Google isn't the same feel-good company it was 10 years ago. But while the "Don't be evil" motto has changed and fewer people think of Google as a benevolent overlord, the company isn't actually any more terrible than any other. It's just fun to argue about tech on the internet.
But there are a lot of places where Google can do better. Whether it's how it makes the best Android phones even better or how the company handles pressing social issues, all of us can think of a few ways Google needs to get better at doing.
1. Pay its fair share of taxes
A little back story is in order here, but I started with this because it's something all companies doing business in the U.S. need to start doing. Or start getting sued for.
This particular Dutch sandwich only tastes good to mega-corporations.
For a long time, Google used what's called the "Dutch sandwich.)" tax strategy. Google used offices in Ireland, the Netherlands, and Bermuda to pay next to nothing on billions of dollars for years. It works like this: money is moved from an Irish subsidiary to a Dutch capital holding company, then to an Irish owned company in Bermuda that has the "rights" to use and license Google intellectual property. Bermuda, it seems, has zero corporate income taxes, and this was all legal until 2014.
Part of the arrangement when Irish tax law changed in 2014 was that Google could continue to dodge taxes this way until 2020. Sounds like it's solved then, right? It's not. Incentives offered by the Trump administration drastically lowered corporate taxes and the Jobs Act of 2018 allows corporations to move money made overseas into the U.S. without paying any additional tax. This means Google is able to bring billions into the country without paying any taxes and only has to pay about 20% of income earned in the U.S.
You might think that this is smart business. You also probably pay more than 20% in taxes. Google needs to pay its fair share. Period.
2. Fix tablet apps
First, we had Android tablets that had access to over a million apps that look bad, don't work properly, or both. Next, we had Chromebooks and Chromeboxes that can run Android apps on even bigger screens, but they still aren't very good. Now every company is trying to sell us on phones that fold out into a much bigger screen and the same problem exists.
Just fix Android apps for big screens somehow. No more excuses.
This is not easy to fix. Google really has two choices — incentivize developers to make their apps look and act great on a big display, or blacklist your big-screen devices from downloading apps that don't meet a minimum of quality control standards like Apple does. Even Google can't afford to pay a million or so developers to remake their apps, and if it tried to block access Google would end up in court all over again.
But these are the only ideas I can think of. Google has to find a way to make this happen and it employs plenty of people who are really smart about this sort of thing. Maybe these user experience experts need pulled off of every other project and told to fix it, or maybe more user experience experts need to be hired, or just poach them from Samsung because its first-party apps are great on the Galaxy Tab series. I don't have the answers, but Google needs to have them.
3 Learn to be transparent
Google does a great job of being transparent with some things; the terms of service and privacy agreement for your Google account are written so normal people who aren't lawyers can understand them. We might not like what we see there, but at least we are able to check before we check the box that says "I agree".
Google knows how to be transparent so it should do it more often.
With other things, though, Google only comes forth once someone starts up a conversation. That can backfire — paying people of color to get a photo taken to train facial recognition is not a bad thing. Doing it in secret without telling anyone what it was doing makes it look like a bad thing. Transparency would have fixed this before it even needed to be fixed.
Sure, some of the things people get upset about are pretty dumb, like logging into open Wi-Fi hotspots. But others are not. Google could easily talk about projects that people might think are dicey and explain the what, how, and why so we're not so skittish once an investigative reporter tells us about them.
4. Fix its diversity image
The recent firing of Dr. Timnit Gebru, one of the world's best AI ethics researchers is a great example of this. Not because Dr. Gebru is black, but because she was working on Google's AI algorithms so they weren't "thinking" only like a white guy in his 20s who lives in a rich western country.
All AI has a bias of some sort and removing it is a big problem to solve.
White guys need to be represented, but so do people of color and women and people in third-world countries and so on and so forth. The world is a very diverse place even if some people don't realize it or even try to deny it. The algorithms that power many of Google's products need to be able to work this out, and that's exactly what researchers like Timnit Gebru are trying to accomplish.
I do not think Google is a bad place to work if you're a person of color or disabled or covered under any other protected class. But Google has made so many missteps that it certainly seems like it could be to a lot of people. Google needs to work on its image because that will benefit not only the company itself, but the programs and initiatives that help protect the rights of people who need and deserve to be protected.
5 Fix updates once and for all
Yes, updates again. It seems you can never talk about things Google needs to get better at without talking about Android updates.
I'm not talking about just platform updates or just security updates, because some ground rules about both need to be placed in the crazy set of rules a phone maker has to follow if it wants access to Google Play. If Google can force a company to put the word "Google" in a specific font of a specific size in a specific place on the retail box, it can also force phone makers to follow some basic rules about updates.
Force phone makers to give two Android updates and five years of security patches.
Every phone needs to get two Android version updates minimum. I can already hear people thinking that two isn't enough, but it is as a forced minimum because some really cheap Android phones aren't going to run very well once you start plopping too many platform updates in place.
This still allows a phone maker like Samsung to promise three (or more). Yes, your Note 9 should have received an update to Android 11. But there's a good chance an older Galaxy A phone can't handle it.
With security patches, there is no excuse. Five years. Minimum. Most Android enthusiasts would never keep a phone for five years, but Android enthusiasts are but a tiny slice of the total number of people buying phones. This makes more work for Google and more work for phone makers, but since both companies decided to charge more for phones they can eat a little cash.
This is never going to happen, but it still needs to. Next year I'm sure we'll include this in "What Google needs to do better in 2022" because I'm never going to shut up when it comes to updates.
This is my shortlist of where Google could do better moving forward. I'm sure there is plenty of space for even more ways Google can get better in the new year and I'm sure you can probably think of a few of them. Drop a comment and tells us what you want Google to fix in 2021.