Diary

In Google We Trust? Americans Think Not.

Americans don’t trust Google, and they have every reason not to. In fact, only 62 percent of Americans believe that Google will obey the laws on protecting user data privacy. That’s certainly not a vote of confidence since almost four in ten people don’t trust the tech company to abstain from criminal activity. But why do Americans feel this way, and what has Google done to deserve their scorn? Well, for a company that once prided itself on its famed motto, “Don’t be evil,” Google has seemingly done everything in its power to burn that bridge to the ground.

The sad truth is that Google has failed to live up to the standard it set for itself. The company has demonstrated its willingness to bend ethics and break rules—to prioritize short-term gains over the long-term health of the industry. In short, Google can’t help but be evil, and Americans have taken notice. Unfortunately, recent developments in the tech giant’s longstanding legal saga with Oracle have only exacerbated the situation further. The case threatens to leave Google’s public reputation in tatters—and for good reason.

In mid-November 2019, the Supreme Court decided to hear the case of Google v. Oracle, a copyright dispute that has spanned the better part of a decade. Following the announcement, the case was immediately thrust into the national spotlight, with media outlets rushing to cover this once-obscure copyright suit with a newfound fervor.

But all that news coverage is bad news for Google’s brand, and will likely damage what little public trust the company has remaining. That’s because, upon examination, the facts of the case are less-than-flattering for the search engine giant. They reveal just how far Google was willing to go to get a leg-up over its competition and how unserious the company’s “Don’t be evil” motto truly was.

Years back, Google entered into business with Oracle to obtain a license for its Java programming language. The result wasn’t pretty. Google wanted to use Java as the basis for its Android mobile phone software. Unfortunately for the search engine giant, however, negotiations between the two companies broke down, and it appeared that Google wouldn’t have access to Oracle’s coveted Java program. That was an outcome the tech company couldn’t accept.

Google, it seemed, would be forced to construct its own software from scratch, potentially placing the company behind the eight-ball in the rapidly-growing mobile marketplace. But Google was willing to do whatever it took to ensure its access to Java—and even theft wasn’t off the table. Rather than take the time to build an alternative to Java, Google adopted a different approach—it decided to steal the programming code out from under Oracle.

Instead of returning to the negotiating table, Google chose to copy entire portions of Java verbatim. All in all, Google lifted 11,500 lines of code from Oracle’s proprietary software and used it to build Android’s mobile platform. That was, of course, despite the fact that Oracle’s Java software was protected under a pre-established copyright claim. That’s right—Google knowingly violated copyright law to secure its position with the market for mobile phones. So much for not being evil.

Oracle sued the search engine company for an eye-popping $8.8 billion. But Google countered, arguing that the sections of code it copied from Java should not be considered copyrightable. This argument has been repeatedly and resoundingly rejected by the Federal Circuit courts. Yet, despite its potential ramifications for the digital industry’s IP, Google’s case was apparently compelling enough to reach the Supreme Court.

Now, billions of dollars of shareholder money are at risk in the suit, and our nation’s entire understanding of digital intellectual property hangs in the balance—all because Google thought it more profitable to steal IP rather than pay a licensing fee. Their behavior is precisely why Americans lack trust in Google. They have shown us their true nature—and it’s a far cry from the “Don’t be evil” mantra they once championed. Not only has the company demonstrated its willingness to break the law to further its own competitive interests, but it would also throw digital IP protections under the bus to do the same.

It begs the question: if Google is capable of something like that, what other nefarious activities are they engaged in? Google has been shredding America’s trust in the company by embracing the evil it once argued against. It steals from its competitors to increase its influence within the marketplace, then justifies its actions by undermining copyright protections. If the tech giant were to succeed in its Supreme Court case against Oracle, it will no doubt feel vindicated—its bad behavior rewarded. One can only imagine what Google will be incentivized to do then.