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Larry Page's "Owner's Manual" for Google shareholders - his preface to the company's S1 document - has been quietly demoted in an amendment published on Monday. The letter defended the proposed company's 'dual class' ownership structure, which concentrates power not with ordinary shareholders but with the current management, and warned investors that Google would disclose only the very minimum of financial information required by law. ("We would prefer not to be asked to make such predictions," wrote Page). The founders also included some cosmic gwana-gwana with headings such as "MAKING THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE" and "DON'T BE EVIL".

Sickly stuff indeed, but now less so. Instead of introducing the S1, this letter has been demoted to page 26.

The preface divided pundits roughly into two camps. It was praised by people who really want Google to be something special, perhaps even transformative, and bottom-line commentators those who think scrutiny should be applied evenly to everyone. So geeks and fan-bloggers lauded it, while business commentators were less kind. We thought it sounded like the New Seekers' Coke jingle, The Observer advised a complete rewrite and The San Francisco Chronicle compared it to Mother Teresa, while others noted that it entirely lacked a business plan.

There are other details to note. As we wrote earlier, Merrill Lynch has been given the boot. Google says that it hasn't, as earlier suggested, outsourced its administrative infrastructure, which it earlier said involved "sensitive interactions between us and our users, advertisers and members of our Google network". Perhaps co-incidentally, it's beefed up the warning about privacy concerns damaging the Google brand. Google had to clarify its privacy policy in the wake of complaints about its proposed Gmail service, so this is no time to be seen to be allowing sensitive data to slip offshore.

Brandt to join Google Ethics Committee? Er, no...

The New York Times report contained one fact which intrigued us. It attributed the Googlebomb that Google Watch's Daniel Brandt created - search for "out of touch executives", or "out of touch management" - to Google's own staff.

"There was an indication yesterday that Google's vaunted corporate culture may be under stress as a result of competition and the stock offering. As of yesterday afternoon, typing the words "out of touch management" into Google caused the search engine to list as its first result a page describing the company's top management," wrote the Times. "A person close to the company said that Google employees had engaged in the practice of 'Google bombing'."

That Brandt had created this Googlebomb is no secret: he described how he did it in public forums, noting its progress. We wrote about it when it exploded, or reached No.1, back in March. Had Brandt, we wondered, become a Google employee?

Actually, no.

Although it's not as absurd as it sounds. If Google wants the public to take its Ethics Committee seriously, Brandt should be the first call it makes. Issues of access to information (the gateway will be increasingly privatized, if Google has its way), privacy and transparency aren't specific to the young Mountain View company - they'll be justifiably asked of anyone with such market clout and such an efficient data collection operation. Google just happens to be the biggest today. But somehow, we suspect that should Google's founders decide that Google's own employees lack public credibility for dealing with ethical issues, they'll call not for Brandt, but for Vint Cerf or Esther Dyson - who both share the founders' enthusiasm for space travel. ®

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Google ethics committee revealed
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