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Are We All Afraid of Google?

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You may find that tech blogs are running a little late today. You can blame Business Week for their lengthy look at whether Google has become too powerful. The cover page asks “Who’s Afraid of Google” and Rob Hof has an excellent take on whether Google is starting to feel a backlash, or not.

In case you need an abridged version, here are the good parts.

Remember the Googlezon video, predicting Google dominance by the year 2014? Some think it’s already here…

“It’s Google’s world,” shrugs Chris Tolles, vice-president of marketing at Topix Inc., which makes money from running Google ads on its news aggregation site. “We just live in it.”

And despite marketers fearing Google’s dominance…

Says Paul Martino, chief executive of the search service Aggregate Knowledge Inc.: “We’re beginning to see the Anything But Google’ backlash.”

…Google is quick to ease concerns that they’re out to rule the world…

“We’re not competing with newspapers, we’re not competing with television stations, and we’re not competing with the Viacoms of the world,” insists Google Chief Executive Eric E. Schmidt. “We’re trying to partner with them.”

That still doesn’t stop some questioning whether Google has become more than just a search company. In fact, is it a national security threat?

“That much money and power concentrated in one place can be dangerous,” says Dyson, who sometimes advises the Defense Dept. on potential threats. While he doesn’t think Google yet poses such a threat, he raises a more obvious concern: Google’s vast network, now a substantial piece of the Internet itself, is “very quickly becoming vital national security infrastructure.”

Of course, the article wouldn’t be complete, without a comparison to Microsoft…

“Google feels a lot like Microsoft in the mid-Nineties,” says Silicon Valley startup adviser Dave McClure. “Right at the height of its power, getting a little arrogant, and challenged for the first time by some powerful people.”

A comparison Google doesn’t like too much…

“To say Google is too powerful implies that users are somehow making a wrong choice,” says Schmidt, who calls the comparison to Microsoft “absolutely false.”

But is the hysteria coming just from Google competitors?

What really raises Madison Avenue’s hackles is the potential for Google to become Universal Advertising Inc.: a sprawling presence that brokers highly targeted ads across all media.

Google’s users appear to be happier than ever!

There’s little evidence that users have any problem with the company’s power, even if they don’t all take its informal motto, “Don’t be evil,” at face value. These fans might be excused for tossing back their own question to the whiners: Too powerful at what? Helping me find things, get work done, connect with friends? Bring it on!

There’s also some suggestion that Google’s displaying some arrogance in their deals with mainstream media…

Last fall, for instance, it looked as if the wrangling over commercial clips appearing on YouTube without permission would be quickly solved by Google greasing some Hollywood palms. But according to people close to the talks, potential deals soon broke down on multiple fronts. Those sources say that Google offered several hundred million dollars over five years to license a broad range of content. But Google kept reducing its offer, they say, and insisted on controlling ad sales, including getting a third of the proceeds. Finally, Google refused to filter YouTube for copyrighted content. Google declines to comment on negotiations.

If that’s not enough for you, CEO Eric Schmidt answers a whole host of questions on the fear of Google, dominance, anti-trust, competition etc, in this Business Week companion interview.

We’ll give last word to the article author, who suggests that Google may now face a decline, due to the curse of Business Week.

I have a fear myself, by the way: that the infamous magazine cover curse could bite us. That’s the notion that when a company appears on a cover, when editors have deemed far enough along for a broad audience, you know it’s past its prime. No doubt some folks will take this as just such a sign.

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