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Hook Humility: Matt Cutts Got Me This Time

I love to compete, but I don’t hate to lose. I love to see challengers challenge, and winners win. This time, via clever but admittedly deserved hook-humility, Matt has set himself above the crowd once again. Kudos to Matt Cutts; he’s right.

Background: Hook-Humility is that age old trick of saying something humble just to get someone else to tell you it isn’t true (and thus, stroke your ego). It goes on all around you. Classic example: “Do I look fat in this?“, asks the perfectly fit high fashion girlfriend of her overweight shopping buddy.

So what did Matt say this time? Well, in a carefully-worded private opinion called “Google and Privacy“, Matt explains how he feels Google works hard to protect our privacy. According to Matt, Google works harder than other corporations to prevent the sort of privacy-invading commercialization of our Internet use and computer search data we worry about these days. For example, Matt notes:

My short answer is that from working at Google for the last 7-8 years, I’ve seen firsthand how much Google works to protect users’ privacy. I personally believe that we take more precautions and safeguards than any other major search engine.

Matt notes that Google was the only one of 30+ companies to resist a subpoena by the Department of Justice last year for search data, and that Google’s legal team won the right to not disclose user data. He’s right. They did.

Matt also notes that Google doesn’t require more than an email address and password to sign up for Google accounts. He’s right. They don’t.

Matt then goes on to compare Google to ISPs, the companies that actually know your clickstream data. Those companies like Comcast and Verizon and Qwest actually know everything about what you do and also know your credit card data, and thus your true identity. If you worry about privacy, suggests Matt, don’t worry about Google who knows only your email address, but worry about the ISP that knows and may even sell your clickstream data. And again, Matt’s right.

But then there’s the hook. The part that makes me say, “But Matt, you’re much smarter and more capable than the Verizons and Qwests of the world“. Damn. He got me. I’m complimenting Matt and Google, openly admitting how smart and capable they are. That’s the hook humility. Google is a great company. Verizon sucks, and everybody knows it. Comcast? Geesh. Do we need to even talk about them? And Qwest? The company that double-confirmed my business DSL line was installed and operational, when in fact there wasn’t even a cable connecting the entire office building to the Qwest network? And Earthlink? I don’t worry about them having my clickstream data, Matt. They wouldn’t know what to do with it, even if they could do something with it. But Google? Heh heh heh. Come on Matt. Google is wicked smart.

Yes Google fought the DOJ. But Google did it to protect Google from disclosing details of Google, right? Google only asks for an email address, true, but Google knows your IP number and Google has tons of cookie and toolbar data, so it can probably figure out the rest, no? Google could buy most ISP’s with pocket change, let alone make offers for clickstream data that cannot be refused. Hell Google could pick up GoDaddy (a privately held company) if it wanted to, and get all that domain activity data. Bob Parson’s seems edgy of late. I bet it’s available.

You see Matt, we hold you and your colleagues to a higher standard. You’re not an ISP, you’re Google. We don’t worry about you having access to our data. We worry because of what you have become capable of with your massive powers and near-monopoly status as a definer of the Internet experience for so many users. Everyone can buy guns, but we don’t fear everyone. We fear the crazy ones who are clearly capable of killing. We don’t want them to have guns, because it would be so likely that they would kill us.

When Matt compares Google to an ISP, it’s clever hook humility and it works. I admit it – Google is a very powerful, capable company of brilliant people, capable of amazing things. And you, too, Matt. You’re a great personality, friendly and thoughtful, and a good listener. You represent Google well, and do a bang up job walking the fine line between public relations, investor relations, and customer support. Even in the face of fire, you do well. And spin? I hate to impart intent, as that’s a double-edged sword I never want to see wielded by Google. Kudos to you, and the Google machine for having garnered so much forward momentum you’re basically unstoppable on your way to bigger bijillions that Microsoft, IBM, and even GE someday. But I don’t trust you Google, and that’s the bottom line.

Trust. That’s the only real tool we have. You know it, and I know it. Google wants to measure trust as a means of controlling search spam, and to maintain the advertising market it has helped create and dominate. We all need to know how we can trust a company as large, powerful, and wicked smart as Google. Yes, it would be worse if Google was openly evil, I agree. But is that really the point?

The best part comes last. There is hope. I may not trust you, Matt and Google, but I do have faith in your abilities. If you really want to show me that I can trust Google with the power it has, don’t show me how Google looks good compared to less capable, more evil companies. Show me how Google uses it’s power and brains to actually secure my personal data, not only from abuse by Google but abuse by anybody. Show me how Google rewards me for my trust, by helping the world advance the Internet to protect everyone from abuse, and encourage everyone to participate. Show me that Google is not only not-evil, but good. Even better, since you’ve got all those Ph.D.’s over there, prove it.

I look forward to the day. Maybe that’s what the FYIFV employees should do for giggles in the second third of their professional lives… form a foundation to advance the Internet along these lines and make it a safe place for everyone to trust. It would be great for business, for society, and even for Google.

References: I apologize for not providing an Internet link to a definition of hook humility, but it seems I already rank #1 in Google for it, so that would be redundant anyway. I have to give credit to Brother Harold at Chaminade High School, my first Creative Writing instructor, for introducing me to the term. I still remember my “11 common linking verbs” along with so many other aspects of that inspiring 9th grade class in creative writing.

One Comment

  1. When I read Matt’s post I noticed he concentrated on Google protecting my privacy from outside companies. To tell the truth, I’m not so concerned with that. My concern as an SEO / Competitive Webmaster is what are they doing with the data internally.

    I want to know things like what divisions have access to my personal data. Can the webspam team access my Web History? Can the adwords abuse team access my gmail? etc…

    Thursday, April 26, 2007 at 7:51 am | Permalink