Technologizer

Google Is Powerful — But Not as Powerful as an Angry Mob

When big companies are at odds with a critical mass of consumers, bet on the consumers.

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Hulton Archive / Getty Images

The iconic angry mob from Frankenstein (1931)

When the bombshell broke on Monday that Google was buying Nest — the maker of slick, web-savvy thermostats and smoke detectors — for $3.2 billion, I confessed to “at least some trepidation” over the possible long-term consequences. Some folks are a lot more worked up than that.

Dan Hon, for instance, has expressed his alarm over the deal — and over big, powerful companies acquiring small companies that have cultivated communities of users in general —  in the form of a series of extremely gloomy tweets that regard the deal as an invasion. (I learned about them at John Gruber’s Daring Fireball.)

Here’s a sample of Hon’s line of thinking:

And another:

Even if you’re not instinctively mistrustful of Google, Hon’s take merits your attention. It’s certainly within the realm of possibility that Google will screw up this deal.

I disagree with him on a basic point, however: If Google were to mess around with Nest in ways that ticked people off, they wouldn’t be powerless to do anything about it. Consumers scare big companies into rethinking their actions all the time, and there are innumerable examples of Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon and other tech giants overreaching and then being forced to back down.

Back in 2010, when Google tried to turn Gmail into a social network by giving it a Twitter-esque feature called Buzz, for instance, some people were very, very unhappy. Google tweaked Buzz repeatedly to address its critics, and when the feature still failed to go anywhere, the company killed it. More recently, Twitter changed how its feature for blocking another user worked — and then, in the wake of widespread complaints, changed it back only hours later.

It’s true that lashing back like this requires a quorum. It only gets results if a meaningful percentage of a company’s customers are irate, and if they attract enough attention to their cause to embarrass the company in question. At the moment, there’s a fair amount of controversy with Google over a new feature that lets Google+ users send a message to any other user’s Gmail account, whether or not they know that person’s e-mail address. Google hasn’t been forced to respond yet. Maybe it won’t. But if enough people get riled up, and make enough noise, the odds are high that the company will at least make the feature something recipients need to opt into.

In the case of Nest, people like Hon are doing both Google and Nest customers a service by expressing their angst right now. Doing so preemptively lowers the chances of Google doing something untenable with the data Nest collects. If it does, though, and enough people are furious enough over it, I’d bet on the angry mob, not the big company.

5 comments
Hio
Hio

I will tell something new which may hit the headlines.


Till date ,we know Google  as something else except in health care

.

Here is the breaking news:


Google contact lenses  eye sugar levels. The company  known for working on unusual projects like self driving cars is crafting contact lens  that could  help diabetics manage blood sugar levels.

Co-founder  Brian  and Babak  in a blog post said  that they "are now testing a smart contact lens that's built to measure glucose level in tears"Both the co-founders are  in the project.

The lens works "using a tiny wireless chip and   miniaturized glucose sensor that are embedded between two layers of soft contact lens material/

chrispy
chrispy

The way google violates our privacy is scary. The way google wants to violate our privacy in the future is beyond terrifying. Yet, most people are so brainwashed and complacent that they have convinced themselves it's okay. This is how some people deal with threatening situations. I strongly urge people to promote, and use, privacy-based sites like Ravetree, DuckDuckGo, and HushMail instead of Google. 

sirhomealot
sirhomealot

While I get the initial concerns over this deal, I think most Nest buyers should be asking themselves: If Nest had never existed, and Google developed a connected thermostat with the exact same feature set, design, price-point etc, would you have NOT bought it because it was made by Google? I'm sure there will be a small number of folks who would say, "Damn right I wouldn't have bought it." But how many of those people are also GMail users, YouTube users, Waze users, etc? 

harrymccracken
harrymccracken moderator

@sirhomealot That's an interesting thought experiment. It's also worth pondering that it was a small startup, and not Google or any other large company which came up with this product.

PhillH
PhillH

@sirhomealot Most of this backlash is just blind bellyaching because claiming Google is abusing your data is the thing to do. Most doing the complaining have no understanding of the matter at hand. For instance those complaining about the G+ Gmail integration don't know that its always been possible to send an email from G+ without knowing the persons email. Nor do they seem to realize that the person never gets your email. Nor do they realize that someone could just spam their G+ stream all the same. But as you point out many of these folks are happily using Google products while jumping on the bandwagon.