Google's top five standoffs--from Apple to Yahoo

As the Web search giant grows, it's accumulating a growing legion of enemies, from governments to rivals to onetime friends.

Jay Greene Former Staff Writer
Jay Greene, a CNET senior writer, works from Seattle and focuses on investigations and analysis. He's a former Seattle bureau chief for BusinessWeek and author of the book "Design Is How It Works: How the Smartest Companies Turn Products into Icons" (Penguin/Portfolio).
Jay Greene
3 min read

When PayPal filed its lawsuit against Google yesterday for poaching a key executive for its mobile-payment business, it got us thinking about the growing list of enemies Google has made over the years.

Sometimes Google takes heat for doing the right thing, as it did in China. After wrestling with censorship, the company chose to shut down its Google.cn site and redirected users to the uncensored Chinese-language Google.com.hk domain in Hong Kong.

But Google has also managed to alienate regulators, both in the United States and abroad. And as the company pushes into new markets, it's found a passel of new rivals with which to do battle.

So here, then, are the top five confrontations (not scientifically selected) in which Google has managed to mire itself:

Apple: While Google's then-CEO Eric Schmidt sat on the board at Apple, Google developed its Android mobile phone operating system. It may not have seemed like a conflict of interest to Schmidt for the three years he served as a director. But the Federal Trade Commission raised some questions, even after Schmidt resigned. And Apple? It's CEO, Steve Jobs, felt betrayed enough that he reportedly railed on Google at an internal meeting, saying, "We did not enter the search business. They entered the phone business. Make no mistake, they want to kill the iPhone."

Yahoo deal: In 2008, Google was forced to back down from plans to create a search advertising partnership with Yahoo. The defeat, a rare one in Google's brief history, came as the company overreached, according to regulators and advertisers. The deal would have further strengthened Google's already massive lead in search advertising. It misjudged the opposition the deal engendered.

Street View: Shortly after launching Street View in 2007, Google caught flack from governments and privacy advocates for displaying photographs that included people's faces and car license plates. It creeped out users, showing people walking into adult bookstores and inadvertently flashing their underwear at Google's cameras. The company even acknowledged Google collecting e-mails, passwords, and URLs from Wi-Fi networks while the company was snapping images for its Street View service. The company continues to address the fallout from privacy concerns sparked by Street View.

Google Books: The company boldly sought to digitize every book ever written, making the world's literature available to anyone interested in any title. Quickly, the ambitious effort took heat for attempting to profit from books without the permission of copyright owners. When Google reached a settlement with the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers, another batch of opponents stepped forward, complaining that Google would amass too much control as the only organization in the world with a license to scan and display books that have gone out of print but were still protected by copyright laws. In March, Google lost a round in that fight when a New York federal judge rejected the settlement.

Rogue online pharmacies: Earlier this month, Google disclosed a $500 million charge in its first quarter to cover the potential cost of resolving an investigation by the Department of Justice, reportedly for accepting ads from rogue online pharmacies in violation of federal law. The eye-popping amount suggests to some legal scholars that Google knew it was taking business from companies that broke the law. Google took steps to curtail advertising by illicit pharmacies in February 2010 and even won praise from the Obama administration in December for making efforts to block those ads. Now the company just needs to resolve the lingering dispute with the Justice Department.

What Google confrontations would you add to the list?