Google Apple: Assertions in Play in an Ethics-Free Context

February 19, 2012

I am not firing on all cylinders this morning. The goose is in recovery mode. Despite my weakened condition, I noted the brouhaha over Google’s getting tangled in the Apple Safari thorn bush. Allegations are zooming through the datasphere, and I noted one particularly fascinating write up, “Google Didn’t “Track” iPhones, But It Did Bypass Safari’s Privacy Settings.” The write up asserts:

Google was tracking iPhones? That suggests the location scandal that came up last year. In reality, Google’s not tracking phones. It’s tracking what some people might do within the Safari browser, both on the phone and on the desktop. In fact, I’m pretty perplexed about why the iPhone aspect is being played up so much. This seems far more likely to have impacted more people using Safari on the desktop. I’m not alone in feeling some things are being trumped up in the headline and opening paragraphs — see also John Battelle’s take, as well as MG Siegler.

These are big names. But none of these individuals are working at Google on the team responsible for the thorn bush blunder.

Several points:

  1. Is there a theme evident in Google’s missteps? Whether the shadow of Google on the Apple Board of Directors or the Buzz flap is affecting me, I discern a pattern of action-reaction-apology and then the Hegelian cycle repeats. I must be alone in this perception.
  2. Do commercial enterprises have an obligation to hold themselves to a higher standard? I find it somewhat disconcerting that financial institutions, pharmaceutical companies, and, yes, even online services routinely take actions that require apologies. Without consequences, are we creating a situation where alleged problems are the outcome, not value?
  3. Which of the pundits are sufficiently clever to keep up with the actions of programmers who are really clever? I can’t describe my work experiences in detail, but I know that clever does not equal good judgment. Once again, am I the only person who is growing tired of clever?

Fortunately I am too old, infirm, and jaded to expect that appropriate or ethical behavior will become the norm. As my old favorite boring writer said:

A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.—William James, 1842-1910. Not known to be a user of Google’s services or an Apple device equipped with Safari.

Stephen E Arnold, February 19, 2012

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