What’s gone wrong at Google?

Google makes a lot of money from selling advertisers really specific access to likely customers.

They have been extraordinarily innovative in the way they do this, to the point where advertisers bid in real time to show you their wares and advert placement gets almost spooky when a product you discussed on the weekend shows up unbidden on your screen.

I’m not an idiot, so I don’t like any of this. I don’t like anybody, be they for profits, governments or a benevolent overlord peering so closely into my drivers and past activities that they can predict anything meaningful about my future behaviour.

I don’t buy the line that targeted advertising is better for everyone, if for no other reason than I have no belief vendors of a hotel room will give me the best rate if they know I have already booked non-refundable airfares.

But that isn’t my gripe with Google today.

I’m not so naïve that I think the ‘Don’t be evil’ motto lingers in any way, but I do like to think Google gives some consideration to how it behaves with my data, and what they might do with it.

A lot of people will argue they clearly failed this with the cancelling of Google Reader (a convenient way to manage headlines and articles from a large base of information sources like news sites and blogs) or the ill fated Google Plus nonsense.

These were clearly dumb moves, but in the last couple of weeks there have been fresh examples I rate as even dumber.

Firstly, and annoyingly for me, is the end of Google Music in preference for YouTube. I have nothing against YouTube. I battle through the advertising encrusted interface to watch an occasional video on replacing a stove element or a review of a new keyboard – content that still holds the promise of the early Internet where individuals would share freely information to make everyone’s life better.

But I will only watch an entertainment video there with the greatest reluctance. The site/app is gratingly unpleasant, with unwelcome advertising, and a UI designed to force the interactions the platform owners will allow, rather than what a viewer may want.

Suffice to say, I don’t want any more to do with YouTube.

My only use for Google Music was to store a bunch of music I own so that I can access it via a voice controlled hub in our kitchen. Why bother, would be a reasonable question, and the answer is that casting music via wifi to the speaker is unreliable, and not available from all the devices I want to use.

I understand for 80% of users, Spotify or Apple Music or YouTube or whatever streaming service gives enough music choice, but I really don’t want to just give up on some artists I quite like because they haven’t contracted to the right distribution system. And I would rather buy new music I like from the artists, in preference to spending with a platform that gives them only microcents per listen. Similarly, after buying Led Zep on cassette, vinyl and CD, you can excuse me if I would rather not pay them any more.

So audio streaming isn’t much use to me, and the YouTube service is painful to use. To top it off, I gather the voice activation function I use is only included if I pay for a premium subscription.

This is all fine, Google can do what it wants to make money, but this seems to me like layers of decisions that don’t benefit the customer piling up – in this case sufficiently for me to spend time both whinging about it, but also to bother to find a software solution somewhere like Plex or whatever to fix the underlying reliability irritants in the first place. I’ll update with what I find.

The second example was the silly posts on Google real online real estate in the form of an open letter that warned Google free services could ultimately be ended if they have to pay for access to news sites.

I’ve no truck with the wealthy media businesses in Australia who squandered their advantages to find themselves beholden to a government regulation to keep some revenue. That was just the worst sort of short term planning and failure of leadership. But I also don’t shed any tears for Google or Facebook having to licence some of the content they pass around and glean advertising revenue from. The Google response is tone deaf, and further shows Google has no interest in its customers best interests.

In any case, it is a good reminder to check where Google and others might have a little too much control of my data. In my case, Gmail and Google photos have become a little too essential, so I will add them to the list of services I need to build a better redundancy plan for – as the day will no doubt come when they stop being useful enough to put up with the down sides, just like YouTube.

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