by Rob Enderle

Google’s Invasions of Privacy, Free But Flawed Products Show Its Arrogance

News Analysis
Aug 16, 20135 mins
Consumer ElectronicsInternetLegal

Google is now admitting that its users shouldn't expect privacy when using Gmail. Meanwhile, a PC OEM says the free Android OS costs more, and causes more headaches, than Windows. Put this together, columnist Rob Enderle says, and you have a company that very well may be too arrogant to survive.

Boy, if ever there was testimony that should have IT departments running from any Google product, it’s coming from a lawsuit alleging that Google has violated wiretapping laws by probing private messages to target ads.

Google’s defense? Users—that’s you and me—have no reasonable expectation of privacy when using a third-party service like Gmail. Since Google provides a variety of third-party services to businesses that are partially or completely funded by ads, this policy statement should give IT folks cold chills.

Google and Privacy

While I have a hard time believing in context that Google actually thinks it’s OK to probe your firm’s private information, you have to recall that both Steve Jobs and Larry Ellison believe that Google actually stole from them. This does suggest that Google’s ethics are a tad fluid and that the folks in Mountain View can be a tad opportunistic.

In other words, if it benefits Google to probe your stuff, it’ll find a way to do it, then defend that practice after the fact—much like the company is doing right now.

How Android Demonstrates the High Cost of “Free”

Last week I had a conversation with an Asian PC OEM who expressed his regrets about choosing Android. Since it was basically free, Android looked so attractive at the start, he says. As a Windows partner, though, he got market development funds (MDF) as well as support for drivers and ensured compatibility with existing and planned systems.

With Android, he got squat. On top of that, customers expected him to pass on the savings, since he got the OS for free. Between that, making up for lost MDF and doing all of the compatibility work himself, he lost money deploying this “free” OS.

On top of this, the OEM sells an IT solution set. The lack of security on Android devices causes all kinds of problems given that his firm is expected to correct the related OS exposures. But he doesn’t have the resources to fix the OS, and the Android license doesn’t allow him to do what Amazon does and fork the code to create a more secure version.

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Finally, this OEM tells me that, while most of his initial tablet orders were Android, over time the orders have shifted back to Windows, largely because of his inability to fix Android’s security and compatibility issues. Windows, while more expensive, was actually profitable for this firm; Android wasn’t. Though this OEM admittedly serves large entities such as enterprise and government customers, I walked away from the conversation understanding that, sometimes, free can be quite expensive.

Google Starting to Show the Danger of Arrogance

Back in the 1990s, before I started writing on the Web, I wrote a report outlining how Microsoft’s arrogance was going to hurt the company. Microsoft was doing a number of things that I felt would eventually lead to its decline, but the worst, and most obvious, was its tendency to do whatever it wanted and then try to justify it. This peaked when the Department of Justice asked Microsoft to change its ways, Microsoft said “No” and the DOJ took Microsoft to court for allegedly violating antitrust laws.

Comparing Google’s behavior now to Microsoft’s behavior then will scare you. Actually, Microsoft doesn’t look that bad in comparison. At least Redmond didn’t toss customers under the bus, suggesting that folks who really wanted privacy should simply avoid Windows—which is kind of what Google CEO Eric Schmidt is saying about those with concerned about Google’s take on privacy.

Arrogant firms don’t consider the repercussions of their actions. They feel that they’re above the law. This generally ends with lots of collateral damage. In Google’s case, much of that damage will hit those who currently trust Google.

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Eventually Google’s chickens will come home to roost and, if you do business with the company, you’ll have to decide if you can handle the cost. You can’t pretend it won’t happen—as Microsoft demonstrated, even the most powerful company can overstep its boundaries.

But Microsoft’s issues were relatively contained. Google’s are far broader, and its eventual fall will be far deeper and far more damaging. The end result will be a cost for “free” you simply can’t afford.

Rob Enderle is president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group. Previously, he was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group. Prior to that he worked for IBM and held positions in Internal Audit, Competitive Analysis, Marketing, Finance and Security. Currently, Enderle writes on emerging technology, security and Linux for a variety of publications and appears on national news TV shows that include CNBC, FOX, Bloomberg and NPR.

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