How Google Wins When the Economy Suffers

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Dec. 30 2013 12:30 PM

Google's Eric Schmidt: "We Win" Even When Economy Suffers

Google Eric Schmidt

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Bloomberg TV scored what it bills as “a rare interview” with Google chairman Eric Schmidt, in which the would-be soothsayer lays out his tech predictions for the year to come. Go out on a limb, he does not.

Mobile, you say? Wow, didn’t see that coming. Big data? Social? OK, now you’re just rattling off buzzwords from 2011. But hey, I think you forgot “hyperlocal,” didn’t you?

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In Schmidt’s defense, he has made bolder predictions in past years—and, as The Verge’s Tom Warren notes, they didn’t pan out so well. Predictions are hard, especially about the future. Maybe it’s not such a bad idea to stick to predicting things that have already happened.

But the most interesting soundbite, to me, is the one where Schmidt frankly admits—boasts, really—that Google profits from the decline of traditional industries, and prospers when the broader economy suffers. “Shockingly, even when things are tough in a country, because we have return-on-investment-based advertising, it’s smarter to move your advertising from others to Google,” Schmidt says, smiling crookedly. “So we win no matter whether the industries are in good shape or not, because people need our services.”

Will Oremus Will Oremus

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

That might sound obvious, but careful observers will note it’s a different (and more honest) line than Google used to take when it came to disruption of traditional industries. I’m biased here, obviously, but I’ll never forget Marissa Mayer sitting in front of a roomful of print journalists and assuring them that Google had a stake in seeing them prosper. That was right around the time they all started losing their jobs. That probably wasn't what Schmidt had in mind here—he's talking more about how other types of traditional industries still have an interest in advertising on Google even when money's tight. But the deeper truth here is that Google's financial interests are not necessarily aligned with the health of the economy at large.

Google does many wonderful things, and the world is better off for its existence, but no one should be under the illusion at this point that it's an entirely beneficent force in the marketplace. Rather, it's in the business of creative destruction, and the hope is that it ultimately creates more than it destroys.

Previously in Slate:

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