Just eight years after Google was founded, the company had become such an integral part of Internet life that it was included as a verb in the Oxford English Dictionary. Alison Stewart spoke with David Drummond, the company’s chief legal officer about ubiquity, innovation and the elusive Google phone. (An upcoming Need to Know segment will also address Google’s role in Internet censorship issues in China.)
David Drummond: Oh, that’s a great question. I’d been the original lawyer who set up Google for the two founders almost 12 years ago, but I didn’t come directly to the company until a few years later. And I remember, about a year before I joined, I was still thinking about coming to Google and I heard these references — “Oh, go Google it.” And I was like, “Wow, they must be on to something.” So I think it was probably around 2001 or so.
Stewart: What’s your take on companies like Google or Facebook, or Apple’s iPod, that are so dominant, they take up so much space in the market? Is it just the free market at work or is it a monopoly in the making?
Drummond: I think it is the market at work. All those companies involve crazy innovation. Apple’s been around longer than all of us, but in its current incarnation you could argue that it’s about 10 years old, with the iPod and everything. And the thing about search is, 12 years ago everybody said, well, search is done. It’s about as good as it’s ever going to get, and so who really cares? Well, along comes Google, right?
People said, MySpace is going to rule and dominate all Internet, all young people will live on MySpace. Well, along comes Facebook. And, obviously all the innovation that Apple is doing. You can be certain that there are folks in a garage right now doing things that are going to revolutionize all of those areas and create new areas as well. So that’s why I think it is the market at work, and that’s why innovation is so important because these things are constantly changing. Google is a 12-year-old company.
Stewart: That’s amazing. Only 12 years old?
Drummond: That’s how quickly these things happen.
Stewart: There’s been a recent delay in the release of the Google phone. What happened?
Drummond: We have a phone.
Stewart: I know, but isn’t there some sort of delay with Verizon? What happened?
Drummond: I don’t think there’s much going on there. We’re working with lots of different vendors.
Stewart: That’s as committal as what I read in the paper. (laughs)
Drummond: We’ll be working with Verizon on lots of projects and they’re definitely users of the Android system.
Stewart: What’s the biggest misconception about Google?
Drummond: Probably that we’re bent on taking over the world in some weird James Bondian villain fashion. You know, I think Google has got lots of great people who are really committed to doing good things for the world, and I think there are a lot of people who realize that. But, as we’ve been successful and we have a lot of responsibility on us to do this mission, we do take a lot of criticism, some of it well founded. And we try to listen and change our behavior when necessary.
Stewart: What’s an example of well founded?
Drummond: We launched this product called Buzz recently. It was a social networking product, and some of the things, the way we explained some of the things, maybe we could have done a better job around that. I think there was a lot of criticism that was off the mark, but some of it was on the mark, and we listened and we made some changes.
Stewart: And finally, who is your biggest competition?
Drummond: That’s hard. I think we compete with lots of different players in different areas. So clearly, in our core business, which is search, Microsoft and Yahoo! are the big players and they continue to compete. There are a lot of smaller search engines as well. In the mobile space, obviously, we have Apple doing great stuff, but there are lots and lots of competitors across the areas that we cover.