Google's wall of silenceThere are probably as many opinions about Google as there are people who use Google, and it's easy to single out the company for criticism (or let it off the hook) because it's the giant among Internet giants.
Obviously, as host to Silicon Valley's most famous company, Mountain View has a special relationship with Google. And in turn, its residents and local newspaper have an interest in — and right to know — the ways in which the company affects us.
It is in this last area that Google has increasingly frustrated local news outlets, including the Voice. For years now — at least since the company went public and ballooned to its current size — its communications with the public have fallen somewhere between spotty and nonexistent.
For our part, the Voice regularly sends e-mails to Google's press department, inquiring about its development plans in Mountain View, among other things. (Google's press office, like the rest of the company, communicates primarily through e-mail.) The most common response we've received is no response at all. The second-most common response is, "We'll get back to you" — followed by silence.
Generally, our questions have been straightforward, uncontroversial and answerable. Besides asking about its development plans, we've asked Google how many people it employs in Mountain View, who is in charge of its development projects, how many square feet it occupies in Mountain View — and heard nothing back. (The Voice often was able to acquire the information through other sources.)
Other newspapers have shared similar complaints about Google. One reporter from a Bay Area daily told us she sometimes had to rely on quarterly Securities and Exchange Commission reports for basic information about the company's local real estate transactions.
Mountain View officials have also had complaints. One told of a good rapport with a tech executive who, once hired by Google, stopped returning phone calls. Another city official said he wished Google had a reliable local contact person. And a third wished us good luck in getting certain information, "especially from them."
Ultimately, the company is hurting itself with this wall of silence. As a self-proclaimed organizer of the world's information, Google's position and continued success rely on the public's trust in its motives and actions. That trust cannot thrive unless the public feels Google is an open and forthright organization. No public acts of philanthropy or environmental friendliness can compensate for good old-fashioned accessibility.
The company certainly doesn't lack public relations skills. Recent stories about Google WiFi and the Google bookmobile show that at least some of its employees are able to practice good public relations.
A touchier subject, however, is how the company may triple its size in Mountain View, where the jobs-to-housing imbalance is already notoriously out of whack. Where is Google at with plans for 3.7 million square feet of new office space? The company still has not returned e-mails seeking comment — a tack which will only hurt its reputation as a member of the local community and only cause more resistance from residents as it tries to expand here.
Google's silence could be seen as arrogance. It could be other things as well, including overworked communications employees who seem to do double duty in both external and internal communications. But we may never know what the real reason is: Our latest series of e-mails, in which we asked the company about its communications practices, went unanswered by Google.