The recent debate over net neutrality is a heated one (to say the least). Since Google and Verizon’s talks made the news a few weeks ago, the media has been peppered with headlines discussing the issue. Big questions at the heart of the debate include who should get priority on the Web, how this will impact innovation and small business, whether the government can police this effectively, if this is just a play for big business to benefit, and the overall implications for consumers.
Given the tremendous amount of ink already given to these questions, I’ll save my opinions for another day when the dust settles a bit more. Instead, let’s take a look at the impact to Google’s brand: will net neutrality be the tipping point for trust in Google, transforming them from the company with the “don’t be evil” motto into a “corporate behemoth”?
Based on discussions brewing on the Web, it appears trust could be on the line. Consumers are noting they are moving to new search engines, that the company has lost its connection with its start-up roots and that they are moving away from their entrepreneurial positions to ones that benefit them as a large business. Even comedian Jon Stewart has joined the discussion, documenting the variance in Google’s message from 2006 to present (in his unique way of course).
The change in their position alone could have huge implications for the company and Google will have to carefully navigate how they reconcile their former “free Internet for everyone” stance with what is a very complicated issue. Consumers could see this as creating a hierarchy for Internet access, with big business looking to line their pockets at their expense. This story isn’t new, and the headlines could increasingly take a turn for the worse from Google’s perspective (insert “evil empire”).
The imperatives for Google: show how net neutrality still aligns to their original position and be clear on the benefits to consumers and small business. If it doesn’t line up, it will be interesting to see how Google is discussed going forward. One thing for certain, the Google brand is rapidly moving from warm fuzzy search company, to tech titan.