5 things Google needs to do better in 2021

Google I/O Keynote
Google I/O Keynote (Image credit: Android Central)

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

Photos only. No shenanigans.

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

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

Samsung Galaxy Tab S7+

Source: Hayato Huseman / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Hayato Huseman / Android Central)

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 logo

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

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

Timnit Gebru

Source: Getty Images (Image credit: Source: Getty Images)

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

Pixel Update screen

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

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.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

  • 6. Product quality and reliability.
  • The best thing Google could do in 2021 would be to end.
    Split up Alphabet into a bunch of different, independent companies, without a common shareholder.
    Google, much like Facebook, has become a cancer in the tech world that needs to be fought. It's not only the harm their interference and bias does in politics and society. They harm the tech industry as well by constantly abusing their power.
    And that has to end.
  • Google is fast approaching the very thing it pledged not to be when it was starting out. Evil. Not pure evil. More the evil of the oligarchical and totalitarian type.
  • 7. Privacy -- ensure that device permissions are doing what they say they are. Why do Facebook and Instagram show me ads for things I've talked about when I explicitly have my Microphone permissions disabled for anything even remotely related to them? That's inexcusable, and yet outside of Apple, Google practically has a monopoly on smart devices. Why can't we make our lives better/easier with technology without that technology abusing our consent?
  • No matter what, one great flagship would be nice. The mid-rangers are cool 😎 especially the 4a, great price for what's offered? But a flagship with the triple8 processer would be appreciated. I'd be willing to pay up for it!
  • 8. Stop meddling in and manipulating elections.
  • That goes for scumbag politicians first and foremost. Stop blaming the media.
  • The only perfect company in this world is Apple; They could never do any wrong.
  • ^ This! Very true Apple is the perfect company especially compared to these companies like Facebook and Google.
  • You lost me at -- 1. Pay its FAIR SHARE of taxes -- The top corporate rate tax in Ireland is 12.5%. I don't know if 12.5% is "fair", because "fair" is a weasel word. Any percentage more than 12.5% is simply non-competitive today, in our one world economy. To remain competitive every Company should move its Corporate headquarters to Ireland; you can't tax your way to prosperity. The economically non-competitive countries are destined to fail.
  • Exactly. "Fair share" is completely subjective and I'm instantly deaf to anyone's argument who uses that phrase. Companies aren't into being "fair", their job is to be profitable and follow the law. If you think they should pay more, then make *Congress* raise the tax rate and eliminate loop holes. It really pained me to see Jerry making such an ignorant, leftist argument.
  • Nah, the only thing Google needs to work on is building a really nice flagship Pixel phone and drop in a 1 GB plan into Google One, 200 GB is small and 2 TB is too big.
  • I'd be ok if they would quit killing things that work well in favor of profit for crap services. ie - Killing Play music for youtube music, that thing is absolute crap.
  • There is one thing that needs to happen. Google should be broken up into several companies and have it's chokehold on technological development and telecommunications interrupted and reduced. That level of monopoly and type of reach and influence is not healthy and even less conducive to competition and/or inovation. Ditto for Amazon, Apple and a few others.
  • Yeah, #1 just brings this whole list down.
    They paid their LEGAL amount of taxes based off the chaotic tax code this country has had. The fact that we now have corporations bringing money back into this country is a positive thing (one of the few things Trump did well). That corps could do what you charge Google (and others) of doing legally is an issue with Congress, Republican AND Democrat members, over the last 20 years. There's no such thing as fair when it comes to taxes. Tax amounts paid are objectively and factually legal or illegal. Arguing "fair" is not factual. It's biased and emotional. Stick with the facts.
  • Couldn't agree more. I miss the days we almost all agreed that taxes were basically legalized theft by the government but a "necessary evil". Now it's all about let's tax more so government can give people healthcare, tax more to give education, tax more to give food, tax more to give housing, tax more to give foreign countries, tax more to support supranational institutions....
  • Wake up will you, I hate it when people just regurgitate narrative.
  • From the consumer's point of view, suggestion #2 and #5 matters. The rest is just company internal policies.
  • The rest is just trying to appease the vocal, something that is impossible. The goal posts will always keep moving.
  • You are correct. My response was a polite way of saying what you stated.
  • Let me change the Google home 'wake' words.
    Let me change the Alarm and Timer ring tones.
    For Pete's sake!
  • ^^This^^ I want to wake my asst my way; instead of "Hey Google", I'd like to use "Hey Jarvis" :)