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CNET Conversations: Inside the mind of Google with Steven Levy

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CNET Conversations: Inside the mind of Google with Steven Levy

40:40 /

The Wired author talks with CNET's Molly Wood about Google's corporate culture, its database of all your information, and those gigantic piles of money.

-When I started reading this book, had this response where I got to the end of the first chapter and, come on, last night Twitter was abuzz about how Skynet was about to become self-aware-- -Uh huh. -and I'm reading this first chapter and it kind of ends with like, "Yeah, Google knows a lot. Where does that eventually lead?" And then, Udi Manber saying, "It's absolutely terrifying how much power we have in the world," and then you kind of cheerfully move on to the economics. Meanwhile, you rocked my world, right? Like, wait, so they've built Skynet is what you're saying? -Uh huh. Oh, the-- the answer is it-- it gets to that because one thing, if you know anything about Larry, there's two things he takes very, very seriously, and one of them is artificial intelligence. I was at an event that they hold at Google every year called Science Foo-- Foo Camp and Tim O'Reilly runs this Foo camps. There's a science-based one that's co-sponsored by Nature magazine and Google, and Larry asked to run the session about artificial intelligence. And what he was saying is, you know, "Wait, what if someone just got a hundred of the best AI scientists, you know, hired them and just put them in a room? You know, we would have AI within a year." So, when he said AI, I think he was talking, you know, I think we would understand he was talking the hard AI, consciousness and, you know, the-- the real hardcore Marvin Minsky thing, you know, the coming to life. And, of course, actually Marvin Minsky was in the audience, the-- the pioneer of-- of artificial intelligence then, and, you know, he-- he was pretty interested in what Larry had to say. -I bet he was feeling pretty validated. -Yeah. The second thing I have to say that Larry-- to know about Larry is ambition. And I have this interview with-- with Larry for the book and, you know, there-- we had an agreement. He had to-- he doesn't like to talk much to the press but he agreed that he was gonna give me one huge, monster interview for-- for the book there, and I talked to him a number of times during the course of the research of the book just informally 'cause you'd run into him at-- at Google or I'd run into him at a conference and-- and we chat. But I really, you know, had to get really, you know, it's a super high priority to me, to sit him down with a tape recorder and have him answer all the questions I was throwing-- I wanted to throw at him after hanging out at Google for a couple of years. And, you know, we did a 2-hour interview and then he came back and he had more to say. And what he really wanted me to understand was where ambition fit in there. And I think it's-- it's really interesting. He-- he-- since a young boy, he had been very ambitious, none of it in the sense of, you know, how to succeed in business without really trying, you know, in that-- in a Sammy Glick sense, but in the sense that he-- he felt if-- if you're an idealist, it's important to actually act on your dreams and-- and make them happen. And furthermore, he felt, and I think there's something to this, that we're living at a time where unprecedented technology makes it possible to fulfill ambitions in a way you couldn't before. What we grew up thinking was impossible actually can be done now. So, for instance, the idea of scanning all the world's books and making them searchable, to find out what's in the most obscure book within seconds when we grew up, when I grew up certainly, seemed like a crazy, crazy pipe dream. But when he thought of it first, and he actually thought of it at-- at first in-- in graduate school, it became just a question of-- of economics. It wasn't whether it was possible or not. It was how much is it gonna cost and was-- was it feasible then. And when he, you know, tested it out one day-- with a co-worker, he decided it was feasible, we could do it, it won't cost to much, and he-- he set out to do it. -Yeah. All right. Well, I-- so right now, I wanna back up a little bit to the-- the origins. How-- why you in the first place? I mean, you talked about how Google has this rocky relationship with the media. Clearly, it was not gonna be CNET-- -Right. -I believe. Google there [unk] that one time. -And why-- why would-- and why would that be? -No comment. We'll get to their double-standards later. No. But-- but why you? Why are you the guy that they-- that they let into the Googleplex for 2 years? -Well, I asked. -Right. -That doesn't hurt. -Did we ask [unk]?. -Yeah. And, well, I-- I've done a-- a number of stories at-- at Google-- about Google for-- for Newsweek and I think they felt that I got it, that-- that I understood the-- the way the company worked to-- to a certain degree because I was able-- able to explain it in a way where they didn't disagree. And I had a good relationship, you know, maybe because of the-- the early connection with Larry and Sergey. When they did their first press tour of New York which was, you know, probably in 2000 or something like that, my editor and I, we took them out to lunch and-- and I would run into them all the time in conferences and be-- besides doing stories on them, we-- we had good-- a good relationship there and I had a good relationship with Eric even predating Google because covering the browser wars in the 1990s, Eric was one of the points that you would always touch, and bases you would always touch when you did a browser war story and-- and he had a lot to say, and I got to know him back then. So, I-- it was familiarity and the idea also, the timing was good. I think Google realized that they had been so opaque. They wanted to be a little more open, that some transparency was going to put them in good stead. They really believed that they are good and that some extensive look at them would not be embarrassing. I think they had to realize that giving someone a lot of access might reveal a word or two, but by and large, they felt that an-- an open look at the company by someone who they-- they trusted was gonna be good for them. -Well that was my other question is why now? Do they feel a little bit under siege? You know, what is it that-- that now has made them decide it's time to maybe drop the veil a little bit? 'Cause you talked-- I mean, the secrecy, I had no idea. Apple gets this unbelievable wrap-- -Right. -for their secrecy, but Google? I mean, these guys are a vault. -Right. Well actually, I tell-- I-- I would say Apple is-- is more secretive. I don't think Apple would ever do this-- this kind of-- -Well, true. -this-- this kind of book there and, you know, and I have a pretty good relationship with Apple, but I can't imagine them ever giving me a-- this kind of access because they're particularly careful about people talking to the rank and file. -Right. -Whereas one of the things I really wanted to do in this book was talk to a lot of the people whose names weren't familiar to even people who were avid Google followers and-- and talk about them. There's many secret heroes of Google who, I hope, I've-- I've shined the light on in-- in this book. Maybe we can talk about some of them. -Yeah, I-- actually, I found that super interesting. It's like a Dostoevsky novel. There's so many names in this book, but it-- it is sort of the story of the heroes. You know, you talked-- you got the guy, Paul Buccheit, right, who came up with the-- the "don't be evil"-- -Right. -thing in the first place and the people who really cracked the AdSense nut, and none of them are the-- the faces that you've heard of. Well, that's [unk]. -Right. Well also, it makes sense. The-- the founders of the company can't do every product there but I think they do get credit, you know, in-- in particular on-- on the ads stuff because those products were successful because it-- it really met their-- their values there and they certainly oversaw them. So, I-- I think that you see more openness at Google and Google knows it has to be more open because it's under more scrutiny. So, you'll see now videos that try to explain a little bit and blog items, how Search works, how the ad system works. Hal Varian, the chief economist, does these videos that try to decode. It's actually very complicated and counter intuitive ad system, which is so amazing but widely, widely misunderstood, and it makes Google angry, not angry, but very unhappy when people refer to these things as black boxes-- -Uh huh. -because that's really a-- term for the dark side. And they feel that some more transparency in its products. If Search comes under attack for this meme called search neutrality and the ads come under attack because people feel that-- that certain advertisers are being discriminated against because the way the ad system works. They feel that if people know a little bit more how they work, that'll be to their benefit. -Is that-- we can start a little bit at the end with the current developments at Google. Is that about to change now that Larry Page is back in the CEO seat? I mean, you know, what can we-- he's already gone back to, like, the 2001 days, right, where he seems to be doing away with the management layer-- -Right. -and putting the engineers back in charge. -Right. Yeah. I-- I don't know the answer to that question. I think that the initial science and there's the transparency in the Larry Era aren't that great. -Right. -They did, you know, a major reorganization. You, you know, you-- you're-- you correctly touched on the idea that this is a-- a purge that Google's done similar things periodically, but there was a 2001 management purge where decided to have no more managers. This was the-- the-- before the APM thing and-- -I love exchange. I love that exchange where they're in Larry Page's office-- -Yeah. -and then someone's arguing to him that people wanna be managed and he says, "Well, they..." -Yes, yes Bill-- Bill Campbell-- yeah. Bill Campbell, who has just come on as an adviser and he's, you know, the coach of a lot of important places in Silicon Valley. He's one of Steve Jobs' best friends and, of course, the-- the chairman of Intuit, and he came on to sort of give his wisdom to the Google executives and really on very well with them. A very huggy guy and you see Larry hug the guy. You think you're, "Woah," you know, it-- it is-- -Not a hugger? -Yeah, no. And-- and, you know, he had this argument with Larry. Larry said that-- that we shouldn't have any managers and he said, you know, people don't wanna be managed and Bill Campbell said people do wanna be managed, and they started calling engineers in and asking them, "Well, do you wanna be managed? Do you wanna be managed?" And they generally said "yes" but they-- Larry went ahead anyway and got rid of the managers. There-- there were over a hundred people reporting to the guy who as then the head of engineering, Wayne Rosing-- -Uh huh. -and the HR people said, "You can't do this. You can't do this," and they did it. It was a debacle. They-- they rolled it back fairly quickly but, it-- the sentiment was, we don't want Google to be bugged down by middle management. We-- we want it to run as quickly and as deftly as possible, the smallest groups possible there, and I think Larry is trying to do something similar there. Obviously, in a company of 26,000 now, it's-- just this year, it's gone from 24 to 26, by the end of the year, it'll be up to 30,000 if they hit their mark, you need these layers but he wants to minimize that as much as possible. The striking thing was, they did a major reorganization and-- somewhere almost 2 weeks ago, and they have yet to make an announcement of the organization. They have yet to do a blog item about it. You know, they-- what they've done is they've confirmed, I guess, a report that first appeared in the Los Angeles Times about the reorganization. But I called this [unk], you know, because it's, you know, it's almost unheard of to do that sort of executive reshuffle and-- and not explain it, and I think it's really not fair to some of the employees who are open to speculation who, you think of employees who didn't get raised up and say, "Well, what about them? What about them?" People speculate did they get passed over or are they given some other carrot to make up for it. -Marissa Mayer was a big name there-- -Yeah. -that people said was not apparently elevated to those new ranks. -Right. We don't-- we don't know what the situation is there. She was, you know, they made a big deal when she moved from search products to the head of geo-- -Uh huh. -but now, someone else is named the senior vice president and head of-- the head of, among other things, the geo products. So, one would think that she's reporting to him, but does that mean a change in what she does? Someone once speculated, well, maybe he's engineering. She's products and geo. I don't-- we don't know. -Definitely right and it leads to, as you say, speculation, which is natural. There's an interesting piece in Forbes today speculating on whether Eric Schmidt was kind of the peacetime CEO. -Right. -For Google, you know, the assumption is that he's the grownup. -Right. -And he probably was. -That was-- that was Ben Horowitz's, you know-- -Yeah. -Yeah, you know. -But then is Larry Page perhaps the wartime CEO as now Google finds itself really under assault from the Justice Department-- -Right. -you know, facing serious threats from Facebook. Where are they now? Do you think Larry Page is-- is the wartime? -Certainly, they mobilized in a-- in a sense that it almost is like a wartime footing there and, you know, to me, the CEO change occurred on the day that it was announced there was going to be a CEO change. On January 20th, they said, "On April 4th, we're gonna do this change." But in fact, the people I've talked to at Google said the change began immediately as Larry began ordering weekend, midnight meetings, and people's e-mail boxes started bulging with memos and-- and ideas what was gonna come next from Larry. -I wanna talk a little bit about Google's culture 'cause it is fascinating how, you know, since you started with their ambition, it's-- and that's what permeates the entire book. So, it-- you're asking Page-- or Page just-- you asked Page what they see is the future of Google Search and Larry Page said, "It will be included in people's brains." -Uh huh. -When you think about something and don't really know much about it, you'll automatically get information and eventually, he says, you-- like you mentioned, you will have the implant. -Uh huh. Or if you think about a fact, it will just tell you the answer. -Right. -I have this, by the way, under a book-- bookmark that says Skynet on it. What-- -Ah, yes. -What-- but is that the lens through which we have to view everything that Google is doing? Is it sort of like the Cylons where Larry Page just-- he's got a plan? -Uh huh. All right. I think he has a-- a direction-- -Yeah. -a plan there and definitely, as we see now, we-- we've talked about, you know, Marissa's talked about the-- this idea. I don't know if she called this [unk] query search but the idea that Google will provide a-- a result before-- before you type it there, I think that that's-- that-- that's included in it. But actually, it's-- it's bigger than that. It-- and you see, when they get into-- in-- into the cars, you know, it's unbounded. It-- it's where this combination of massive data and-- and AI and machine learning and, you know, the-- the infrastructure, Google has all the things that-- where that could take us in any direction, that could be where Google goes. -And they talk about, there's a great quote in here that this organization is a feature-- -Right. -within Google. So, do you buy the sometime tenuous feeling links that they draw between their new ventures and their ultimate goal of organizing the world's information from, you know, whether it's frugal to the self-driving cars to-- -Right. -original content creation with YouTube? -Uh huh. Well, their mission is interpreted so broadly-- -Uh huh. -that, you know, in-- in a way, it's almost meaningless because, you know, info-- information is in so many things, right? So, it's-- it's a very, very flexible mission statement. It allows them to go pretty much anywhere they-- they wanna go. So, sometimes back-- you can go backwards and say, "Well, how does this fit in to that mission? Oh, I guess it's this way." Pretty much, Larry's view is to go into an area and regardless of what competitors, or allies even, are currently operating in that area, and collateral damage aside, you know, that's where Google want-- wants to go there. He doesn't really worry in a strategic sense about who his competitors are in the area. That's why, you know, I guess we'll talk about this a little-- a little later like the socials, sort of different kind of thing for Google. -Yeah, absolutely. But before we get there, let's talk about Apple because that was it-- actually, I didn't really realize that Mozilla was kind of the first casualty of that approach-- -Right. -that they had really become benefactors of the Mozilla Foundation. And then, at Mozilla, it kinda made me felt later, snaked them a little bit-- -Right. -by announcing the Chrome Browser. Apple, obviously, was the next one-- -Right. -and Steve Jobs felt personally betrayed, I mean, very intensely personally betrayed Eric Schmidt. And then the question I had to ask is how did Eric Schmidt stay in the board for so long? -Uh huh. -Do you believe him when he said that he feels that he fully disclosed-- he said, "I feel I fully disclosed what we were doing [unk]." -Yeah. Yeah. We were-- this-- this-- so this happened during the time that I was work-- working on the book, the falling out between Apple and Google, and I would-- would ask Eric about this, and Eric would always portray it in the rosiest possible light. He would say that, "Oh, well, you know, of course I cheerfully leave the room when they talk about phones and we-- we fully disclosed there." But what I found out in spending time with the Android team and it-- it was interesting they spent a lot. Android actually is-- is sort of a fascinating projecting in-- in itself with these multiple streams of teams coming into it, partly Palm [unk], partly people who are refugees from Microsoft Web TV if you could believe it, and of course, people who came from the Android company, which Google bought, as well as people from Google who-- who were sent over there, and they were actually developing 2 phones. And one phone was called Sooner, and this was presumably the phone that they will come out first with, and it wasn't all that advanced. It didn't look like an iPhone at all. It didn't have the-- the multitouch and-- and gestures like that. And then, there was another phone. It was more advanced and that was called the Dream, and that was something for later on. So, when I finally pieced together, it seemed to me that what Steve Jobs sort of assumed that the Sooner was gonna be the phone that Apple-- that-- that Google would come out with. It wasn't competitive at all with iPhone. But once the iPhone came out, the people at Google, and you can't blame them for this, took one look at the iPhone and said, "We can't come out with Sooner. This phone is obsolete. We're gonna go straight to the Dream." And the Dream wound up looking a lot like the iPhone, and there was one time when Steve Jobs went to Mountain View to-- he took Route 85 and motored down-- down to the Googleplex and took a look at the phone, the Android phone. He was not happy with what he saw and that could've been the moment where he felt that these guys have been playing me. -Do you think they were? -I don't think that they were consciously thinking we're gonna lure Steve along. I think that what happens is, as I said before, they go somewhere and they don't really worry about who's there, whether it's their friend or not. You mentioned the Mozilla thing. I was very interested in following the Chrome thing and Chrome was-- was one of the projects that I had a really early look at and spent time with the team. It's also one of the things that Google suggested that it'll be a good idea, if I wanted to do this, to write this for Wired when it came out. So, we had a big story about Chrome just like really, literally, as-- as it came out, that we, you know, did secretly-- secretively with Wired. But I was really interested in the almost fratricide aspect of it because Google had hired a number of people from Mozilla and their job was to basically develop Firefox from within Google. And in a certain point, they stopped becoming Firefox developers and started working for Google to develop the Chrome browser, and I-- I just kept, you know, pushing and pushing. Sundar Pichai, the-- the really great leader of the Google client team who was-- who was head of Chrome about just more details about his-- the meeting he had with Mitchell Baker, who is the head of the Mozilla Foundation. I with-- I remember calling her on vacation. She was in this, you know, resort in the Poconos, the camping place in the Poconos, and, you know, asking her about how that meeting went where Sundar told Mitchell Baker that we're developing our own browser there 'cause that-- that to me, what great drama to say that-- that the ally is now going to, you know, "Et tu, Brutus?", you know, to-- to go after-- go after that. And Mitchell was-- she kept a step up of everybody. She said, "Well, it's a big company. It's com-- for-profit company and what can you expect-- -Right -from-- from places like that?" which is interesting because Google holds itself to a higher standard of just another company, right? They're the don't-be-evil company. So, I guess I'm using that bludgeon that everyone else uses on them now. But, so, that was just an interesting moment there which maybe foreshadowed the-- the move that would be interpreted by Steve Jobs, at-- at least, as a-- a betrayal on Android. -Well, it's interesting, too, because it sort of gets to a little bit of the culture as you portrayed it, which is that Google is essentially, you know, with its-- with its academic fetish and its-- its insanely high hiring standards, and its really obsession with genius. It seems to be building kind of a super computer of people in addition to, obviously, the giant terrifying knowledge base that encompasses everyone on Earth and everything they do. But, does that lead to, not that-- not that I'm worried after reading this book, but does that lead to kind of a computer-like behavior? Like, does Goo-- you know, we've said this a bunch of times. Does Google get people? Do they think to themselves, "Well, this is the logical logic triumph-- -Right. -at Google and this is the logical course to take." -Uh huh. -Is that-- is that a flaw for them? -There are-- there are-- there is a myopia to a certain degree about that. I don't wanna take that too far because there's-- there's this meme, the engineers are robotic. -Uh huh. -And I have to say from the-- the time I did "Hackers", you know, it was my-- my first book 25 years ago, it-- it sort of flew in, in the face of that, that the people that I know who are the really creative engineers, they're not robotic. They're very creative and, you know, a lot of them are musicians, and, you know, they-- they read, they appreciate literature and maybe science fiction, but, you know, they-- they're-- they're literate people. -That counts. -And you go to the Google campus, there's all sorts of authors, and fascinating people coming, and you have great discussions about anything there. So, I-- I don't really wanna take too far that-- that stereotype, but it is true that Google operates on the premise, and actually, it's a-- it's a pretty interesting premise and maybe one that we could use more of in society that decisions should be made by data instead of preconceptions or who has the force of personality to drive something across there. So, in something like the book search, Google felt it had the data that people would embrace and-- as good for civilization, and Larry and Sergey couldn't figure out why people were against that, even something like Gmail. When Gmail came out, a lot of people recoiled at the idea of ads appearing alongside your e-mail content that were related to what it was. The-- it-- it was creepy. There was a CNET column which used that word "creepy" and that-- that really caught on there. And even-- but Google felt that once it was explained to people, they would realize that Google really wasn't reading your mail. It was just these algorithms that interpret it and people then would say, "Oh, algorithms. That's okay." But-- -Right. -but in fact, in a viserable-- visceral way, it was creepy and it really opened Google to all sorts of-- of questions there. -And they were dumbfounded. They seemed genuinely shocked that people found it creepy, much like they did when they introduced Buzz. -Right, right. Well, you know, Buzz-- Buzz did have-- before we could talk about that, you know, that-- that blinded side of them because they hadn't anticipated what would happen when it got out-- outside Google there. But the-- but this idea that logic wins the day gets them, you know, has gotten them in-- in trouble there in-- in the same way, really, that, you know, I-- I refer this later in the book. The day that Obama came to Google as-- as a candidate and explained how he was going to get health care through really easily by, you know, just presenting the data of why it's gonna work, the people at Google were in ecstasy. This guy is one of us. Let's go to work that way. And it was-- it didn't work all that easily for Obama the same way that approach doesn't work easily for Google. -Well, it's a very contradictory company in that way because they talk about they are, you know, data-driven down to the last detail, but they-- but, you know, don't-be-evil is subjective by nature, right? And they're-- and the idea that they're-good-guys-doing-good is subjective by nature. You know, I asked Eric Schmidt when I interviewed him, "Why do you think people find Google creepy?" and he basically said, "It's because we know a lot about you but trust us." -Hmm. -So, you know, first of all, what is-- what is the proof that these are good guys? And then second, is, you know, are we just a leadership change away from disaster? -Uh huh. Well, this "trust us" thing is-- is a circular argument that Google sometimes uses that is supposed to kinda con-- convince us there. So the idea is that, they say, that if they-- Google lost the trust of its users, it couldn't operate and that-- that's true to a-- to a degree, but it's very hard to totally lose a trust. Even if people say if there's a privacy meltdown or, you know, something horrible happened, that's it, that will be the end, people lose the trust. But if you think of something like Tylenol, right? There was a time when people felt that if you bought a bottle of Tylenol, it could kill. But yet, Johnson & Johnson got-- they got over that and Tylenol, people buy all the time now even though there was a period where Tylenol lost our trust in-- in the worst way. So, I don't think that's necessarily, you know, the compelling argument in-- in favor of-- of letting Google assure us, you know, on the face of it, this-- this trust thing. So, trust and verify, I think, is always a stronger method than trust. -'Cause they've definitely pushed the boundaries. Like your discussion of the DoubleClick acquisition is fascinating-- -Right. -about how they very quietly flipped the switch on the-- on deploying the super cookie that was, you know-- -Right. -apart from tracking your behavior once you clicked on a ad, tracked your behavior by dropping a cookie as you visited a page. So, they have a repository of our entire browsing history-- -Right. -and our search histories, identifiable by IP address for up to 9 months. -Uh huh. -How far does trust-- -Yes. -really go? -Right, right. It was interesting because when I went to in-- into that-- that cookie thing like that with something and I felt that probably all of the things that I'm critical of in-- in Google in the book, and I have to-- to also step back and say by and large, actually I'm fairly positive about-- about Google there. I was impressed with a lot of things in there and maybe could see the way I talked about Larry and ambition. I think that that's a really interesting, compelling way to look at the world and one which is gonna result in products that benefit us all. And even book search, I felt that until they've made that settlement, I-- I was on Google's side on-- on that because as an author, I'm-- I'm perfectly happy to have my-- a couple of lines of my book available if people search for-- for some general topic and they say, "Hey, there's this book that might help me out on it and here's a way to buy it." That sounds pretty good to me. But, you know, the-- the cookie to me, I-- I was particularly critical of because it really had to be explained to me how this worked. It-- it is a fairly obscure thing. I'm not gonna bring this whole thing to a standstill by getting, you know, in the-- in the intricate explanation there because it took a long time for, you know, for the people to explain to me exactly what happened. But it was something, it was an issue-- it was controversial inside Google before they implemented it. It was something that came up during that DoubleClick purchase. It was actually brought up as a-- a threat during the Congressional Hearing that was held about the DoubleClick purchase and, you know, ironically, it was the-- one of the people who brought it up was the Microsoft person testifying against the purchase, urging Congress to, you know, state that-- that it was opposed to it. It wasn't Congress who ultimately decided for or against it. But-- and-- and basically what it was, you know, DoubleClick had a cookie which, like many ad-- ad network-- display ad cookies, would keep an eye on you not by name but, you know, whoever was using that browser to go on the Web, know what ads to-- to serve to you. Google had its own little network called AdSense, which had a whole different kind of population on the Web of websites. They were smaller ones, generally. They were blogs and-- and things like that where publishers could, small publishers, could put up ads from-- from Google's inventory and, you know, what Google did after it got DoubleClick is that it merged those 2 networks and introduced for the first time on the AdSense network the tracking kind of technology that DoubleClick used. And so, that gave Google the only way to track someone when they went for the vast majority of websites. They were greatly expanded where the cookie will be dropped and gave Google that unique access to that, which isn't necessarily bad, but I felt that, you know, Google wasn't sufficiently transparent in-- in explaining that, and they told me they were, and we went back and forth on this in looking over the blog items, and they did say you could opt out or things like that. But, it really wasn't-- I-- I feel there are certain things that Google does for privacy. But I do believe that they should flag it way high in your attention there. The Privacy Council I sat on was discussing a-- a feature in Google Latitude which, with your consent, tracked everywhere you go and would give you, you know, a list of all the places you went. You know-- you know, so you could say, oh, here's this, you know, this day a month go and here's-- I went here, I went here, I went here, and I could look on the map at my path there. And they were so worried about that that they made the product engineer implement a feature that every couple of weeks that you had the thing turned on, even after you were asked for it and had to verify that you wanted it, a couple-- every couple of weeks, it would say, hey, you know this thing's tracking you. Hey, you know this thing's tracking you. You still wanna be in it? You still wanna be in it? And-- but for this cookie thing, they-- they didn't bring that up. So, you know, that was a-- a big corpus of information that in addition, as you know, to all the other stuff has-- add to a lot information they have about us. Now, they-- they do note that they have never merged the kind of information they get from Search with this information that they get from display ads and other information they have, of course, from your documents, and your Latitude, and-- and other kinds of things. The information, by and large, is-- is siloed, but they have not made a commitment that it will be permanently siloed. -And that's actually my next question. So they-- right now, they don't use your search history to serve targeted ads and, like you said, they don't use that in their information [unk]. -Right, right. And a-- and if you're not signed in, they don't know my name, who you are, or your search history. We, of course, since people are obsessively-- -But if you are signed in and totally do-- -obsessively Google themselves, they-- if I didn't sign in, I guess they would figure out, you know, who else, you know, checks 10 times a day what your Amazon rating is, Steven Levy's Amazon rating is. So-- -Oh no, I-- I keep a close eye on that. -they like-- they like figure that-- figure that out. Yeah. -Well, in-- but as you say, their mission statement is so broad that at some point, it excuses almost everything potentially, and Susan Wojcicki was quoted as saying, we weren't-- the reason that-- the main reason that they went to this DoubleClick kind of super cookie thing is, she says, "We weren't winning." -Uh huh. -"Without that cookie, we weren't making the impact on the world that you have to make to be successful." In her view, Google had to make that step, one it had resisted earlier in part for moral reasons, so it could improve advertising and help its users. -Right. -Now if Google is under attack-- -Yeah. -Facebook users are giving that information voluntarily, how long is it before you think maybe start using our search histories for ad serving? -Well, I think-- I think actually that they-- that they-- I can't imagine they wouldn't have to announce that. That would be something that would be public. Maybe they would only ask us to do it if we wanted to do it there. I don't think they could easily merge those things and I don't think-- I don't think they wanna go too far in-- in that direction and be stealth about it there. And I think-- actually, I take Susan at her word when she says that we wanted to do this because we couldn't help people otherwise. She-- I think she really believes and-- and the time that they started actually making use of that cookie, it was few months after they, you know, they actually started dropping the cookie, they-- they made use of it in terms of showing different ads. They did, you know, to-- to be fair, they did introduce a new privacy feature that other places didn't have called a Dashboard, where you could see what Google knew about you in terms of where you went on the Web, you know, and they would say, oh, from where you go, we know you're interested about skiing. We know you follow this soccer team. We know that you like to vacation in Cabo. And you could change that and you could always opt out of the cookie, too. They-- they did say that from the start. You could opt. But very few people read that stuff and very few people actually opt out. I would like to know the numbers of-- of the "opt out" myself. -And that-- they are the only browser not to have a "do not track" feature currently. -Yeah, yeah, yeah. So that-- that's actually a little surprising. I-- I would-- I would think that they would want to-- would not wanna be out there alone on-- on that, you know, track thing. -So, you also said that you were at Facebook yesterday-- -Yes. -and I'm kind of curious about the growing war between Google and Facebook mainly because it's an interesting cultural question. Google is gathering all of this data and this-- -Right. -and this metrics with cookies and other things, and Facebook users are giving it up voluntarily. How scary do you think that is, that-- that Zuckerberg seems to fundamentally understand humans-- -Uh huh. -Google seems to fundamentally understand computers? That's kind of an interesting war. -Right. Well, I don't know. I think-- I think it's more of a generational thing than, you know, a-- a warm and fuzzy thing. I think the engineers at Facebook aren't necessarily the most social people them-- themselves and, you know, any more than Google. The-- I think, and he's a full generation younger than Larry and Sergey and he-- he's more interested in social networking than-- than they are. As for the information, it was amazing to me that one of the first questions I got at Facebook was saying, "Gee, what would it take to make Google have a rapprochement with us and-- and sit down and share their information with us?" And I said, "That's weird because Google's asking the same thing about you." -Really? -And-- exactly. And I think that what really scares Google about Facebook is exactly as you said. People voluntarily give Facebook this information, who-- who their friends are, what they like, where they are, what they're doing, and this is very, very valuable information, and 600 million people doing this, and soon it'll be a billion, right? In a way where Google doesn't have that access to information is a nightmare for Google. Google could use that information to-- to deliver better results and be useful to us in a number of ways. Google is less useful without have-- without having that information. So, I think that the ultimate goal of their social initiative is not so much to kill Facebook. That-- that's something that Google's not gonna do, but to bring Facebook to the table where they could share information. Maybe Google would be able to get its own information that it could share with Facebook. I don't wanna say with share Facebook. It's like not without our permission just so since it's our information, to be begin with, I think it-- it's fair all around that we could take that information, I could take my Facebook information and say, "Hey, here's a Google product that I wanna use. Can I use my friends to go in this Google social product? Can I use my location to merge it with Google Latitude?" and vice versa. So, I-- I don't-- I don't think it's right that Facebook cordons off the information that I give it and I don't think it's right that it-- Google would stop me from sharing my information. Now, Google says they have a policy of saying we don't do that. They have a thing at Google called the Data Liberation Front where a-- a team works on making that information exportable, and I think Google does a better job at that than Facebook does. -That's-- Google has said that 20-- was it 25% of every-- every single employee's bonus this year will be tied to the success of the [unk]? -Right. That was something else that has been reported, not officially acknowledged but passively acknowledged. -Yeah. -So, I-- I think we-- we could-- we could trust that that yeah, in-- in the next year's bonus, 25% of it will not-- it has to deal with how the success of Google is in social with this product-- project called Emerald Sea, which I identified in-- in there. And I-- I don't quite know how they measure that. That's what I'd-- I'd like to learn. Maybe I should, you know, go-- -Go back. -yeah, do-- do some more-- -Anyway, if you'd be able ask him, it's probably good. -do some more digging on that and say, you know, "How do you measure that?" because everything is measured at Google. So, where-- what's the-- the metric, the OKRs they call it at Google of, you know, whether people get their bonus or not. -Why did-- one last question for me and then I'll let you guys have your say. What-- why-- how did Google miss social? Is it partly that kind of super metrics-driven behavior that they don't understand how people wanna talk to each other? Certainly, they blew it with Buzz. -Uh huh. -What-- how-- did they miss that? Did they just not see that train coming? -Well, it's surprising and-- and as you know, in the last chapter, I talked about Google's missteps in social. -Right, other than Orkut, of course. It's [unk]. -Right, well, it started with Orkut, right? -Yeah. -And you look at Orkut and what stopped that? You know, almost random things in-- in some sense because it was on the .net platform-- -Yeah. -and so they spent their engineering, you know, people that they devoted to Orkut to moving it over to the Google platform. And instead, they didn't have enough engineers and engineers, this was-- Google's a fairly small company back then in-- in 2000 where-- when Orkut was being rolled out literally at the same time Facebook was. The-- you know, so they didn't have enough people to really support it and-- and make it faster, which was something that turned off a lot of people when it started. When Orkut was introduced, I don't know if you remember this, but-- -I was on it, yeah. -Yeah, yeah. I mean, I-- I was literally in-- in the conference the day it was introduced and it was just exploding. It almost melted down Google's servers. It-- it was so much. I remember I was sitting there and, you know, friending people and, you know-- it feel-- it felt like the coming thing there. I-- I friended Sergey there, sitting there. I was at-- at a conference and I forgot who was talking because no one was listening to the speaker. People were just doing Orkut all around the room literally, you know, make-- making connections there. And-- and everywhere but Brazil and India-- -Yeah. -it-- it faded because, you know, it-- Google didn't support it, and that's sort of a generic problem that Google sometimes has in rolling out a product and not giving it enough support sometimes. If Google feels the product isn't catching on it just shrugs a shoulders and says, "Well, failure's part of our culture. We fail sometimes because we take risks and that's just the way it is." -But I love that quote you said where they had no human infrastructure to deal with failed products. -Right. -They don't know how to kill them, basically. They don't take them off life support. -Right, right. And that's-- and until Patrick Pichette came as CFO, I think it was in 2009 or 2008 yet, that, yeah, they just let him just-- just sort of stay on there with-- with very little-- little usership there. But the other-- the-- the thing was unheard of, with a couple of exceptions like Android and things like that, was putting massive support behind the product. -And then, really quickly before I let you go, would you wanna work there after spending your 2-- 2 years there embedded? -I think if-- probably not. I-- I-- -Me neither! -And it's just that I-- I'm a journalist. -Yeah. -And, you know, there's no place for me there. -Yeah. All right. Thank you so much, Steven Levy. -Thank you. -It's a great read you guys. Definitely go check it out. Thank you for everything. -Thank you.

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