What Google Could Learn From Tod Browning’s Freaks

Google could learn a lot from Tod Browning’s 1932 horror film Freaks.

“One Of Us! One Of Us!”

The plot of Freaks is driven by Cleo, a selfish trapeze artist who seduces a little person sitting atop a large inherited fortune.

The secret plan is to marry Hans, murder him, then run away with the money–and the circus strongman.

Despite Cleo’s outward normalcy — the other circus freaks resolve to accept her as one of their own in a bizarre show of community, compassion, and respect for Hans’ feelings toward her.

At Cleo and Hans’ wedding reception, their generosity frightens and disgusts the drunken Cleo. She explodes with rage and reveals her true colors.

Cleo is riding high after making everyone else feel really bad about themselves. But things don’t go well for Cleo in the end…

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think Google plans to murder us or have extramarital affairs with circus strongman.

However, I do think Google needs to re-evaluate how their company views their customers — and our privacy concerns — before it’s too late.

Secrets Are For Bad People

Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt, made his philosophy about end-user privacy very clear in his interview with CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo last December:

“If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” – Eric Schmidt

Is that the viewpoint of Google? Looking at the mess that was Buzz, it certainly seem so.

Only bad people keep secrets, right? Otherwise, who wouldn’t want the world to know who they email with and what they talk about?

Buzzing About Privacy

Privacy isn’t about being good or being bad — it’s about the right of each individual person to choose when, where, and how we reveal intimate knowledge about ourselves.

Working quickly to address people’s privacy concerns about Buzz is a nice gesture, but deeper work appears to be called for–and Google’s product management team can help.

Don’t Throw That Drink

Google has admitted to not doing enough real-world testing on Buzz before making it widely available. If that’s the case, Google’s Trusted Tester program might help shake out privacy issues like this before they become headlines.

If Buzz comes from the start-up culture of Minimum Viable Products, then the PMs may want to re-evaluate the benefits of MVP versus the potential hit Google’s brand takes from a string of products with bad buzz. Because a “beta” tag isn’t bulletproof shielding when you’re a company that people expect great things from.

Lastly — and most darkly — if Buzz wasn’t so much a mistake as it was part of a deliberate scheme to slowly whittle away our expectations to a right to privacy … because, ultimately, Google can profit more, the more they know about us… then it’s time for the PMs at Google to take a good, long look in the mirror and fight for some cultural and philosophical changes within their organization.

Otherwise, inevitably, Google will end up throwing that drink in all our faces, and then have to deal with the legal, financial, and political consequences.

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1 thought on “What Google Could Learn From Tod Browning’s Freaks”

  1. Oh ho! Smells like a conspiracy theory, does it?

    Actually I was thinking along those same lines. Both Google and Facebook seem to be pushing everyone to share more publicly. Only in this case, Google was playing catch up and opted to use their users’ data in a secondary manner to help turboboost the system.

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