This isn’t about Google Reader or Google Keep (though I do like this take on the latter). I ran across this story on the Y Combinator Twitter feed the other day, and this is the first chance I’ve had to blog it; I would like to see it get more attention.
In brief, there is a company called the Knife Depot that sells knives online. I have never bought anything from the Knife Depot, but that’s just because I haven’t been buying a lot of knives online; I certainly have not heard anything bad about the company.
The Knife Depot also had a Google Adwords account, which brought in “a good slice of its revenue”.
The Knife Depot sells what are commonly known as “assisted opening” knives. These are not switchblades, but knives that can be opened with one hand by applying pressure on a part of the knife. (The Knife Depot blog has a good video explaining the difference between “assisted opening” and “switchblade” knives.) Obviously, “assisted opening” knives are very useful things if you’re missing an arm, or frequently operate in situations where you only have one hand free, or have certain physical disabilities, or just like knives. “Assisted opening” knives are legal pretty much everywhere in the United States, including New York City (in spite of what the criminals who run NYC believe).
However, somebody in the Google Adwords department got bent out of shape and told the Knife Depot: either stop selling “assisted opening” knives, or lose your Adwords account.
Note that Google didn’t just say “you can’t advertise these knives using Adwords”. Even if the Knife Depot agreed not to use Adwords to advertise “assisted opening” knives, Google would still yank their Adwords account if they continued to sell those knives on their site.
The Knife Depot, being good and honorable people, told Google to take their Adwords account and stick it where the sun don’t shine.
“So what?” you say. “Google is a private business and can set whatever policies they want for Adwords. Why get bent out of shape over this?”
Here’s why: at the same time Google was threatening the Knife Depot, Google continued to allow Adwords advertising of “assisted opening” knives from other vendors. Like Amazon. And Wal-Mart. And Bass Pro Shops. I believe Google is still allowing Adwords advertising of “assisted opening” knives from those vendors, based on the results of a Google search for “Kershaw knives” done as I was writing this post.
Yes, this is hypocritical and evil. So much so that the Knife Depot blog entry quotes an email from a Google employee who called out the policy discrepancy, requested an explanation of why other vendors were allowed to use Adwords and the Knife Depot was not…and never got a reply.
I’ve had it in my head to do a post about Android/iPhone based on some things said in recent podcasts. I may still do that, though time has sort of gotten past me. The key thing that bothers me is that some people seem to prefer Android/Google because “Google does a better job of knowing about me”, without realizing that’s a problem. You are giving your information to a company that, to be polite, hasn’t proven it can be trusted with it. The Knife Depot is just example #947 of why Google hasn’t proven that.
I commented to someone, back a decade ago, that we didn’t have to worry about the government or big corporations invading our privacy without our consent; we’d happily give up our privacy for 75 cents off a box of Pop-Tarts. It is worse than I thought ten years ago; now we’re giving up our privacy for…what, exactly? A substitute notepad application? A free copy of The Da Vinci Code?