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Why Google needs marketing, not exorcism

Somehow, in the U.K., where the government has even more cameras than Google, the company is again being accused of being evil. Is this another example of its badness? Or does Google just need better marketing?

The nice chaps at Google seem to be attracting much bad publicity.

While they march on in their desperate quest to copy every book in the world, photograph every home and hamlet, and store every last detail of our preferences and entrails, the world is having its doubts.

On Saturday, for example, the Daily Mail declared that Google was "too slow to take down street snoop photos."

The company has, allegedly, been inundated with demands from Brits to take down their particulars and has not moved quickly to respond. Google replied that there were only a few cases and that these could be put down to confusion of one sort of another.

Still, it must be quite annoying when you think you're at the forefront of the technological futurama and people just don't appreciate you.

It must be slightly galling when artists in Canada are preparing for the influx of Street View cars by creating T-shirts reading "We're watching you," which they hope will be repeatedly featured on Street View footage as the cars stare their way around Ontario and beyond.

Ryan Ringer, a Canadian street performer, told UPI: "We want to say to Google and the rest of the world that we're aware of the somewhat creepy nature of this."

And that's the thing Google seems not to realize. People don't recoil against its supposed evil intentions. They recoil against its creepiness.

It's like the bloke you meet at a party whose first question to you isn't: "Hello, how are you?" It's "I'm thinking of living next door to you and building a rocket in the garden. Isn't that cool?"

You might have hoped, for example, that Google would make a slightly more velvety fist of introducing Street View into the U.K.--a country that has just announced its intention to store every cell phone call, e-mail, and even Website visit made by its citizens for a year.

See, those Googlies are fun. CC Danny Sullivan/Flickr

Surely, in the face of this sort of blanket surveillance (and Britain already has more cameras per square foot than perhaps any country in the world), Google might have come across as quite a decent bunch.

Instead, at the first signs of local unrest, a Google person displayed a particularly inhuman spoke: "Householders are entitled to request their property is removed from the site, but only after the picture has appeared."

This attitude enjoyed a worrying echo when Google's Marissa Mayer, following the departure of designer Douglas Bowman, declared that only data mattered, not seeming to wonder, for a moment, if her data (or her judgment of humanity) might be a little flawed.

All too often, the tone that Google takes is cold, impersonal, even robotic. Perhaps it was entirely surprising and consistent that, in reply to the latest poorly argued criticisms of Google by newspapers, Google's first retort wasn't delivered with charm and a human touch.

It was delivered with the furiously typing fingers of a lawyer.

I'm sure he's a very nice lawyer. But when your first response is a legalese one, I'm afraid real, ordinary folks begin to have suspicions. It's only human.

Google needs a little marketing. A strange thing to say about one of the biggest, most famous companies in the world. But I suspect it's true.

I don't mean ad campaigns touting the glory that is Google. No, I mean a little more thought put into the human consequences of launching whatever all-encompassing cleverdom the company dreams up.

Yes, the bigger you get, the more criticism you might have to endure.

But it isn't always necessary to encourage that criticism by blindly declaring what you're going to do, doing it without seeming to think through the human consequences (even if they seem illogical) and then expecting everyone to be frightfully impressed.

One of Google's greatest moves was not a technological one. It was the marketing masterstroke (some might say, fortunate marketing masterstroke) of calling itself Google. You're prepared to forgive a Google far more than, say, a Search Incorporated.

But just a little less engineered preening and a touch more human aforethought might make Google's life slightly easier.