Google might have reported healthy Q3 numbers today to those down-at-heel gamblers on Wall Street, but not everyone is thrilled by the behavior of Silicon Valley's search engine leviathan. In Britain, for example, Google has managed to offend everyone -- from the Church of England to all the political parties -- by raising its four year ban on allowing gambling companies to advertise on the search engine. This is how the appropriately named James Cashmore, Google UK's head of technology, explained his company's new policy:
"We've decided to amend our policy to allow text ads to appear againstsearch queries related to gambling in Great Britain. We hope this will enhance the search experience for users and help advertisers connect with interested consumers."
What, exactly, does this mean? The idea of helping gambling companies "connect" with "interested" Internet users could be Googlespeak for giving the cash rich gambling companies carte blanche for flooding the search engine with their seductive ads. If I enter "McCain versus Obama" into the Google search bar, will I be fed an advertisement from Sportsbook or Betonline offering me the latest odds on the election? The problem with Google logic is that anything, in theory, can be logically connected with something else. So Google's new policy will expose all Internet users -- except children protected by the search engine's Safe Search filter -- to generally unwanted advertisements from casinos, bookmakers and gambling websites.
A couple of years ago, I asked, in the Weekly Standard magazine, whether Google was good or evil:
In Silicon Valley, Google's moral code is a contentious issue. To its local boosters, Google can do no ill; but to critics on both the left and the right, Google epitomizes all the worst hubris, hypocrisy, and greed of the dot.com era.
That hubris, hypocrisy and greed obviously hasn't gone away. Google's liberalized gambling policy -- an obvious attempt to protect advertising revenue in a deep recession (more cash for Cashmore's company) -- reveals as much about the search engine as their noble Project 10 to the 100th that is giving away $10 million to people who want to "change the world". One of the categories in this altruistic contest is "Health: How can we help individuals lead longer, healthier lives?" I wonder if any of the entrants will suggest that one way to improve health is by fighting the growing sickness of gambling addiction.
I'll be in London next Tuesday evening (October 21) for a debate about Google at the ICA with the New York Times' Randall Stross, the author of Planet Google: One Company's audacious attempt to organize everything we know. I must remember to ask Stross what he thinks about Google's revised gambling policy. Maybe he should have named his book Casino Google: one company's audacious attempt to win everything we own.