Commentary on Openness according to Google


In this blog post Jonathan Rosenberg, Senior Vice President, Product Management of Google comments on his vison of the term ‘open’ as it is used by Google. He makes a case for open systems (or business models) and claims they will win over closed business models. Like practiced by competitor Apple.


At Google we believe that open systems win. They lead to more innovation, value, and freedom of choice for consumers, and a vibrant, profitable, and competitive ecosystem for businesses.

In order to explain Googles vison on openness Rosenberg makes a distinction between Open Technology and Open Information and explains how Google treats these areas. Let me shortly discuss them as well and give some critical side remarks by Rosenbergs assertions.

Open Technology breaks down into Open Source and Open Standards. Open standard are standards for ICT services that are available for everyone. The most famous example is TCP/IP, which makes the web possible. Google is committed to using open standards and to improving them when needed. The term ´Open Source´ relates to software of which the source code is made publicly available, so that software developers around the world can use and improve on it. A third way to be open is to provide Application Programming Interfaces, not allowing developers to have access to the source code of an application but allowing to make add-ons and mash-ups to it. Where creating Open Standards and Open Source are ways to be completely open, API´s allow a position in between.

Rosenberg correctly asserts that Google is committed to stimulate open source, as is evidenced by the Google Code project. At the same time many of Google´s critical products and services (Page Rank, AdSense and even the new Google Chrome) are not Open Source at all. Apparently rather than making profit by being open as Rosenberg claims Google does, Google tries to strike a critical balance between being open and keeping secrets when needed. This is in itself not a crime – it may be better than more closed systems- but it would be interesting to find out what the trade-offs are that Google faces in this struggle.

Open Information relates to the idea that more and more information is shared and made accessible by services such as Google offers. Rosenberg explains that this has value but carries privacy difficulties as well. Google is sometimes accused of Big Brother behavior because it stores a lot of data about its users for a long time. According to Rosenberg three principles guide Google´s position towards information privacy. Transparency: the user should be able to know what information is stored about him by Google. Value: the user should be explained (in clear language) why Google needs this information. Control: the user should be able to control whether Google stores state or not.

The policy and the initiatives (in particular the Data Liberation Front) come across as sympathetic. There is however a difficulty with the ‘you know what we store’, ‘we really need it’, ‘you can always turn it off’ mantra. Much of the value Google creates for its end users depends strongly on its personalization, which depends in turn on the data that has been stored: so storing data is a good idea from a user perspective. At the same time, the money Google makes is dependent on the value it creates for third parties using the same user data. Google´s business model is dependent on its ‘matchmaking’ quality between users and advertisements. Rosenberg sees this matchmaking as value for users but this is where privacy is most at stake. However there is a third option that is not discussed. You can allow users the option ‘please store my data’ but do not use it to provide value for others that I do not know or trust (advertisers). In order to provide this option Google needs a business model that depends on charging end users. I am curious to find out whether we can be surprised by a innovative business model on this part.


2 Responses to “Commentary on Openness according to Google”

  1. 1 Collateral Damage of the Robots Race (on the Web) « @koenvanturnhout MacroBlog
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