No more Don't Be Evil™

posted 13 April 2007

It's official, folks. The Don't Be Evil party is over. Google has spent $3.1 billion -- in cash -- for DoubleClick, the inventor of all manner of the world's most annoying advertising.

The equation is simple. DoubleClick are evil. DoubleClick are Google. Therefore, Google are evil.

Why are they evil?

Internet advertising server DoubleClick is tracking the online activity of users, recording their names, purchases, and addresses, reports USA Today. DoubleClick is combining the data it accumulates on Web user activity with a direct marketing database of 90 million households maintained by Abacus Direct, which DoubleClick acquired last year. Privacy International's David Banisar says the move threatens online anonymity, while consumer advocates say they will complain to the FCC. Junkbusters' Jason Catlett says, "For four years [DoubleClick] has said [the services] don't identify you personally, and now they're admitting they are going to identify you." DoubleClick says the practice allows ads to target users better, improving the online experience, and the company also points out that users can opt to not have their use tracked. Banisar claims that opt out language is usually buried in a site's privacy statement.
(USA Today, 26 Jan 2000)

They track your online behaviour and map it to your offline address, and spam you with ads in both places. Pop-ups, pop-unders, audio ads, full-screen ads, uncloseable flash "floaters", all the worst forms of advertising are pushed enthusiastically and primarily by this nightmare of a company. And now everyone's favourite poster child for the friendly face of the Internet are bought in wholesale to this concept.

I should be happy -- after all, Google has been lording their non-evil status over Yahoo! for years (Yahoo! sold their soul to graphical advertising long, long before I joined up). But I'm not, because it's sad to see this aberration of the normal flow of capitalism -- a big, ethical company -- go the way of all other big companies. It took an admirably long time, but make no mistake, it's over, and that's sad.

It makes great business sense, of course. DoubleClick made $300m last year, and that's a great ROI even if the online advertising market weren't in an ongoing state of rapid expansion. This deal makes way more sense than the YouTube acquisition, which cost half as much but had no real revenue associated with it at all (plus, importantly, what DoubleClick are doing is entirely legal, even if it is detestable).

But now the corner has been turned, and a move that makes more money despite annoying and hassling end-users has been deemed Googly. Any number of dirty tricks -- and with market power like Google's, there are a lot of dirty tricks it can pull -- are now fair game. This will, inevitably, lead to them doing something to improve Google's bottom line at the expense of your Internet experience.

Goodbye, non-evil Google. It was nice knowing you.