Kimihiro Hoshino/AFP/Getty Images
The Google logo is seen at the Google headquarters in Mountain View, California. on September 2, 2011. AFP PHOTO/KIMIHIRO HOSHINO (Photo credit should read KIMIHIRO HOSHINO/AFP/Getty Images)
It's actually neither. Rather, it's Google being Google. The mighty search colossus missed earnings badly the other day. Meanwhile, Apple just crushed it, earnings-wise. And of course the Facebook IPO looms. Google can't be content to operate like the world's greatest technology lab anymore. It needs to leverage what it's great at or lose out to the competition.
Unfortunately, this is all happening at a time when people are figuring out that privacy — or to put it another way, identity — is the coin of the realm online. This is not your father's Internet, as Yahoo and its ongoing corporate identity crisis have proven. Facebook is capitalizing on the fact that new users don't care as much about privacy as older users. The Facebook Era will be precariously post-privacy.
This bothers a lot of people because although they depend on the Web and use many of Google's products, they haven't really thought through what more intelligent technology really means. The engineers are waaayyy out in front on this one. Google created a cute little cartoon to explain its privacy changes. It culminates with an orchestrated suite of Google products — Gmail, Calendar, Maps — preventing you from missing a meeting.
It was pretty clear to me when Google rolled out Google Plus as a Facebook competitor that integration was the company's true killer app. If you have a single identity across all Google products, then you'll definitely have a superior Google experience. This helps you to get things done.
Compare this with Facebook, where your identity is basically the thing that puts everything in motion. Google is using its power in search, primarily, to reverse-engineer this state of affairs in its own ecosystem. Crucially, Google wants this view of privacy to be exported to its Android mobile experience, because that's where it's going to be doing battle with Apple.
Can you opt out? Nope. But you can nuke your relationship with Google — a drastic step that many users may not want to take, although not according to an informal Washington Post poll, which found that A LOT of users will shut down their Google Account over this change.
For some new Internet and mobile companies, this may be a competitive opportunity. As good as Google is, there are lots of folks who dislike all this glorious sharing. If companies can figure out ways to make money while being obsessive about privacy — and there are social networks that are built on this distinctly anti-Facebook premise — then they'll have if not a better mousetrap, then one that they have more personal control over.
Still, it's pretty clear what going on here. Google is going to the mattresses. Begun it has, the privacy war.