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Google: We avoid hiring too many smart people...

...to keep everyone else in line

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Supernova Google vice president Bradley Horowitz has indicated the web giant avoids hiring too many talented minds in an effort to keep the rest of the tech world from going to ruin.

The setting was the annual Supernova tech pow-wow in San Francisco, California, where Harvard professor and Berkman Center for Internet & Society co-director Jonathan Zittrain walked the gathered tech heads through a condensed list of the pitfalls facing purveyors of so-called cloud computing.

These ranged from mass user data loss along the lines of Microsoft's Sidekick snafu, to the sort of philosophical quandary that enveloped Amazon when its Kindle ebook reader flushed George Orwell down an Orwellian memory hole.

And at the end of it all, Horowitz was asked how Google manages to navigate this ever-changing online landscape.

Naturally, he responded with the usual boiler plate about the saintliness of the company's leaders. "The management at Google, in my experience, is extremely truthful and principled about these things," he said. "Issues aren't relegated to a policy department. My management cares passionately about this, and in fact, they're intimately involved in discussing [these issues] in the hallways of Google."

But he also likes it that there are people outside the company questioning its policies. "I'm equally glad that there are scholars who think about this stuff and keep us as an industry - Google and Amazon and others - quite honest and on our toes," he said. "These issues require a lot of deep thought, and we're grateful for those in Google and those beyond Google to continue this discussion."

Apparently, Google is so concerned with others keeping it on its toes, it avoids hiring too many of the industry's leading brains. "I recently had a discussion with an engineer at Google and I pointed out a handful of people that I thought were fruitful in the industry and I proposed that we should hire these people," Horowitz told today's conference.

"But [the engineer] stopped me and said: 'These people are actually important to have outside of Google. They're very Google people that have the right philosophies around these things, and it's important that we not hire these guys. It's better for the ecosystem to have an honest industry, as opposed to aggregating all this talent at Google.'"

Read that again. It's worth it.

Bootnote

All we can do at this point is go back to Jonathan Zittrain, who is one of the few people to speak the truth about Amazon's Orwellian memory hole. He praised Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos for so openly apologizing for deleting copies of Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm from user Kindles because they were sold without the approval of the copyright holder. But rightly, he pointed out that Amazon was remiss in saying that the company will never do it again.

"It's one of the best apologies I've ever read. It's a great apology," Zittrain said. "The problem is what Amazon said after this, which was that it would never do something like that again. It made me feel great - until I realized they'd lied to people. What happens if the government forces them to? When a federal judge knocks on the door in Seattle and says: 'Here's the order that says you must delete X or X page from this work because it infringes copyright, because it's defamatory, etc.'

"Can you imagine if Amazon responded with: 'Well, we promised we wouldn't do that'?"

Amazon has shown they can do it. And now they can be forced to. As we've said before. ®

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