Google & Facebook, What the Heck are You Guys Doing?
We all know that the first few weeks of 2012 have not been kind to Google. We've witnessed one mess after another unfold for the search giant, and none of these issues show any signs of slowing down. But is Google the only company in hot water? Maybe in the public's eye, but in reality, it's not the only tech giant that's doing questionable things. Its social media rival, Facebook, may also soon go under fire because of a recent "political" update that's being frowned upon by a lot of users and privacy watch dogs. (More on this later.) Let's break down the recent actions of our admired tech companies, shall we?
3 Strikes for Google: Buying Links, Antitrust, & Fraud
Strike 1: As we previously reported, Google was recently caught in a fiasco that involved buying links and posting thin content, in efforts to promote the Chrome browser. The search giant immediately reacted and put the blame on third-party companies that took care of the Chrome campaign. In spite of this though, Google still took the high road in handling the situation, and took manual action to demote the Chrome page in search results.
Strike two happened just last week when Google introduced "Search Plus your World," a new feature that displays relevant Google+ pages and posts together with organic search results. This move was met with a little backlash from tech pundits.
Twitter led the pack by expressing concerns that the new feature would prevent people from accessing real-time results. SEO expert, Danny Sullivan pointed out that Google seemed to be playing favorites with its own social network by not displaying public Facebook and Twitter search results. Prominent blogger and CrunchFund partner MG Siegler was also quick to add that Google choosing not to display search results from Facebook and Twitter is anti-competitive.
Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Comission (FTC) expanded its antitrust probe of Google to include scrutiny of Google+. According to Bloomberg, "The competition issues raised by Google+ go to the heart of the FTC's investigation into whether the company is giving preference to its own services in search results and whether that practice violates antitrust laws."
Unfortunately for Google, its predicaments don't stop there. Strike 3 was brought to light last week, when Mocality, a Kenyan startup that provides online business listings, accused Google of scraping the Mocality database for their own gain. Apparently, Google was contacting Kenyan business owners from Mocality's own listings to promote their product, Getting Kenyan Businesses Online (GKBO). The search company was caught red handed when Mocality recorded a phone call where someone from a Google-contracted call center made contact with a business owner trying to persuade him to sign up with GKBO. In the process, the call center agent even pretended to be working with Mocality.
The post in the Mocality blog effectively sums this up:
Google's GKBO appears to have been systematically accessing Mocality's database and attempting to sell their competing product to our business owners. They have been telling untruths about their relationship with us, and about our business practices, in order to do so. As of January 11th, nearly 30% of our database has apparently been contacted.
Google was made aware of this scandal, and released the following statement:
We were mortified to learn that a team of people working on a Google project improperly used Mocality's data and misrepresented our relationship with Mocality to encourage customers to create new websites. We've already unreservedly apologized to Mocality. We're still investigating exactly how this happened, and as soon as we have all the facts, we'll be taking the appropriate action with the people involved.
Indeed, we're less than a month into 2012, and Google's already in 3 messy situations. It really makes you wonder what the next 12 months will have in store for the search company and the rest of the web.
Facebook: Privacy Concerns Yet Again
Facebook recently announced that it teamed up with political journalism organization Politico, to measure the buzz surrounding US Republican candidates. AllThingsD reported that in order to do this, the social network will gather data from Facebook posts, comments, and—wait for it—private status messages. Data gathering will be done using automated software tools, and no Facebook employee will be able to read the posts. The data will only be used to measure positive and negative sentiments about political candidates, and according to Facebook, "information will be exclusively available on POLITICO with analysis by its journalists."
Indeed, Facebook is painting this move as harmless because no human eyes will actually read that posts, to begin with. But it does beg questions about the use of private data. If a user chose to mark a post as "private", shouldn't it be kept well, private? Then again, Facebook may technically have every right to use the data of their members in whichever way they want. The service is "free," after all, and it can always be argued that users who aren't happy with it should just cancel their accounts.
What to Do
Of course, as business owners and Internet marketers, it would be foolish to even think about not using these websites. Google and Facebook may have their issues, but they still undoubtedly provide some of the best avenues to find and connect with customers online. Perhaps the most effective thing to do here is to exercise caution at all times. Be sure to monitor the things that you post online, along with who can access them, and always, keep your business accounts separate from your personal ones. Remember, your favorite tech companies are not saints.
Image credit: Bruce Clay, Inc on Flickr