Michael Moore’s latest documentary Sicko released this past weekend and although I have yet to see it, the reviews have been highly appreciative and even go to the extent of calling it his best work yet. Even Fox News praised Moore’s maturity as a filmmaker. That is why I was extremely surprised to see Google of all corporations trying to make a quick buck from Sicko’s rare criticisms.
Google’s Health Advertisement Team was trying to sell ads to the flush-with-funds health industry to be shown on the pages for searches related to Sicko. Written by Lauren Turner on an official Google blog, the obvious pandering to the health care industry even mentioned that Sicko “fails to show healthcare’s interest in patient well-being and care.”
While Moore may be cherry-picking his anecdotes to depict the absurdity of the health care industry, even CNN’s fact checking team couldn’t find anything wrong with his claims. You may ask, why would Google even do that? Well, it is quite simple. At the end of the day, it boils down to maximizing your bottomline and generate more revenue even if it is at the cost of your motto, Do No Evil. As a way to counter Sicko‘s claim, Turner makes an offer to the health care industry:
“Many of our clients face these issues; companies come to us hoping we can help them better manage their reputations through “Get the Facts” or issue management campaigns. Your brand or corporate site may already have these informational assets, but can users easily find them?”
So “manage your reputation” effectively means throw more money, buy Google Ads, and out-shout your opponent; not with facts or the natural otherwise democratic process of PageRank (also developed by Google) but instead with buying your way to the top? So should we assume that Google is giving more importance to those search-related ads on the left rather than search results? This issue blew up in their face with Boing Boing and TechCrunch calling them on their hypocrisy and they tried some damage control when Turner tried to explain it away by citing it was her opinion and not Google’s. In that case, what was it doing on Google’s Official Health Advertising blog instead of her personal blog? She also offers this gem – “advertising is a very democratic and effective way to participate in a public dialogue.” Hmmmm…advertising=democracy? Lauren, how much do I pay next time I vote either for President or for digging a news article? Hopefully Google is never contracted for counting ballots (you never know).
I really want to believe in Google’s honorable intentions and respect Larry and Sergey for building a fantastic company. But such acts make me suspicious of their ultimate intentions. In an ideal world, they would do plenty of good, generate good will, organize the world’s information while earning a healthy profit for themselves. But if they simply earn money without adhering to their predetermined objectives to do no evil, then I am afraid I am not with Google. Right now, Larry and Sergey might be calling the shots and this incident might have just slipped through the cracks but what after them?
“In this case, the blog criticized Michael Moore’s new film “Sicko” to suggest how health care companies might use our ad programs when they face controversy. Our internal review of the piece before publication failed to recognize that readers would — properly, but incorrectly — impute the criticisms as reflecting Google’s official position. We blew it.
In fact, Google does share many of the concerns that Mr. Moore expresses about the cost and availability of health care in America. Indeed, we think these issues are sufficiently important that we invited our employees to attend his film (nearly 1,000 people did so).”