Why I do not want to work at Google
Kragen Javier Sitaker
kragen at canonical.org
Thu Aug 25 03:37:01 EDT 2011
Google has an orientation that is opposed to my agenda.
I joined the internet in 1992. It was a pretty decentralized place,
and any person on it could set up an online service accessible to any
other person on it; but you pretty much had to write your service in C
(less of a security worry at the time) and it was easy to get in
trouble by bogging down the DECStation you shared with fifty other
people. So it was such a hassle that there were only a few dozen
online services, plus a few thousand FTP sites. As an example, there
were no public porn sites, although there was lots of porn.
A few years later, when the internet hit mainstream, it was a
decentralizing force; server-centric Novell LANs and
mainframe-terminal networks gave way to workstation networks, where
anybody at the company, or anybody with an ISP account, could set up a
web server on their personal workstation with a little trouble.
I started running my own mail and web server when I moved to Ohio in
1997, and I’ve been running one ever since, first alone and later with
half a dozen friends. Until 2001 it was on dialup, which was fine,
although obviously there are limits on how much traffic I could cope
But this rosy picture is complicated by centralizing forces. Apple
wants to relegate websites to second-class status on their popular
computers, and exercises viewpoint censorship on what “apps” they
allow in their “app store”. Google wants you to keep your mail in
Gmail instead of on your home computer (if you kept your mail on your
home computer, you’d keep your backups on your friends’ home
computers), and they’ll delete your account with no recourse if you
admit you’re only 10. Microsoft won’t let you run unsigned device
drivers on your own computer any more. Facebook wants to know every
web page you visit, anywhere on the internet, and log that information
permanently for later analysis.
And email from our little mail server automatically gets dropped into
the spam box on Gmail these days. Not sure why. Apparently our
domain has a “bad reputation”, but even finding that out required an
inside connection; no way to find out more.
I imagine a different future, where if Alice wants to talk to Bob and
Bob wants to talk to Alice, there’s no unaccountable intermediary that
can interfere with their communication, whether they’re speaking text,
or video, or 3-D models, or simulation. If Alice’s email gets marked
as spam, Bob ought to be able to find out why — and fix it! I imagine
a future where every human being can participate in creating the
culture they live in, without needing permission from anybody, and
without fearing repercussions.
We’re a lot closer to that world today than we were in 1992, and the
evidence suggests that it is to that that we owe the collapse of
oppressive regimes throughout the Middle East and Northern Africa; the
revelation and destruction of the nascent government-funded slander
campaign against Glenn Greenwald and other WikiLeaks supporters; and
the public discovery of the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” flights.
If we successfully beat back the global menaces of governmental
corruption, global warming, overfishing, and terrorism, it will be
because we were able to collaborate and organize more effectively
around the world by means of this new medium.
Google, of course, wants to solve these problems too. But it has a
different, less-democratic approach in mind. While of course the
company contains an enormous diversity of opinion internally, their
approach publicly has been somewhat paternalistic, and their
engineering culture is organized around big centralized solutions;
warehouse-scale computing, as the title of Barroso and Hölzle’s
excellent book puts it.
Google’s undemocratic orientation sometimes leads them to impose
policies at odds with my vision of the future. Their “real names”
policy on Google+ is one example; it makes it likely that only people
who feel they have no repercussions to fear from anyone, ever, will
write there. There has been quite a [backlash], but they do not
appear to be interested in compromising.
A rather shocking view of the depth of some Googlers’ commitment to
centralized computing can be found in [Steven Levy’s recent
article][Skype]. After thinking about it for a while, I realized they
were right factually, if not normatively: peer-to-peer overlay
networks are [inherently inefficient] on today’s residential
(Why Google does not own Skype, 2011-05-10, by Steven Levy)
[inherently inefficient]: http://lists.canonical.org/pipermail/kragen-tol/2011-August/000935.html
(“Peer-to-peer overlay networks are a bad idea on a DSL-based internet”, by me, 2011-08-18.)
I believe that warehouse-scale client-server computing will, in the
end, undermine the kind of democratic freedom of communication that we
need to deal with today’s global menaces. It’s more practical than
peer-to-peer computing at the moment, but that pendulum has swung back
and forth several times over the decades. (Some of my friends were
among the first employees of a hot cloud-computing startup, in 1964,
called Tymshare.) The proper response to the current impracticality
of decentralized computing is not to sigh and build centralized
systems. The proper response is to build the systems to *make
decentralized computing practical again*.
Google is not institutionally opposed to this; they’ve funded
substantial and important work on it. Nevertheless, because of their
overall orientation toward centralized solutions with
undemocratically-imposed policies, I believe working there would be a
further distraction from that goal. Worse, with every advance that
companies like Google and Apple make, the higher is the bar that
decentralized systems must leap to achieve real adoption.
I’m not making much progress on that. My friends Len Sassaman (who
committed suicide in the first few days of July), Bram Cohen, Jacob
Appelbaum, and Zooko O’Whielacronx have made substantial
contributions. But I don’t think I’d make *more* progress at Google,
and I might make *negative* progress.
So that’s why I don’t want to work at Google.
More information about the Kragen-tol