“Technologists and muckrakers pursuing a more perfect union.” That is the headline describing the Techraking 2012 Summit, a collaborative event attended by editors, journalists, and technologists yesterday at the Googleplex in Mountain View. Co-hosted by the venerable Center for Investigative Reporting, it represents Google’s new foray into watchdog journalism.
But wait a second, haven’t the news media been all over Google regarding online piracy and user privacy concerns, along with a litany of other issues?
Ces’t La Vie. Or as old saying goes, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
MUCKING IT UP
The term "muckraker" was originally used to refer in a general sense to a writer who investigates and publishes truthful reports to perform an auditing or watchdog function.
Google introduced its techie redefinition of muckraking journalism yesterday on the Official Google Blog, promoting the Techraking 2012 Summit as “a gathering meant to inspire muckraking by exploring tools that help reporters tell stories with greater interactivity, opportunities for long-form journalism to thrive in new mediums, best practices for verifying information and fact-checking online.”
There you have it. The lunatics are now running the asylum.
DON’T BE EVIL
In spite of its often-touted “don’t be evil” mantra, Google’s had its share of detractors whose views of the internet search giant range from that of online pirate to malevolent force for evil. Believe it or not, Wikipedia even has a “Criticism of Google” page with an opening paragraph that reads:
“Criticism of Google includes possible misuse and manipulation of search results, its use of others' intellectual property, concerns that its compilation of data may violate people's privacy, censorship of search results and content, and the energy consumption of its servers as well as concerns over traditional business issues such as antitrust, monopoly, and restraint of trade.”
Misuse and manipulation of data, intellectual property theft, violation of personal privacy rights, censorship, wasteful energy consumption, antitrust/monopoly fears, overly-aggressive trade - sounds a lot like the corrupt business practices that the original Muckrakers fought so hard against.
But this is the 21st century, and we’re talking about Google, a company that thrives on redefining both the Internet and itself.
MONEY, POLITICS AND DATA
Though the header sounds like it could be the title to another juice expose on Google malpractice, it’s actually the name of one of the breakout sessions at Techraking 2012. The abstract: “This interactive discussion will bring together leading-edge technologists and political journalists, to look ahead at what’s possible in using technology to unearth political influence.”
Sounds a bit rich coming from Google, especially after its summary destruction of the proposed SOPA/PIPA legislation in Washington earlier this year.
Rupert Murdoch (no stranger to corrupt business practices) a staunch supporter of the SOPA/PIPA bills, lambasted Google as a “piracy leader” that profits off of websites that illegally distribute copyrighted material by selling advertising around their content, and on their search engine, which links to such sites.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), the chief sponsor of SOPA, was more direct. He issued an official statement in which he accused Google of “spreading lies” about the bills because it has “a vested interest in preventing Congress from stopping rogue sites.”¹
In an article written with the conspiratorial zeal of a muckraker, Forbes contributor Scott Cleland wrote, “Google preemptively went nuclear politically, before either the full House or Senate could consider the legislation, because effective property-rights enforcement threatens Google to its core. Expect Google to use its recently-flexed, and newly-appreciated online muscle, as the real political power behind the Internet throne, to continue to thwart enforcement of the rule of law on piracy, property rights, privacy and antitrust.”
Tell us what you really think about Google, Scott.
Many, including GizModo’s Mat Honan, were outraged. In an impassioned piece titled Google’s Broken Promise: The End of “Don’t Be Evil,” Honan wrote, “So why are we calling this evil? Because Google changed the rules that it defined itself. Google built its reputation, and its multi-billion dollar business, on the promise of its "don't be evil" philosophy. That's been largely interpreted as meaning that Google will always put its users first, an interpretation that Google has cultivated and encouraged. Google has built a very lucrative company on the reputation of user respect. It has made billions of dollars in that effort to get us all under its feel-good tent. And now it's pulling the stakes out, collapsing it. It gives you a few weeks to pull your data out, using its data-liberation service, but if you want to use Google services, you have to agree to these rules.”
Not sure if Mat made the short list for Techraking 2012. That’s ok, Mat, neither did I.
INBOUND MARKETING TAKEAWAY
Like good muckraking (or should I say techraking?), successful inbound marketing is all about building trust with your target audience by providing fresh and original content that is informational and relevant. It’s also about consumer engagement and brand transparency.
Engage with your consumers transparently through your website and social media. Today’s consumer is too savvy to be conned by slick salesman or manipulative marketers. These shifty business practices are left for a bygone age. The modern-day consumer is armed with the latest techraking tools like customer reviews and other forms of user generated content. They want to build relationships with businesses they know and trust.
Speaking of trust, in a recent ABC/Washington Post poll 82% of American participants had a favorable impression of Google, with nearly 80% saying they trust Google as much as or more than they did a year ago.² This makes Google the most popular major tech company in America, hands down.
As Google parleys this unprecedented popularity into its presumptive role as defender of online truth and justice at the Techraking 2012 Summit, I’m left with only one question: Does this make Larry Page the Internet’s Walter Cronkite?
¹ Digital Trends, “Google to Protest SOPA/PIPA on its Home Page on Wednesday”
² Marketing Land, “Everybody Loves Google; Only One-Third View Twitter Favorably”
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