Google’s Data Rissoto Attracts Italian Legal Eagles

July 25, 2008’s Dianne See Morrison  reported on July 25, 2008, that Google has spoiled the data risotto in Italy. The Italians are picky about recipes, and the GOOG is alleged to “failing to adequately [sic] monitor third-party content posted to their [sic] Web site.” You can Ms. Morrison’s interesting article here. The issue has been simmering for two years. The content seems to be video. The Italian issue joins similar actions in France and Spain. The Wall Street Journal’s Alessandra Galloni filed a new item about the Italian tussle here. By the time you read my comments, the WSJ’s link may be dead.

I’m no attorney. I don’t even have a hankering to spend time with my own attorney. I can point to my 2005 study The Google Legacy here. In that study, researched and written in late 2003 and 2004, I compiled a list of the  vulnerabilities Google faced at that time. In the top three were legal actions.

My research provided me with quotes and publicly accessible documents that revealed the following items:

  • Google delegates functions and asks that those making decisions analyze data and use those data to back up their decisions. This method is different from more political or social procedures used by some other organizations. For example, at Lycos in 1994, face to face discussions took place and many decisions were a collaborative effort, not a data driven effort.
  • Google’s founders are logical, maybe to a fault. If a statement says X, then it “means” X. Google, therefore, looks at rules and guidelines and reasons that these documents mean what they say. Anyone with any experience in the halls of Congress or Parliament know that what a word “means” is more slippery than a 10 gram blob of mercury. However, once logic locks in, the logic dictates the argument. Google executives appear to me to believe that the company is complying and making an effort to comply with rules, laws, and guidelines.
  • Google’s engineers have come up with a number of patent documents addressing content related issues. The company is focusing resources on the problem of content that finds its way on to the Google system that may be problematic.

I processed these items surfaced by my research and drew the conclusions I set forth in The Google Legacy. First, Google is a disruptive force of significant proportions. The culture of Google exists in the eye of a hurricane. Inside Google, it’s calm. Outside of Google tempests rage. Lawyers thrive because those with alleged grievances don’t know how to “get their way” with Google. The logic of the mathematician does not mesh smoothly with the logic of the lawyer.

I am also reasonably confident that Google believes that it is behaving within the letter and spirit of the law as Google understands those promulgations. I know this may sound crazy because legal actions are coming fast and furious.

I know that Google values mathematics and clever solutions. Google is chock full of really smart people who can look at this mathematical expression and resolve it without hesitation:

(a, b) x (c, d) = (a x c – b x d, a x d + b x c)

Individuals who can bring mathematical reasoning and deep technical knowledge to bear on a “problem” often arrive at solutions that are inscrutable to the average bear. Google makes engineering and business decisions with this type of insight or cleverness.  It is not surprising to me that people see Google as an arrogant bunch of gear heads, indifferent to the needs of other businesses. The notion of “getting it” works within Google; it does not work too well in other organizations.

The result?

Lawsuits. Lots and lots of litigation. An infinity of legal eagles, no matter how light weight, can settle on Googzilla and slow it down, knock it over, and maybe pluck out its innards.

I want to see how Italy’s legal eagle react to the Google risotto.

Stephen Arnold, July 25, 2008


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