Google sinks from 'Don't be Evil' to 'Do what I tell you or else'

First wholesale invasion of privacy, now extortion-y pressure on Android developers? Don't be what?

Far be it from me to criticize anyone for trying grow beyond the trivial priorities and ethos of their youth, but there's such a strong smell of I-told-you-so coming from the moving crate marked "Google: Don't Be Evil" that it would be harder to say nothing than to point out the source.

According to Reuters (and half a dozen other sites, all of which posted almost identical "exclusive" stories at about the same time yesterday), Google is pressuring Android developers to use its insecure, unpopular Google Wallet rather than less-expensive alternative digital-payment plans.

Developers that sign up with alternative services such as PayPal, Zong or Boku risk having their apps bounced from Android Market, which Google just renamed Google Play because the original name was too well known and its meaning too intuitive.

Unnamed developer sources told Reuters that Google wants to make digital payments simpler by eliminating other methods of payment in the hope that the number of Android apps users buy will rise.

Google Wallet charges developers more per transaction than some other methods, according to Reuters, meaning that app developers agreeing to exclusivity give up some of the revenue they'd get from Android apps, the market for which is a fraction that of the competing market for iOS apps.

Google charges developers 30 percent of revenue per transaction to use Google Wallet.

"Although this move by Google might seem high-handed, it reduces the friction for purchases inside Android apps and therefore makes users more valuable," according to Reuters' quote from Google-defending Hugo Troche, chief executive of network-management app Appsperse.

Sounds like spin to me, as does the sentence noting that even Google's PR spokespeople declined to comment.

Another named source – Si Shen, CEO of social gaming network Papaya – told Reuters it would be better for Android developers to have a choice, but that her company will follow the rules Google sets in order to maintain a good relationship with Google.

"It's very important to the business," she said, only unintentionally sounding like a schoolkid rationalizing why it's important not to anger the school bully by telling teachers who might be able to intervene.

Do bullies get credit for honesty when victims are too afraid to contradict them?

Other sources agreed that having just one payment mechanism would make the experience of buying apps for Android more consistent and intuitive and might increase sales and, ultimately the success of the Android apps market as well as individual developers.

While Google's defenders say the move "might" look high-handed, from the perspective of anyone not interested in keeping on Google's good side, there's no "might" about it.

Decreeing that ISVs use only your in-house payment service – one whose security is so filled with show stopping flaws it could silence half of Broadway all by itself – is engaging in the kind of anti-competitive behavior federal prosecutors like to point out as examples of a company abusing its monopoly power.

Google Wallet is certainly not a monopoly; neither is Android Market. The latter has too few friends to qualify; the former has too few friends to form a posse, let alone a monopoly.

Google as a whole, on the other hand, holds tremendous power in both the Android market and the mobile market in general.

Has Google given up on 'Don't be Evil?' Why even ask?

Monopoly or not, pressuring ISVs to use its in-house payment service or risk losing their spot in what is supposed to be a relatively open market is an abuse of power that demonstrates the thread of selfish self interest that usually underlies the kinds of corporate activities one might describe as "evil," even when the company involved has promised not to go there.

All by itself that one bit of stink might not foul the rest of Google, but ther has been plenty of stench from other areas in the Googleplex as the quintessential Internet company gives up the idea that customer privacy is important, decides it's fine to punish other companies for your operating system's wonky security, urging others to trust a market thicker with thieves than Wall Street and Congress combined and pretending to respect personal boundaries while undermining and bypassing them while claiming it had a right to do so.

That very abbreviates list of recent offenses seem less like a series of individual decisions than it does a fundamental shift in the ethical stance of a company that no longer has enough integrity to claim to have ever had one.

But, according to the Supreme Court, corporations are people, and people change. They outgrow the principles they embraced during their early years, find themselves hemmed in by rules about the use of power they endorsed before gathering enough power to abuse. They find the requirements of the moment simply don't fit within the ethical frameworks they once considered the difference between themselves and the disreputable mob of corrupt, exploitive Corporate-Americans against whose abusive culture they once rebelled.

Big corporations, like the people who found and lead them, outgrow their innocence, become impatient trying to fit within the boundaries of the Straight and Narrow and end up deciding they still hold dear the principles of their youth, but simply can't afford to act like a kid anymore: naïve; innocent; honest; honorable; not-evil.

If corporations are people and have the same rights as other people, it's understandable that even those most proud of their principles and integrity will eventually fall from grace and – more out of nostalgic embarrassment over their fading innocence than any explicit decision – take down the banner reading Don't Be Evil. After a couple of days, or a couple of deals, they won't even remember it was there and, if you asked them, would say no one else does, either.

By the time they get to the point of taking down the sign they've left the principle so far behind it doesn't occur to them their younger selves may not be the only ones who thought the idea was important.

Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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