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10/31/2007
05:03 PM
Richard Martin
Richard Martin
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Flirting With Verizon, Google Drops 'Don't Be Evil' Pretense

The word "evil" is vastly overused these days. Here's a link to the "Top 10 Evil People in History," if you've got an afternoon to blow -- and I would never call a major U.S. wireless carrier "evil." Oligopolistic, predatory, bureaucratic, yes -- evil, no. So the idea of Google shacking up with Verizon Wireless doesn't exactly qualify as "Doing e

The word "evil" is vastly overused these days. Here's a link to the "Top 10 Evil People in History," if you've got an afternoon to blow -- and I would never call a major U.S. wireless carrier "evil." Oligopolistic, predatory, bureaucratic, yes -- evil, no. So the idea of Google shacking up with Verizon Wireless doesn't exactly qualify as "Doing evil." But still.Briefly, by holding (reported and all but confirmed) talks with Verizon about marketing mobile devices carrying Google applications and, likely, the forthcoming Google mobile operating system, the search company has taken back everything its executives have been saying for the last year about open networks, open applications, and an open wireless market in the United States. If you wanted to stick a pin in the date the whole "Don't be evil" slogan that Larry Page and Sergey Brin once tried to run their business by became fully obsolete, today would be a good choice.

Verizon's executive VP for public affairs, policy, and communications (i.e., chief lobbyist) Thomas Tauke was just about hooted off the stage at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco when he tried to defend his company's anti-open-network position. (Among Tauke's howlers: "There's still plenty of spectrum left in the U.S.!") The Web 2.0 Summit was filled with people leading companies that depend on the mobile version of the Internet being as free-wheeling, "neutral" (a loaded term to be sure), and borderless as the fixed version on which you're reading this post. Google has been a leading proponent of that openness. Verizon, to say the least, has not.

Of course, there's always the chance that Verizon will see the light and decide to throw open its wireless broadband network (assuming it actually builds one), sell devices that use open-standards platforms like the Google mobile OS, and abandon customer-punishing practices like stiff termination fees. Don't count on it: In case you missed it, Verizon last week was slapped with a $1.1 million judgment by the New York state attorney general for "deceptive marketing" of its $60/month "Unlimited" broadband access plan, which was actually rather limited. "From 2004 until April of this year, Verizon Wireless terminated over 13,000 consumers nationwide for 'excessive' use of its 'unlimited' Internet access plans," the statement from the AG's office said.

The amazing part of that story is that, while Verizon agreed to halt the misleading ads, it did not agree to offer unlimited access. So if you want to, say, download a movie or play a video game over your Verizon connection, you're still out of luck.

Google, of course, is free to strike whatever sort of deals with whatever sort of companies it pleases, within the laws and regulations governing public companies in this country. Just spare us the "Don't be evil" stuff, please.

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