Opinion

Google: Evil?

I use Google a lot. I use Gmail. I show YouTube videos in class. I watch YouTube videos on my own. The school uses Gmail. (I confess that I don’t use Google+ much.) Generally speaking, I like Google. But, with power, comes responsibility. A month or so ago, Studio360 did an interview with Indie musician Zoë Keating. The interview bothered me.

Famously, Google has a motto, “Don’t Be Evil,” which I heard repeated by a Google employee just the other day. So, apparently, they are still striving to uphold the motto. Good for them. (If you want to hear a debate on the “Don’t be evil” motto of Google, go to “Intelligence Square U.S.,” a podcast, and listen to the exchange.)

I don’t think of myself as a conspiracy theorist, but I am worried about how the tech companies that we have linked to our devices, like our cell phones, are going to use our data. There is precedent for bad (i.e. manipulative) uses of our information (think NSA and Target).

What does it mean to “be evil?” What is “evil?” I have listened to police psychologists talk about socio/psychopaths and what it is they do that is evil. This may not be exhaustive, but I think one definition of “being evil” would be this: the use of power to coerce a person to do something that is against their better/best judgment.

If it is the case that Google/YouTube still don’t want to be evil, then it seems to me that Google needs to rethink the terms of their new Music Key “service” (And you might want to refuse to pay for “Music Key,” a Spotify/Pandora-like service.).

If you read/listen to the article at Studio 360 (assuming that Google/YouTube have not changed the contract they were serving up, which, by “nondisclosure agreement” can’t be discussed or acknowledged to exist according to the Keating interview, problematic to begin with), the nub of Zoë Keating’s disagreement with YouTube is this: She MUST release any new music she produces on YouTube at the same time as she releases it anywhere else.

So…if Zoë wants to participate in YouTube “Music Key” she is not allowed to release her music to her fans first (which is how she makes her living) and then, later, on YouTube. If she does so, she will be excluded from ALL of YouTube, which now is a major way that people listen their music and find new music. That is coercion and against Zoë’s better judgment. Google/YouTube is using their “muscle” (their unique ability to reach an audience) to deprive Zoë of her means of income for the benefit of their service and THEIR income.

As Zoë says in the interview, this isn’t much different than the old “music studio contract” where the studios made all the money and the artists got a smallish cut. Famously “big artists” didn’t make their money by selling records/recordings, they really made their money by touring and selling “merchandise.”

Are you an “indie music” fan? Does this bother you? Are you a Google/YouTube user? Does it bother you? It bothers me. To quote a song from The Who: “Meet the new boss…same as the old boss.” Is this what you hoped for from the “new” tech companies? Are they really different? It seems not.

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