The Google Trilogy, Part 3 : Overreach

In the last of a three part series on Google and the issues which surround its domination of the tech space, HumanIPO looks at the company’s continuing expansion and asks whether it has been misusing the vast power in its hands.

Many big firms buy out their competition, but Google acquisitions are massive and show no sign of stopping. The firm was reported to have spend more than more than US$500 million on acquisitions last year alone. In May this year, Google acquired Motorola Mobility for US$12.5 billion and added Nik Software in September. In August, for US$250 million, it acquired Wildfire. The list is still growing.

With its influence growing through acquisitions, Google needs to remain on the right side of the law if it is to avoid the tougher regulation that some have called for. But this has not always been the case.

The company ran into trouble in Kenya in January after its Getting Kenyan Business Online mined Mocality’s database and even called its clients, referring to a partnership between the two firms that did not exist. Mocality CEO Stefan Magdalinski said that, since October 2011, Google had been “systematically accessing Mocality’s database and attempting to sell their competing product to our business owners. They have been telling untruths about their relationship with us, and about our business practices, in order to do so and as of January 11th, nearly 30 percent of our database had apparently been contacted”.

Google subsequently apologised, and the country manager was forced out.

In Tennesse in the United States, Google was accused of breaking state and federal wiretap laws as its fleet gathered photos around the country for Google Maps’ street view. Intercepting wire or electronic communications is a crime. As one Internet law expert and law professor at the University of Tennessee Glenn Reynolds said: “It turns out that as they drove along, they were recording everything that was going through your network at that time. It might include your password, it might include email, it might include websites you visited.”

Google has also been linked with the United States’ National Security Agency (NSA). After a Chinese hacking incident was reported by Google in 2010, the press reported that Google and the NSA had entered into partnership to analyse the attack and share information. Reports by the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal raised questions whether Google was spying on the world for NSA.

The Electronic Privacy Information Centre sought documents related to the alleged partnership, but the agency refused to release further information, explaining that “any response would improperly reveal information about NSA’s functions and activities”.

Google had already been criticised for disclosing private information to several governments. In April 2010, it released details on how often countries around the world ask it to hand over user’s data, or to censor information.

Between July and December 2009 Brazil topped the list with over 3,600 request, US 3,500, UK 1,160, and India 1,060. Brazil also had about 290 block-content requests, Germany had 190, India 140, and US 120. Such requests from the Chinese government were regarded as a state secret not released. When contacted, the Goole’s then chief legal officer said, “These requests are valid and needed for legitimate criminal investigations.”

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