Google explains 'the meaning of open'

Tue 22 December 2009 14:00, Barry Adams

Google explains 'the meaning of open'

In light of recent concerns about Google's (lack of) regard for privacy sparked by the global roll-out of personalized search, the open letter from Jonathan Rosenberg (Google's senior VP of Product Management) published yesterday is meaningful. The letter entitled 'The meaning of open' is an effort to explain Google's attitude towards open technology and open information.

One sentence in particular early in the letter, which Mr. Rosenberg expands on later, is especially interesting: "Open information means that when we have information about users we use it to provide something that is valuable to them, we are transparent about what information we have about them, and we give them ultimate control over their information." (emphasis added)

The basis of Google's approach to open systems is that 'open systems win': "In an open system, a competitive advantage doesn't derive from locking in customers, but rather from understanding the fast-moving system better than anyone else and using that knowledge to generate better, more innovative products."

By Rosenberg's own admission Google isn't quite there yet, but apparently this letter is an effort to "start working to close the gap between reality and aspiration."

It's a long but good read, and the optimist in me wants to take this at face value and feel all warm and fuzzy inside that Google is looking out for our best interests.

The cynic in me however can only view this as a smart piece of PR, perhaps even damage mitigation, aimed against critics of its pervasive presence and unrivalled power over its users' browsing experience.

Having said that, many companies collect abundant personal data and use it for a wide variety of purposes. Google is one of the few who appears to be open and honest about it, thus subjecting themselves to fiercer criticism but at the same time making us all aware of how transparent and potentially vulnerable our online lives have become.

You can read the full letter here.

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