The <a href="">growing kerfuffle</a> over <a href="">Google's settlement with the Author's Guild</a> concerning the digitization of books is just the most recent proof that Google has become the new Microsoft where regulators on <a href="">both sides of the Atlantic</a>

Michael Hickins, Contributor

September 10, 2009

3 Min Read

The growing kerfuffle over Google's settlement with the Author's Guild concerning the digitization of books is just the most recent proof that Google has become the new Microsoft where regulators on both sides of the Atlantic are concerned.As with Microsoft in the 1990s, rivals real and imagined (Amazon, I'm looking at you) have piled on with glee, in the hopes of throwing enough sand under Google's feet to sap at least some of its strength.

The fact is that Google has thrown its weight around quite a bit, although to give it the benefit of the doubt, it hasn't actually done anything evil quite yet. (Its China policy might be an exception because it has agreed to censor its results set, but Google is following in the footsteps of others, including the U.S. government, in arguing that it's preferable to engage the Chinese, even on their own terms, rather than simply abandoning the market to others. The position is debatable, but hardly evil.)

The thing to understand about Google is that this position -- and every other significant decision -- is the handiwork of its inseparable founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who have made "what's best for users" the touchstone of their decision-making.

Richard Brandt, who has written a book about the band of bros, Inside Larry & Sergey's Brain (Penguin Group), told me recently that "everything seems to come from Larry and Sergey. Sergey has a stronger interest in the company's ethical or moral stance [while] Larry does seem to be thinking about new products more directly."

But I think it's instructive to see just how badass these guys can be, even while doing no evil, in order to get their way. Granted, they're convinced that they're right, that they're doing what's best for users, and that they aren't doing evil. But the way they go about it seems a little… dare I say ruthless?

In his book, Brandt quotes an industry executive as saying:

As negotiators they are horrible to deal with… Their approach is to push you to the point where you will walk away. They'd hold you over a barrel because they had the power to.

Brandt speculates that the pair's unpopularity in the industry could end up costing them valuable partnerships. It certainly explains why so many are more than happy to pile on when they see an opening to stick in the knife.

Here's the issue: Page and Brin are brilliant, so they're usually right when they think they are. But being right isn't always the most important consideration in human affairs (as anyone who has managed to remain married for more than five years can attest). Perception matters as well, and Google is (correctly) perceived as being big enough to matter to more than just where Internet search is concerned.

Here's a thought for the dynastic duo to consider: if what's best for users is truly your guiding principle, then take into account the fact that your users would be more comfortable if you threw your weight around with a little less arrogance and a little more consideration for the feelings of others.

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