The words ‘Google’ and ‘Canada’ have been bumping into each other recently, in ways both good and bad for the search giant.
*Last week Google bought off the Big Pharma guard dog known as the U.S. government, which the search giant had rankled by letting online Canadian pharmacies advertise cheap prescription drugs to Americans. While Google hoped the settlement would be the end of the matter, they may not be so lucky. One of their own investors is suing the board claiming the company neglected its fiduciary duty in allowing the ads to run.
*Google’s team of Waterloo developers are responsible for the long-awaited (re-)launch of an app letting us use Google Docs, Calendar, and GMail offline. For those of us who would be drooling in the wild without these cloud services, this is very good news.
*Ottawa is consulting Google, among others, on White Space. White Space is one of the most exciting technologies on the cusp, and it could have some wonderfully disruptive effects on our problematic Internet service industry. Google has shown some interest in the past in the possibility of blanketing whole areas in free Super WiFi over unlicensed White Space frequency. How awesome would that be? But don’t get your hopes up yet—Ottawa is also consulting ISPs on White Space. Any guesses on what they’ll say?
*Google announced today that it’s bringing YouTube video rentals to Canada. This is welcome news, if long overdue (it also heats up the UBB question, as Peter Nowak writes elsewhere on this blog). When Youtube first beta-tested the service in the U.S., they irritated at least one Canadian (me) by allowing Americans—and only Americans—to rent the Socalled Movie for $.99. Why did this rankle me? Not because I was dying to see the film—I’ve known its subject for years and have seen enough of him. But the Socalled Movie is an NFB film, funded in part with our tax dollars. Why should Americans have better, cheaper access to it than us, while Canadians have to wait weeks to buy it online for $13.99? My beef was probably better directed at the NFB than at Google, but the geo-restriction blocking any Canadian rentals contradicted Google’s open ethos. It’s nice to see the block dropped, though I’m not sure I’m so keen to spend $4.99 on Matt Damon in The Adjustment Bureau, especially when I can legally watch The Stranger, Monty Python’s Holy Grail, and The Man Who Knew Too Much, all for free (if I just killed your productivity for the afternoon, good).
What does this all add up to? Maybe nothing. Google Canada has yet to live up to the hype director Chris O’Neill generated when he took the job. Canadians are still among the last to get access to its services, not the world’s trailblazing beta-testers, as O’Neill teased. Their Toronto office is still largely a sales operation, and Google Ottawa exists primarily to stop our government from acting too stupidly. Despite O’Neill’s rallying cries, Google has yet to influence Canada’s scaredy-cat venture capital scene. It would be great to see Google actively pushing the ball forward, embracing technologists in Toronto and Vancouver, and playing a more central role in Canada’s tech community.
Here’s hoping the increased attention, both good and bad, might nudge them in that direction.
Jesse Brown is the host of TVO.org’s Search Engine podcast. He is on Twitter @jessebrown