not choose Google. I stopped using Nik's photo software when Google bought them (after being a paying user for almost a decade), and Nest is equally dead for me now. I can deal with predators just fine, outright creeps like Brin and Schmidt though... not so much.

I relate my privacy to what I am trying to hide. If I have nothing to hide, than so be it if Google or any other company knows I like to buy Oreos at any named supermarket. To this point, my thoughts, memories and inner most feelings are untapped in terms of what is available for one to peer, unless of course I trip and begin writing about private issues in a forum (the internet) where we know the limits defining privacy are skewed. If I need to hide something, it is my responsibility to be sure I do not introduce it into a realm where it is available for anyone to intercept. Now, I understand this is a broad generalization based upon my life. There may be a time when I need to share private information with a doctor and if this information becomes public, it may compromise some other part of my life. Or there is also the known identity theft concerns. So I am not immune to the fact there are privacy issues out of my control. But in this instance regarding Nest and Google finding out how I like to keep and monitor the climate of my home... I don't really care. I also understand that the context of Rene's article is much broader than Nest.

Way over the top article. Rene, you should be writing romance novels or science fiction.

This piece is fanboy analysis at its' worst.

I didn't find it to be "fanboy analysis" at all. It was an unbiased article. I can say that I did not see any bias, since I do not own any Apple products.

Good for you! Owning or not owning Apple products should have nothing to do with how you critique and article. Btw, I own Apple products.

"Companies are predators, like wolves or wildcats or snakes..." True enough. But even predators kill to eat; they cannot afford to kill for fun.

Google is owned and run by two guys who are unbeholden and unaccountable to its board or its business. And even less so to users, who are not even customers. It’s run on whims. Whims are a deeply flawed approach to manage or govern. Or avoid evil.

Even if you like these guys, the guys that follow them might not be so nice. Whimsy ain't a legacy; it's a threat. The next guys might kill just for fun.

We need to find a way to disperse and distribute our personal information, just as we diversify stocks. There is no hope or safety in trusting our personal info to one company. And certainly not to Google as it is constituted today.

"The scrutiny under which Google operates, however, is preferable to that of some small, relatively unknown company that could just start pulling our data without our permission..."

Except that's exactly what Google does; the use of any of their products or services gives them the right to indiscriminately share your private data with any of their other products and services. If you use their search engine, not only will they skew search results to favor companies who've paid them for positioning, but they will also use your search query history to narrow future search results in an effort to further satisfy their paying customers. If you use Chrome, then they know everything you do on the Web; everywhere you go, how long you stay, what sites you visit most often, what times you surf for what, etc. Even if you don't use Chrome, they gather this stuff by encouraging Web designers and companies to use their statistical services to track page hits and other things (which is why there are browser extensions out there to specifically block Google's information gathering).

I would offer, Rene, there is not ENOUGH scrutiny being applied to Google. I would also offer the average person is either too bamboozled by the promise of "free" products and services, or too naive to actually see what's going on, both of which makes them complacent. Yet it has also been my experience, that once you make them aware of what's going on, they're quick to transition away from Google as fast as they can.