My friends at Google: it is time to return to not being evil

A monopoly both in search and advertising, Google, unfortunately, shows that they are not able to resist the misuse of power.


I have known Google longer than most. At Opera, we were the first to add their search into the browser interface, enabling it directly from the search box and the address field. At that time, Google was an up-and-coming geeky company. I remember vividly meeting with Google’s co-founder Larry Page, his relaxed dress code and his love for the Danger device, which he played with throughout our meeting. Later, I met with the other co-founder of Google, Sergey Brin, and got positive vibes. My first impression of Google was that it was a likeable company.

Our cooperation with Google was a good one. Integrating their search into Opera helped us deliver a better service to our users and generated revenue that paid the bills. We helped Google grow, along with others that followed in our footsteps and integrated Google search into their browsers.

However, then things changed. Google increased their proximity with the Mozilla foundation. They also introduced new services such as Google Docs. These services were great, gained quick popularity, but also exposed the darker side of Google. Not only were these services made to be incompatible with Opera, but also encouraged users to switch their browsers. I brought this up with Sergey Brin, in vain. For millions of Opera users to be able to access these services, we had to hide our browser’s identity. The browser sniffing situation only worsened after Google started building their own browser, Chrome.

Now, we are making the Vivaldi browser. It is based on Chromium, an open-source project, led by Google and built on WebKit and KHTML. Using Google’s services should not call for any issues, but sadly, the reality is different. We still have to hide our identity when visiting services such as Google Docs.

And now things have hit a new low.

As the biggest online advertising company in the world, Google is often the first choice for businesses that want to promote their products or services on the Internet. Being excluded from using Google AdWords could be a major problem, especially for digital companies.

Recently, our Google AdWords campaigns were suspended without warning. This was the second time that I have encountered this situation. This time, however, timing spoke volumes.

I had several interviews where I voiced concerns about the data gathering and ad targeting practices – in particular, those of Google and Facebook. They collect and aggregate far too much personal information from their users. I see this as a very serious, democracy-threatening problem, as the vast targeting opportunities offered by Google and Facebook are not only good for very targeted marketing, but also for tailored propaganda. The idea of the Internet turning into a battlefield of propaganda is very far away from the ideal.

Two days after my thoughts were published in an article by Wired, we found out that all the campaigns under our Google AdWords account were suspended – without prior warning. Was this just a coincidence? Or was it deliberate, a way of sending us a message?

When we reached out to Google to resolve the issue, we got a clarification masqueraded in the form of vague terms and conditions, some of which, they admitted themselves, were not a “hard” requirement. In exchange for being reinstated in Google’s ad network, their in-house specialists dictated how we should arrange content on our own website and how we should communicate information to our users.

We made effort to understand their explanations and to work with them on their various unreasonable demands (some of which they don’t follow themselves, by the way). After almost three months of back-and-forth, the suspension to our account has been lifted, but only when we bent to their requirements.

A monopoly both in search and advertising, Google, unfortunately, shows that they are not able to resist the misuse of power. I am saddened by this makeover of a geeky, positive company into the bully they are in 2017. I feel blocking competitors on thin reasoning lends credence to claims of their anti-competitive practices. It is also fair to say that Google is now in a position where regulation is needed. I sincerely hope that they’ll get back to the straight and narrow.

This article was originally published on the Vivaldi Blog at vivaldi.com on September 4, 2017.

Co-Founder/CEO. Been doing browser development since 1994. When I’m not testing Vivaldi browser or reading Vivaldi forums, I enjoy collecting and playing with vintage computers and arcade games. Born in Iceland, with an Icelandic mother and Norwegian father, lived in Norway for many years and currently reside in near Boston, MA.

40 comments Write a comment

  1. I just uploaded Vivaldi and I’m taken with its exceptionally good usability! After reading your post I’m even more sure that I made right decision to change my browser from Chrome to Vivaldi. I’m excited to become part of this community, I see great potential here and many opportunities to expanse my internet using experiences!

    Google’s behavior seems to be quite imperious and with the power it has it’s really alarming that it misuses its leverage to promote its own interests by shamelessly eliminating its competitors like in the case you explained. I wish Google’s dominance in ICT field would be discussed more openly and that Google’s actions would be supervised by independent organization that would take care that no such monopoly would violate the freedom of the internet.
    I’m afraid that in the world where big corporations rules and keep in hiding from paying taxes like any honest company there’s not much what such an organization could do to prevent this kind of misuse of power.

  2. Grossdeutschland1943@yahoo.co.uk'

    The answer must be then to take their ad-generated revenue away. I’m using DDG as a search engine and hope that this hurts them in a small way.

  3. anton@iltp.org'

    Nice. Right to the point. Btw, Vivaldi way faster than FF even though I like it. Today on the irc channel told me about Vivaldi so i got it and i love it. will start porting scripts for greasymonkey… Good job.

  4. The headline of your blog said it all. I used Google back when it was in the Beta stage and it was exciting to have a search engine that was so intuitive and provided such relevant search responses. No other search engine was even close to what they accomplished.

    But I too have watched as Google has grown into the self appointed Dictator of the web. Whether it’s not allowing a company to use Ad Words, removing a website from their indexing completely, or engaging in the manipulation of search results.

    Although I am not a fan of anti-trust legislation Google may be a private company but the power they wield over the internet needs to be put in check. Yet I have a feeling with the blatant lobbying goes on in DC I am quite sure Google has covered their bases.

    But in the end we don’t to do any of that if Google would just “stop being evil”.

    (I just downloaded Vidali and what a wonderful browser … I need to figure out how to tweet Jon’s blog post.)

    Chris Butler

  5. How is the Brave browser from Mozilla co-founder and Javascript inventor, Brendon Eich, combating this, if indeed they are, as Brave claims to block all ads and trackers?

  6. hilmarkarls@gmail.com'

    Excellent description on the increasingly problematic world we live in.
    Now big corps are the new threat to freedom and choice.
    The all seem to be striving for global dominance. In politics that is called a regime or dictatorship, which we do not want or need.

  7. Dear Jon,
    I am saddened of your accounts with Google, a differently new Good-Old-Boys club. As you mention Facebook is just as bad. I guess that is why ‘Brave’s approach’ (based on Chromium) is also is having growing pains as well in this area you talk about, you explain what I was wondering and feared. I had not seen the Wired article since I cannot afford all the subscription-to-everything (StE) world. Keep up the good team efforts, I will try to follow your words wherever I can, hoping that in knowledge there is power for the rest of us.
    Thank you,
    Barry

  8. brianmecpcertifiedinstaller@hushmail.com'

    I’ve been looking for a permanent replacement for the Opera browser since the Presto engine was dropped in favor of the Chromium-based version. Refusing to use the new Opera, I held onto version 12 and begrudgingly started using Chromodo full time until they merged it into Comodo Dragon, where I am until now. Is there any reason why the Presto engine can’t be….started back up, so to speak? Maybe it was the people behind it, but personally, it’s always been my favorite, so much that in the early days, I purchased the add-free versions. Vivaldi seems like it may be the offspring of Opera 12.

  9. nikolai@fastmail.fm'

    as long as companies keep “bending” google won’t care… and you know it very well when google will change their attitude – when hell freezes over.
    i loved opera and love vivaldi even more and was very disappointed to learn that your company caved under the pressure. no need, i would say, you could advertise your product many other ways. at least geek world doesn’t turns around google ads.
    i would willing to pay license fee for cool browser like vivaldi, even would support you if you went floss (unfortunately that’s never going to happened). I guess what i’m trying to say – stay true to your principles, fight hard for users rights for privacy you might find yourself (company) in the position of never needing google add ever again.
    regards,
    long time opera user

  10. God ettermiddag Jon von Tetzchner.
    The undersigned is norwegian and lives in Oslo.
    My first name is also Jon, and my full name is Jon Andreas Dahl and I am increasingly using Vivaldi.

    more than share your sceptisism to Google and their ecosystem of services/apps, and I have similar negative vibes on Microsoft, particularly what they have turned LinkedIn-into. Browsing and email are the two most important uses for anybody who uses the internet today.
    This brings me to what I really would like to find in the Vivaldi-system; an email-service that allows me to keep my emails stored/backuped and synchronized on both my PC and in a secure place in the sky, far away from the spying of Google, Microsoft or others. I can tell you more about my problems with syncronizing my emails with Google and MS if you want to know.
    I will be willing to actually pay for such an email-service, integrated with Vivaldi.

    All my emails ca. 10 years back are my most important collection of data, and the job of backing up, synchronizing, migrating to new Windows PC’s is getting more and more frustrating. I have managed to transfer most of my Outlook-emails and structure to an emailprogram eMClient, but if they go out of business there is no going back. But at least I am out of the claws of Google and Microsoft and theyr skybased solutions. I need to have my files available also when I am not online. Even when I am on my fast fiberconnection at home I experience both Google and Microsft skybased services as too slow, but if they where for background sync and backup, that would’t matter much.
    A Vivaldi mailservice should let the user store and access his files on his computer(s) and synchronize via the sky, and also allow logon and use directly via the sky if I login in via a third PC.

    That we need the “intelligent help and suggestions” that these mastodonts try to push on us as soon as we have visited an ad, and done a search, is just hype. To me it is always a nuisance.

    I also have other suggestions, but this wish for an emailservice that will bypass and keep me as far away as possible from Google and MS is what would make me really happy !!

    Keep up the good work !!
    Regards Jon Andreas Dahl, Oslo – Norway
    Mobile: +47 900 975 22
    Email: Jon.dahl@blakstad.no

  11. moniwest@vivaldi.net'

    I’ve always known on some level that Google is evil. I’m always aware of when I’m logged into their accounts cuz I feel that they are spying on me and gathering info. Too sad that this is proof. We loved Opera back in the day. I’m just getting used to Vivaldi and love that it’s built on an open platform cuz Chrome kind of creeps me out.

  12. cc@cinco.cc'

    Several years ago things referenced only in emails began to appear in the ads Google was “serving” me. I haven’t trusted them since and, to this day, I keep online silence with regard to many things simply for the convenience of gmail but I’ve been assembling a small, manufacturing business venture and have begun looking into what kind of business I and staying local and keeping it offline and landline locked is looking better and better.

  13. twil@vivaldi.net'

    Jop, its sad, but it is also an other example that humans are all driven by the same nature. A egocentric destructive nature.

  14. Hi, I was thinking about yesterday, about Big G and how they become “strong”. And that don’t mean necessarily it’s a bad thing, but as you said, when the you owns all of this usera data, it becomes a problem. And this regards every company and also institution in this world. it’s a danger, and everyone can understand it.
    Furthermore, also the Android environment is sliding more and more into a bad situation. A simple Xprivacy module on a rooted device spokes better then thousand words. Nowadays there is no application (not even one) that does not contain ads and/or spyware (except for some OpenSource ones).
    Android environment it’s going to become a jungle. A damn flawed and fenced environment. What seemed to be a good thing, with smartphones which are awesome, is turning into a nightmare.
    Btw, I don’t blame developers. They have all the right to earn for they’re work. I blame this system to distribute and manage the incomings, supported by a total conflict of interests where, basically, there’s not a genuine competition. That’s it.
    In many conutry like mine it has become frustrating to keep an home phone because every day lot of companys calls you to advertise something they belive you’re interested. And that’s because (many times) you browse something with you’re smartphone, or you’re home pc.
    This is not “freedom”… this is slavery.

    Greetings

  15. I sure do hope that you follow the footsteps of Iridium Browser, maybe fork their changes into your build. If you are not familiar with the project I urge you to check it out, it is one step further in making google and honest company.

    Also please build in security/privacy features of HTTPS Everywhere, uMatrix, and ScriptSafe…. these are great addons but it would be nice if their features were built in by default.

    The people did not “Opt-In”, the people should not be required to Opt-out by default. Safety, Security and Privacy are basic human rights, just like freedom of speech

  16. gerald@pechoc.eu'

    I find the neweat release Vivaldi as “well done” but I am “not amused” that the basis is chromium.
    Why did you not make a complete own solution and based your well designed product on a Google software? To control what Google is doing with chrome is not possible. But if you are the master of your code, then you know what you are doing!
    By the way it is time for a “Joint European Search Engine” which is ad free and serves only to find information, without external rating.
    Google results seem to get more and more commercial.

    Best regards
    Gerald

  17. mike.houlden@gmail.com'

    I am an avid user of Vivaldi and seldom use chromium or firefox on my linux mint PC.I have been a devout fan of the browser ever since the beginning when i was testing a live DVD of a linux distribution that had the Vivaldi browser Built in.I use this browser every day. I Literally love it..

  18. minjie@live.de'

    Saddly the leader of the company weighted profits much more than other aspects. In the end any information we received is from the controlling of the society. Internet is just a propagation media. I am also sad about opera after several years of using, i notice a handful useful little functions disappeared and the experience changes quite a few, thats how i found out what happened to opera these years. Thats the sad part of sharing a company with other individuals. why not make a search engine by urself and intergrate it in vivald, it could take huge efforts, but i believe you can do it. Just make it searching up all the related informations from all the servers including the unreachables and present them to the users while making the end user untraceable. It is up to the users to decide whether to believe those information or not, and how to use them for whatever purpose. that is the idealization of democracy.
    Best regards

  19. Good morning Jon. I’m curious. I have been a student of browsers since my first access to a PC over 2 decades back. Is Vivaldi here to stay? I know life doesn’t offer easy answers to such a difficult Q but I love the browser even in it’s present incarnation.

    Unrelated to Q1 is your name. You are basically Scandinavian yet have a German name. Explain that to me please.

    • Vivaldi is here to stay. Our goal is to give you a great browser and a browser that fits your needs. Many of us have been doing browsers for a long time. In my case that is since 1994 and we love to do what we do.

      My father is Norwegian and my mother is Icelandic. The name is from my father´s side and supposedly comes from a town on the border between the Czech Republic and Poland. This is way back, though.

  20. steinar@kolnes.com'

    I have been using your browser for a few weeks.
    And I am very impressed, the fasted I have ever used. and my first priority.
    Keep up the good work 😉

  21. A real shame, Vivaldi is beautiful, shame that it is based on Chromium, which is the same as saying on Google ..

    • Alberto,

      As much as I would have liked to build a browser from scratch, it is just not viable for a small company like us. It was not viable for Google, who based their work on Webkit (Apple), which in turn based their work on khtml.

      Opera was one of very few browsers that was made from scratch. Sadly Opera is now based on Chromium as well, but that is also one of the reasons why we had to make Vivaldi.

      We will do our best to make Vivaldi a browser with every feature you need and with all the options you need as well.

      Cheers,
      Jon.

  22. southofmexico@yahoo.com'

    In short your message suggest a corporation might be or become a dangerous, high tech capable Trojan; offering functionality and gated market access in exchange for a monopoly on controlling and manipulating everyone’s access to “present information to others or to receive information from others”; hummm ?
    Should humanity allow corporations to obtain so much power they could “deny the conduct of private interpersonal speech and other communicative interactions (obtain you license to speak from corporation X), or from a government protecting the right of the corporation to control communicative interaction?
    I observe that the globally interspersed intelligence services, especially those friendly to criminal activities, have long sought a means to interactively adjust the total available information-environment to behavioral human feedback, and at the same time, to earn massive revenues by providing marketeers with access to willing buyers.
    The sought after end result has been moving, it seems to me, to use the laws of the nations, the strength of military, the technology of our times, the inequity of corporate wealth and the market power of corporate monopoly in a coordinated and highly integrated fashion; seeking to control and regulate all human behaviour and thought: essentially to rule the world.
    The transition from political process to corporate decision reminds of the American colonist who suffered so under British colonial corporate control.
    Corporate boardroom would replace existing political process? Strategies developed in a corporate boardroom would seek to punish non-conforming human thought or actions: those who deviate will be flogged? Humans must fit their thoughts and behaviours within the standard range; and the standard would be established by those who now hold positions attached to (“information”, “monopoly power, “thought control”, “propaganda propagation”, “use of military force” or “political authority”). In short, information, and the technology to use and control it, could be used to enslave all of humanity, especially this is a concern as robots and algorithms to control the robots come on line.

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