On Google’s Marissa Mayer

Besides the founders and CEO, Marissa Mayer is probably Google’s most visible celebrity. Recently, the NY Times published a (somewhat puffy) piece on the Vice President of Search Products & User Experience, highlighting her role in developing and designing Google’s search offerings, trying to squash rumors that she might leave the company, and generally explaining to readers that Ms. Mayer is generally misunderstood.

I haven’t had the chance to meet her, and I’m sure she’s a brilliant engineer, a dedicated employee, and a nice person. I have, however, had opportunities to criticize some of her statements and actions.

Consider how she seems to cast aside the argument that computer scientists and engineers must place values at the forefront of their design decisions. When asked how Google should address and account for such social, political, and ethical concerns when creating such powerful and ubiquitous systems, Mayer appears to hold the position that “we’re just engineers.” Paraphrasing:

M: “I really view us as computer scientists, so we can analyze a problem, and we can solve a problem. But, we’re not government officials, we’re not policy makers on a global scale. We’re simply responding to the needs of our users.”

Q: “With due respect, that sounds almost naive, considering the scale on which Google works.”

M: With a slight shrug, and said with a grin “I’m sorry but that’s my perspective.”

For a person wielding so much power, such a stance troubles me.

Also, consider how Mayer’s desire to keep the Google homepage clean and simple translated into strong resistance to adding a link to its privacy policy (a 14-character string) to that spartan page.

But if you really want to read scathing criticism of Google Employee No. 20, read Vallywag.

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