Should we hate Google for trying to help?

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We, as consumers, have every reason to be sceptical of companies. They can be cold bastards. They don’t want us for our personalities; they just want our money, right? Still, every company has a fiscal responsibility – to pay workers, pay bills and make money. It’s what makes a company a company.

You can’t blame a company for being a company, but that’s exactly what happened in a recent editorial on Wired.

The story put Google into the firing line for the introduction of its new Google Classroom service. Classroom, in essence, is a productivity app that allows teachers to plan, distribute, collect and mark schoolwork without the need for paper. Everything is handled electronically – including each student’s completion of the work – and, according to Google, the service aims to allow teachers to spend more time actually teaching.

Conversely, Wired suggests the motivation behind Google’s new service isn’t altruism, but rather, future financial gain. The author poses a good question: What if Google doesn’t give a damn about teachers or students or the education system and just wants to sink its claws into a new market and become more of a household name than it already is?

Frankly, that scepticism isn’t misplaced – sinking its claws into more people probably is the company’s end goal – but does that make Google a threat to education?

Consumer advocacy groups exist to pressure companies into conducting business in a way that benefits consumers or satisfies consumer values. If a company acts entirely altruistically, however, it’ll surely go bankrupt. Companies still have to remain profitable, so if a company can find a way to benefit consumers and turn profit, that’s a win-win.

For example, in 2009, Cadbury – a company with a history of mistreating workers in developing countries – began manufacturing its flagship Dairy Milk product with fair trade produce. Was it to appease concerned consumers? Yes. Was it a marketing ploy? Yes. But it doesn’t change the fact that there’s now an avenue by which workers are being treated fairly, and this isn’t too different to what Google is trying to achieve with Classroom – improve the school environment while getting more people using its products.

No doubt, some of the concern around Classroom stems from the fact that Google is often accused of holding onto user data and claiming otherwise. Considering the value of this data, these allegations probably hold some truth. As such, it’s understandable that anyone has difficulty placing trust in the company, and that’s not to mention that fact that Classroom could possibly give Google a leg up on stockpiling data on a whole new generation of kids.

Ultimately, it’s a good thing that there are critics of Classroom and that people, such as the editors of Wired, probe Google before schools happily hand the company greater access to the lives of teachers and students because there’s every possibility that the company will act in a way that takes advantage of the service’s users. Or who knows? Maybe Classroom won’t prove beneficial to the education system and will end up in the Google’s growing graveyard of retired products.

All we can say at this point is that Google isn’t evil simply because it wants to make money.

Words by VINCENT VARNEY, who admittedly is currently trying to be informative and make money.

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