You are here

Could Google Be the Lance Armstrong of Tech? Internet as Oz Series Part 5

David Carr's (NYT) excellent analysis of how the mainstream media missed the truth behind cycling legend Lance Armstrong's systematic cheating and deception -- that ultimately led to the International Cycling Union stripping him of his seven Tour de France titles, to Nike dropping him as a sponsor, and to his resignation as Chairman of his cancer-survivor foundation LIveStrong -- got me thinking about the many sad parallels there are with how the mainstream media and blogosphere have missed the truth behind tech legend Google's systematic cheating and deception.

Just like the mainstream and sports media had much self-interest and fear in challenging Mr. Armstrong's representations, i.e. the loss of advertising and reporter access to top people in the sport, the mainstream media and tech blogosphere also have much self-interest and fear in challenging Google's representations, because Google is the overwhelming source of Internet traffic for the media (via Google Search, News, YouTube, and Android), and is also the primary monetization mechanism for the blogosphere.

Mr. Carr puts the Lance Armstrong brand metaphor in perspective. "In the last 15 years, there has not been a better sports story than Lance Armstrong: a pro cyclist is stricken by cancer, triumphs over the disease and goes on to conquer his sport, winning the Tour de France seven times in a row. Armstrong then used the luster of his victories to turn LiveStrong, a foundation he started for cancer victims, into a household name worn on the wrists of many. It was a story the press, and the reading public, could not get enough of."

Similarly, in the last fourteen years there has not been a better tech story than Google. Two students in a garage invented a way to instantly find Internet content for free, triumphed over China's attempt to censor Google's search results by moving its search operations out of China and assuming the mantle of the world's protector of free speech and Internet freedom, then went on to conquer the tech world and become the world's most valuable brand and most admired Internet company. It has been a story the press, blogosphere, and the public could not get enough of.

The similarities continue.

While the media had some suspicion about Mr. Armstrong, he said he had never officially failed a drug test, so "his steadfast denials were always dutifully reported." While the media has had much evidence to be suspicious of Google's story and veracity, Google has said it has never harmed its users, so the media dutifully quotes Google's mantra that its always willing to help authorities better understand its business.

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency released a report that in excruciating detail explained how Armstrong systematically cheated and conspired with his team to improve their performance by doping with: 1) the blood booster EPO, 2) steroids, 3) human growth hormone, 4) testosterone, and 5) blood transfusions. In Google's case, there have been detailed reports of Google's $500m criminal forfeiture for systematically marketing illegal drugs and steroids to Americans, Google illegally conspiring with other companies to stunt the compensation potential of their employees, and Google's multiple antitrust, property infringement, and privacy offenses.

As Mr. Carr noted, to oppose Mr. Armstrong was to be "for cancer," while to oppose Google is to be for censorship, and against the Internet, freedom and innovation.

Mr. Andy Shen of the blog NYVelocity, who catalogued in detail the evidence that the mainstream media was ignoring that Mr. Armstrong was doping systematically, said: Every time anybody said anything that went against the public image that Armstrong had built up, they were attacked so ferociously that we wanted to put stuff out there that would help people make the case.” In Google's case, Google has an established record of similar intimidation of critics who attempt to make public Google's wrongdoing: here on privacy, here on antitrust, and here on Google's business practices.

In the case of Mr. Armstrong, his undoing came when his closest allies and teammates contradicted Mr. Armstrong's version of events. Google is in the beginning of process of several former close loyalists publicly accusing Google of cheating in its business practices: Apple, Amazon, eBay-Paypal, etc.

In sum, the stakes and ramifications of the mainstream media and blogosphere missing the truth about Google's systematic cheating and deception, are orders of magnitude more serious than missing the truth of Mr. Armstrong's systematic cheating and deception.

It appears to me that mainstream media's and blogosphere's publishers, editors and reporters have not allowed themselves to think through the stakes and implications for everyone if Google's systematic cheating and deception remain largely unexposed and largely unresolved legally.

They should ask themselves a simple question: is it good for anyone (other than Google) for Google to get away with systematic cheating and deception to become the global monopoly for: monetizing online content; aggregating the news, distributing video, and operating/tracking mobile devices?

Forewarned is forearmed.


Internet as Oz Series:

Part 1: "The New Internet Association's Back Story"

Part 2: "Top False Claims of the New Internet Association"

Part 3: "Internet Astroturf 3.0"

Part 4: "Google Official Praises 'Partly Free' Regime's Privacy Law"