Google’s not making things easy for themselves. Many people want to like the search giant for the great search engine it offers and all the cool things it builds. But Google makes so many mishaps, from small oversights to major PR catastrophes, that even their most dedicated fans are having a hard time staying loyal.
2012 has been a hallmark year for Google, when the world woke up to the fact that Google is just another profit-chasing corporation. Its products and services are not there purely for the betterment of mankind, but there’s a growing element of commercialisation inherent in Google’s offerings.
For SEOs and digital marketers, this has of course been blatantly obvious for years. For the general public, not as much. But 2012 changed that, through a range of media storms that caught the world’s attention.
Below I’ve listed the 34 perception-altering events that befell Google in 2012:
02 Jan: Chrome Link Buying Google is caught buying links to promote its Chrome browser, a practice which is against their own search quality guidelines.
10 Jan: Selling Illegal Ads After expensive legal settlements for earlier offenses in 2005, 2009 and 2011, Google is yet again caught selling AdWords ads for illegal products, including cannabis, fake IDs, and fake Olympic tickets.
10 Jan: Search Plus Your World Google launches ‘Search Plus Your World’ and is greeted by widespread criticism for favouring its own Google+ product and decreasing search result relevance.
13 Jan: Google Kenya caught in SME scam Google’s ‘Getting Kenyan Businesses Online’ programme is caught red-handed scamming small businesses.
16 Jan: Open Street Maps Vandalism Google contractors are caught vandalising Open Street Map data.
25 Jan: The Google Sting A WSJ article reveals more damning details of Google’s business practices that lead to the 2011 $500m DOJ settlement.
02 Feb: Google Maps fined in France A French court convicts Google of abuse of its dominant market position with its Maps service and fines it €500,000. Google appeals the judgment.
17 Feb: iPhone Tracking Google is caught circumventing Safari’s built-in privacy settings to place tracking cookies in mobile users’ browsers.
20 Feb: Internet Explorer Tracking In light of the 17 Feb iPhone tracking issue, Microsoft investigates how Google’s tracking cookies behave in their Internet Explorer browser and discover a similar problem.
30 Mar: Expedia files an antitrust complaint Online travel agency Expedia accuses Google of breaching EU rules with a formal complaint to EU antitrust regulators.
03 Apr: TripAdvisor complains to EU about Google Holiday review site TripAdvisor joins travel firm Expedia and 11 others in accusing the search giant of abusing its dominant position in Europe.
03 Apr: Australian court find Google ads ‘misleading and deceptive’ The Australian Federal Court has found Google guilty of allowing false and misleading advertising and orders it to institute a compliance programme. Google is considering an appeal.
16 Apr: Google fined by FCC for impeding investigation The Federal Communications Commission fines Google $25k for deliberately impeding a US investigation into its collection of wireless network data for its Street View project.
27 Apr: Google under investigation in Argentina and Korea A regulatory filing reveals Google’s business practices are under investigation by the Argentinan antitrust agency and the South Korean Fair Trade Commission.
30 Apr: Shareholder sues Google over stock split Google is being sued by one of its shareholders in an attempt to block the company’s announced stock split, which the shareholder feels would give too much power to Google’s founders.
21 May: EU gives Google last chance to end antitrust concerns The European Commission commissioner has written to Google warning there are four areas “where Google business practices may be considered as abuses of dominance”.
12 June: Google to be investigated over data cover-up claims The UK’s information commissioner launched an investigation into claims that Google orchestrated a cover-up of its capture of emails, passwords and medical records of people in the UK.
22 June: Texas accuses Google of withholding information The Texas attorney general is accusing Google of improperly withholding evidence to hinder an investigation into whether the company has been abusing its dominance of web search.
27 July: Google fails to comply with ICO order After having been ordered in 2010 by the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office to delete all data illegally gathered in its Street View privacy breach, Google admits it has still failed to do so.
08 August: Google criticised for tax avoidance Having paid just £6 million in corporation tax on £395 million of UK profit in 2011, Google once again faces criticism about tax avoidance.
09 August: Google fined over Safari privacy breach Google is to pay a $22.5m fine to the FTC after it circumvented privacy protections on the Safari web browser to track users of Apple’s iPhone, iPad and Mac computers.
21 August: Google fails to comply with Judge’s disclosure order On August 7th Google was ordered to disclose any paid journalists or bloggers writing about the ongoing Oracle-Google patent dispute. Upon receiving Google’s submission, Judge William Alsup stated it failed to comply with the order. Google then filed a new submission on August 24th listing their paid bloggers and commenters.
04 September: Google accused of racial profiling in ad targeting After repeating an experiment conducted by the Huffington Post in 2011, a Telegraph journalist argues Google still uses racial profiling in its Gmail ad targeting. Google vehemently denies the charges.
18 October: Google shares suspended after earnings leak Google’s shares were suspended after its third-quarter earnings results were accidentally released early and showed a radical slowdown in revenue growth.
27 November: GWT security bug re-opens access to old accounts A bug in Google Webmaster Tools allowed previously authenticated accounts renewed access to webmaster tools data. Google fixed the bug approximately 12 hours after initial reports.
28 November: Italy launches a tax investigation against Google Italian police launch a probe in to Google’s tax affairs, investigating an alleged failure to declare over €240 million of income and a potential tax debt of €96 million.
03 December: Google’s tax evasion practices scrutinised The pressure on Google’s tax evasion practices continues to grow as investigations in to how Google minimises its tax payments are launched in Australia and the UK.
10 December: Google’s global tax avoidance scrutinised Bloomberg reports that Google – headquartered in California – has avoided paying over $2bn in taxes by funnelling international revenues to off-shore accounts in Bermuda. When queried about these practices, Google’s chairman Eric Schmidt simply calls it ‘capitalism‘.
12 December: Consumer Watchdog seeks Senate hearing In response to Google’s unapologetic tax avoidance schemes, the American Consumer Watchdog organisation is calling for a Senate hearing to investigate Google’s “morally bankrupt” practices.
19 December: Google given EU anti-trust deadline Google has been given a month by EU regulators to address complaints that its search results unfairly favour Google’s own services. Failing this, Google could face a fine of up to $4bn.
Google Noose image credit: freelance SEO Alex Moss