Proud to be a Googler

Although I obviously had nothing to do with Google’s decision vis-a-vis China, having only started working there for  a week, I was definitely glad to see it and it made me proud to be able to say that I work there.  Kudos to Google’s management team for having made (IMHO) the right decision.   Hopefully Yahoo and Microsoft will consider carefully what the ethical implications of their collusion and collaboration with the Chinese government’s attempt to control free speech and the human rights implications of the same.

I have my own opinion regarding the IETF’s decision to meet in Beijing, since as we’ve seen with the Search Engine industry’s attempt to accommodate the Chinese, engagement doesn’t necessarily always lead to openness and goodness.   All I can suggest is that those people who do decide to travel to that meeting be very careful about what sort of message they want to send with respect to China, as well as being very careful about protecting themselves against targetted information security attacks.

36 thoughts on “Proud to be a Googler

  1. Congratulations on the new job! This issue was my biggest complaint about the company during my tenure there and while I wish they hadn’t gotten into the position they are now I’m blown away by their response.

  2. Considering Google’s behavior in Brazil, I have to say you would have thousands of reasons to not be proud of being a “Googler”.

  3. oh please, this has nothing to do with human rights and is all about china stealing trade secrets. get rid of the “do no evil” mantra. you’ll see much clearer then.

  4. I have mixed feelings about it, having spent 3 months in the Google Beijing office. I’m mostly worried about friends there who may be losing their jobs soon.

  5. Bzzz, if you’re interested in feeling lucky 🙂 too, drop me an e-mail. Google has a bunch of interesting kernel projects, and we can definitely use some more talented kernel hackers. As Mike Waychison mentioned at the Kernel Summit in Tokyo, there is an effort underway so that Google can start tracking mainline much more closely, perhaps rebasing as often as every three months.

    This may be, as the management gurus would say, a big hairy audacious goal, but I think it’s really cool that Google aims to do things like that. From what I’ve seen so far, it’s pretty indicative of the internal engineering culture. I’m definitely glad to be working there!

  6. I hope the threat of losing Google will begin some change. The Chinese people may see this as a horrible blow. This may be the beginning of more openness in Chinese society. I can dream, can’t I?

  7. @20, @21, @23, et. al:

    Hmm, I guess the Baidu (or is it the Chinese secret police 🙂 are out in force.

    I will have to disagree; there is a strong moral side to technology. Werner von Brown, inventor of the rocket, whose technology which was used by the Nazi’s to kill many innocents in London, was very harshly criticized by Tom Lehrer for having the attitude, “Once the Rockets go up, who care where they come down? It’s not my department, says Werver von Brown.”

    In America, I am very fortunate to have many freedoms. One of these freedoms is the choice to choose my employer. One of the reasons why I chose my current employer was because of its strong moral stand regarding, “don’t be evil”, which I’ve always respected. Yes, it has compromised on occasion, including being willing to censor information on behalf of the Chinese government when it launched But it was done in a thoughtful manner, with its reasons carefully spelled out. One of those reasons was a hope that it would help ease China into being more free with information, and to become less evil. So I consider Google’s senior management as being very thoughtful, and very willing to admit that perhaps they were naive in their hopes, and that perhaps in retrospect cooperating with the censors with respect to was maybe a wrong choice after all.

  8. @26: Jered,

    Will Eric Schmidt be taking back his statement last month that “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place”? That seems 180 degrees from this new stance regarding China…

    So I obviously don’t speak for Eric Schmidt, but it seems to me that it’s not mutually exclusive with Google’s current decision vis-a-vis China. Does saying, “Be conservative in what you send” automatically stand in opposition to “be liberal in what you accept”? In fact, both design principles are important, and implementations need to follow bothl.

    So yes, protecting user’s privacy is very important, and companies should strive to do as much as possible to protect their users’ privacy. But at the same time, people should be aware that privacy protections are never absolute. Especially with the Patriot Act, the U.S. government can issue a National Security Letter forcing your ISP to hand over data (including stored e-mail) over to the government. And even before the Patriot act, the U.S. government tried to use systems like “Carnivore” which snooped on unencrypted e-mail traffic between unwitting users.

    So I view it as a “both/and”. Users need to be conscious of the fact that despite the best efforts of their ISP, a government could try to hack their service provider or a government can issue legal orders which might have to be honored, and sometimes with gag orders attached so the user whose privacy was violated are never told about the supeana.

    At the same time, the ISP needs to protect protect their user’s privacy, as much as they can.

  9. @28: Ted,

    I certainly like your interpretation and hope that’s the case. Some official clarification would be nice given the outrage after the interview, oh well…

  10. I’d like to see you think so, and I personally appreciate that. But you know, I’m from China and I know Google had known that would happen when it decided to extend its business to this country, and it had done many things to make China gov happy in past few years. So I hope you inside guys can do sth to make the search engine giant think more before making similiar decisions in future, so that you can be much prouder to be a Googler.


  11. Pingback:
  12. ted, what do you think about the decision of disclosing people’s contact list on gmail to the other people on contact list? with that buzz opt-out scheme.

  13. @35: Elias,

    It’s clear that the Buzz folks made some mistakes in how they rolled it out, and they reacted pretty quickly to fix those mistakes. That being said, there was a lot of confusion and misinformation about what was actually going on. People started seeing other people’s “buzzes” automatically, once it was rolled out to their gmail account. But their contact list was not disclosed until they created a Buzz profile. The way it works is the first time you post a buzz, or respond to a buzz, a dialog box pops up saying that before you can use buzz, you have to create a buzz profile. As part of that process, the user was asked whether or not they wanted their buzz follower list to be made public on their buzz profile.

    So gmail contact lists were never automatically exposed as part of the buzz rollout. The user actually had to use buzz, create a buzz profile, and at that point they had an opportunity to make their list of followers (which was pre-populated from their frequest gmail correspondents) private. That was how things were when the Buzz service was initially rolled out.

    Now, the default was to make the list of followers public, and some users may have not read through all of the text on the profile creation page carefully. There’s always the risk of someone who says, yeah, yeah, yeah, ignore the fine print, just let me post the darned buzz, and who therefore clicked through the buzz profile page without realizing the consequences of their act. But nothing would have been disclosed unless they first used Buzz and clicked through the buzz profile creation.

    So the first fix, which went in very quickly, was simply an HTML or CSS fix that just simply made the “do you want your list of followers to be made public” much more prominent (it may have also included the list of followers; I’m not sure, since I didn’t play with the public Buzz system during the initial rollout, and what we dogfooded internally wasn’t completely the same as the Buzz system). Later fixes added much more fine grained control, and I believe changed the default to be private. So at this point I believe Buzz’s defaults are much more conservative than some of the other social networking sites out there.

    I wasn’t involved with the Buzz rollout, so this is just a personal guess, but I suspect that the Buzz team wanted to avoid the mistakes made by the Wave team of doing a very slow and gradual rollout. First of all, with social networking sites, you lose a lot of power unless all or most circle can participate, so if you restrict who can participate to a very tiny number, the initial users don’t get a lot out of the service, and it’s hard to make further improvements because it restricts how people can use it. Secondly, the initial slow rollout of Google Wave meant that people’s expectations got built up way out of proportion of what it was, and that let down also led to a lot of critics complaining that Wave didn’t meant their very heightened set of expectations.

    So the Buzz rollout was a bit more tuned down (IMO) in terms of not making people think that this would revolutionize the way we work, solve world hunger, etc., etc., and they decided to roll it out very quickly (over few hours instead of weeks or months as was done with Wave). The downside of doing the latter is that issues that might have been caught in a slower rollout snowball out of control, and then people started extrapolating based on a flawed understanding of the issues involved into horror stories about people who did nothing having their contact lists exposed — something which absolutely did not happen.

    I wish they could have done a better job anticipating the potential privacy problem, and I think that’s an attitude that is shared with everyone inside Google. But the problem is while you can intellectually know that you have to keep things stupid simple, stories such as the recent example of the many Facebook users who realized that putting “facebook login” into their Google search bar and who don’t understand what a “URL” means and who can’t distinguish a private blog entry from the Facebook login page still manage to surprise us (and, to be honest, amuse those of us who are computer literate; try reading through the comments to that blog entry!).

    So issues such as not realizing that people would click through the Buzz profile creation step without realizing that what they were doing is something that might not occur to someone who is more computer literate and privacy sensitive. At the same time, if you put the warning in 40 point flashing type, you might end up scaring people unduly, especially if it’s something they are doing every day on Facebook when they play games grooming harm animals or whatever. So getting it right is non-trivial.

    I am glad that the Buzz team reacted quickly to fix the problems once they discovered. Do I wish that they had gotten it right from the very beginning? Of course!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *