Google needs a new CEO, but dumping Sundar Pichai is not enough
Glenn Harlan Reynolds, Opinion columnist
Published 1:06 p.m. ET Aug. 14, 2017
David Brooks is right. In the wake of his atrocious mishandling of the James Damore matter, Google CEO Sundar Pichai must go. Damore authored a moderate proposal, stressing that he supported diversity and thought that people should be treated as individuals, while offering some suggestions as to why Google’s efforts to recruit more women techies had failed. Various people (most of whom, as The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf noted, seem not to have read Damore’s actual memo, but rather to have been responding to an imaginary document instead) demanded that Damore be fired. CEO Sundar Pichai complied and gave Damore the boot. For this egregious piece of mob-induced misjudgment, Pichai must go. But that’s the least of the problems for Google, and Silicon Valley.
Since its 1990s heyday, Silicon Valley has transformed from an unruly collection of aggressive upstarts disrupting existing industries to a flabby collection of near-monopolies, now busy enforcing gentry-liberal norms on their employees and customers. Whether it’s censoring right-leaning political figures, or firing employees who dare say something truthful but politically incorrect, there’s not much of the old startup spirit there. These are flabby overstaffed Big Business corporations, run by their HR departments. You might find more dynamism at General Motors, these days.
But worse yet, they exercise tremendous power and require tremendous trust. When you use Facebook or Google (or Twitter, or Amazon, or Netflix) you’re sharing a lot of data with a company that you have to trust won’t abuse that. It’s much harder to trust a company that has decided to aggressively pursue thoughtcrime. …
Can you trust a self-driving car from Google, if some new company policy might reprogram it to avoid events Google doesn’t approve? Can you trust Google to prevent its (apparently many) “social-justice warrior” employees from trawling through your personal data looking for dirt, and then leaking it?
As Robert Tracinski writes, this is the big danger for Google: “The most dangerous part is that they are now beginning to be seen by the public (or revealed, depending on how you look at it) as politicized entities. Politicized entities to whom we are giving enormous amounts of data on our lives, thoughts and interests.”
Politicking at Silicon Valley companies has been going on for a couple of decades and change. The first blatant example I saw was in 1992, when then high-flyers Tandem Computers and Silicon Graphics hosted speeches by Bill Clinton. Their CEOs would have done better by their companies had they paid better attention to changes in the computer marketplace they served! Ironically, Google probably now occupies some buildings once occupied by Silicon Graphics.
I started noticing possible political games in Google search results 10 or 12 years ago. Search results would randomly includes malware warnings with entries for long established conservative sites. It seemed to die down, though claims of results tampering have persisted. But now, James Damore. As Reynolds has suggested, Google may be bringing on itself a crisis of trust.
Several years ago, after Mozilla hung its CEO out to dry until he resigned, the market share decline for Firefox became a plummet (Google’s Chrome was the beneficiary). I was one who bailed on FF, and have not used it since. The same thing could, to a significant degree, happen to Google. In the Land of Search Engines, Microsoft’s Bing and Duck Duck Go work very well; Yahoo! might work well too, I just haven’t used it in over 15 years.
Browsers are a bit more complicated. MS has IE and Edge (Win10 only); Apple has Safari; there’s Opera, Iron, and several other more obscure browsers. An Apple-phile family member doesn’t use Safari, because of limitations related to Apple’s world famous control-freak-itis. I’ve tried Opera, and found it clunky and limiting. I used Iron, and found it mostly OK, but I’m not sure whether it’s still strong and viable. I could revert to IE, and might yet on my work computer. At home I’m using Edge, and finding it satisfactory.
And then there’s Gmail. I switched to that long ago to get off the ISP email address merry-go-round of having a new email address every time we changed ISPs. Finding and switching to another such “free” email provider (I’m not convinced of Yahoo!'s continued viability) will take longer.
I doubt I’m alone in bailing from Google.