“I will spend every penny of Apple's $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong. I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product. I'm willing to go thermonuclear war on this." – Steve Jobs, from “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson
When Steve Jobs famously declared his intent to “go thermonuclear war” on Google (GOOG), you could almost feel the vitriol behind the words. What so incensed Jobs wasn’t just the theft of Apple’s family jewels – the iPhone’s intellectual property – but a deep betrayal by Google’s leaders: Eric Schmidt, Larry Page, and Sergey Brin.
While the ensuing patent war between the two technology giants is bound to keep teams of litigators rolling in dough for years to come, it’s clear that Jobs let what he thought were executives of a noncompeting company into the Apple fold.
It’s also clear that, after Schmidt joined Apple’s (AAPL) board of directors, Android magically evolved from a BlackBerry-like device with a physical keypad into essentially an iPhone clone with a virtual keypad and multitouch display.
Right up until the Federal Trade Commission forced him off Apple’s board in 2009, Schmidt maintained that Google was not really a competitor to Apple’s iPhone. Of course, Google followed Apple’s next breakthrough device, the iPad, with Android tablets which, presumably, weren’t competitors either.
You just can’t make this stuff up.
At this point, I imagine hundreds, maybe thousands of Google fanboys taking to the comment section at the very suggestion that they might have inadvertently sold their souls for cheap or free technology from a company whose core philosophy just happens to be “You can make money without doing evil.”
That depends on how you define evil, now doesn’t it?
Besides having founders and top executives with the ethical flexibility to stab one of its closest partners in the back with a classic bait-and-switch while disingenuously attempting to maintain a superior moral high ground, there’s even more evidence that Google is the most evil tech company since Microsoft was, back in the day.
It now appears inevitable that, at some point, Google will know more about you than you do. If you’re at all concerned about privacy, forget the NSA; it’s Google you should be worried about.
Today, Google uses your search terms, email content, and location to send you targeted ads. You don’t have to be a Stanford PhD to see how valuable that information is. That alone says a great deal about your habits and how you live your life. And the more information the Silicon Valley giant knows about you, the more effective its advertising – the dominant source of its revenue.
Your online behavior is just the beginning. Earlier this week, Google announced plans to buy Nest Labs, the manufacturer of a Learning Thermostat that, in just two years, has managed to penetrate 1% of the U.S. home market. And get this: the smart thermostat compiles and sends to Nest all sorts of information, including sensing when you’re home and when you’re not.
Founded by former Apple developer Tony Fadell, Nest recently launched its second product – the Protect smoke and carbon monoxide detector – and, with Google’s enormous cash horde and development resources, plans to accelerate development of other smart home devices.
That deal prompted long-time technology industry analyst Rob Enderle to observe, “I kind of think Google read ‘Big Brother’ and took it as a career goal.” Enderle has serious privacy concerns about Google “knowing when you are home and what you are doing there through the device sensors” and that “future products would have far more sensors, cameras and other technologies …”
As if that’s not enough to give you the creeps, with Glass and its upcoming smartwatch – which have to be turned on all the time to be useful – Google will know even more about you, where you are, what you’re doing, and who you’re with. And it’s only a matter of time before most cars have smarts based on Android, not to mention the self-driven car Google has in development.
The irony is that Steve Jobs wasn’t the only one who didn’t see Google’s intentions for what they were. Years ago, when Page took over as CEO, I penned an open letter to him that criticized the company’s product strategy as being all over the map. Too diversified. Now I can see why. That was intentional. Being everywhere and in everything is the strategy.
Who knew that, when Google stated its mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” it really meant all the world’s information. I don’t know about you, but the very idea of a company that behaves the way Google does knowing everything about me makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.
Steve Tobak is a Silicon Valley-based strategy consultant and former senior executive of the technology industry.