Google’s head of public policy and government relations pushed the ‘don’t be evil’ line at last night’s Amnesty International social media event, with emphasis on user power and responsible company behaviour.
“We live or die by the trust our users have in our services,” Susan Pointer told the audience of human rights, technology and media workers gathered to discuss the positive and negative uses of technology for democracy.
Also speaking were the Guardian’s digital media research editor, Kevin Anderson; Annabelle Sreberny, professor of global media and communication at SOAS; and author and blogger Andrew Keen: who spoke from the US via an iPhone held up to the mic by the event chair, BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones.
“[A] very important thing to understand about the way our business operates is that our users choose to use it,” Pointer later told Journalism.co.uk.
“We don’t have a contract with our users that ties them into our services. They haven’t invested a lot of money in our software packages.
“The way we keep our users is by continuing to provide good, leading edge innovative services: they’re free at the click of a mouse to choose an alternative to Google.”
Providing valuable services for users keeps the search giant – which owns YouTube as well as running a host of other products – on its toes, she said.
Improving the transparency of the recently launched social media application Google Buzz was one such reaction to user complaints, she added.
When the company realised improvements could be made, they were implemented, she said: “that’s something we did within hours and not days.”
While Pointer argued that no user information was ever revealed before an individual went through the Buzz set-up process, she said it had been necessary to make changes to the visibility of the user controls.
The addition of Buzz to the Google Dashboard allowed even greater user control over settings, she argued.
On Google’s approach to China she would not be drawn beyond the company’s most recent blog post, which explained its decision to stop censoring the Chinese language Google search service: “We no longer felt comfortable self-censoring results on Google.cn.”
The company is currently “discussing the possibility of continuing the Google.cn service without such censorship”.
“We’re not going to give a running commentary on where discussions are, but we want those discussions to be in good faith.”
Listen to Pointer talking to the Amnesty UK audience via AudioBoo:
On privacy, Google Buzz and customising advertising: