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No Longer in Google’s Tentacles…wait, what?

Generally speaking, companies committed to consolidating ever more power under their corporate identity do not blithely toss away provinces of their empires. True, this may happen as a result of legal action such as the enforcement of anti-trust regulations, and by a similar token some companies may sell off a given possession if there is an opportunity to make a sizable profit. Yet, when a company sells off a holding at a loss (perhaps even a sizable loss) it is usually either a sign of financial desperation, or a shrewd move undertaken when a company concludes that it has already obtained what it wanted.

The latter is what is at work in Google’s decision to sell Motorola Mobility to Lenovo. When Google initially purchased Motorola Mobility (for an amount in the range of $12 billion) it seemed as though Google wanted to take a more competitive position in the smart phone market, but two years later it is clear that the market has become saturated as the lackluster performance of the Moto X demonstrates (this saturation includes other smart phones offered by Google like the Nexus). Granted, Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility was never really about smart phones, instead the purchase had been about bolstering Google’s mighty trove of patents (the better to fight competitors with), and those patents? Well…

Google may be selling Motorola Mobility, but (according to the New York Times) it will be keeping nearly 90% of the patents it obtained. Which is another way of saying that Google is not really taking much of a loss by selling Motorola Mobility for less than $3 billion. Google initially purchased Motorola Mobility for its patents and its keeping most of the patents, so Google not only got its money’s worth from the initial purchase, it got more than its money’s worth and so now it can sell off the part they were never particularly interested in for some loose change.

From an overly simple standpoint (“Google has sold off Motorola Mobility”) this may appear to be a cause for some celebration amongst those who are increasingly wary of the blob like all consuming expansion of Google. Yet this sale is less a blow to a monopoly than a calculated move to better assure the future of a monopoly. After all, Motorola Mobility will still be churning out smart phones and those smart phones will still run on the Android operating system (which is owned by Google). What this means is that Google may no longer be the company behind the brand logo on the back of the device, but Google will still be embedded within the machine.

With its own Nexus devices and the acquisition of Motorola Mobility, Google was a somewhat latecomer to the smart phone brouhaha (even as they approached it going “Mwahaha!”). But to consider Google’s actions of late is to get a sense that Google is determined that they will not lose out in the next technological wave. From Google’s foray into wearable tech in the form of Google Glass, to the company’s recent purchase of the “smart home” technology company Nest, to the initiatives involving self-driving cars, to the still eyebrow raising acquisition of robotics firms – it is clear that Google is thinking through its next steps towards dominance and the company has concluded that fighting for the smart phone (device) market is a distraction. Furthermore, Google already has a significant hold on the smart phones media-eco-system thanks to the Android operating system, and it is a grip which is growing firmer as Google’s chief competitor in the operating system battle (Apple’s iOS) seems to be slipping [the iOS stronghold remains the US, but this is being steadily chipped away at by Android]). In short: Google can see that the trend lines are running in favor of its operating system, so it hardly needs another smart phone manufacturer to shore up its controlling position.

This is not about a ship and there are no icebergs in sight. This is simply the rearranging of fancy chairs in the boardroom.

Focusing on Motorola Mobility and the specific devices that it produces is something of a distraction in considerations of our technological society as it risks putting the emphasis on given devices instead of on the larger socio-economic structures behind the given devices. To say that Moto X did not sell well and as a result Google is getting rid of Motorola Mobility is to put the focus on the wrong, or at the very least on the misleading, point. To put this in some more context it is worth considering what Raymond Williams described thusly:

“Some people spoke of the new machines as gadgets, but they were always much more than this. They were the applied technology of a set of emphases and responses within the determining limits and pressures of industrial capitalist society.” (21)

Granted, in the above quotation, Williams was speaking about a variety of “machines” ranging from improvements in private transformation to television (he was writing in 1974); however, his larger point remains helpful when considering the case of Google selling off Motorola Mobility. It acts as a reminder that “new machines” are representatives of a larger social system, and to focus too heavily on the device (as such) is to forget the social/economic system from whence a given device arises.

Therefore we can see that these happenings around Motorola Mobility are not about “gadgets.” It is about, and always was about, the “much more” represented by the trove of patents that Google wanted and which Google is still keeping. Furthermore these “new machines” were themselves an extension of the larger logic (“limits and pressures”) of society, and as a result the demands of “industrial capitalist society” still win out in the end. These “new machines” were just an opportunity for Google to strengthen its position and now that Google’s position has been enhanced (again – patents) Google can toss away the “gadgets” while the factors that led to this performance remain unchanged. Google knows that it is easy to sell people “gadgets” but the company’s continued success has been based on its canny recognition of “emphases and responses” behind the scenes.

Sometimes the best way to maintain control is to give the illusion of relinquishing it. Google’s tentacles may no longer be gripping Motorola Mobility, but the marks from its suckers will not be vanishing.

Works Cited

Williams, Raymond. Television. Routledge Classics, 2003.

More on Google

This Isn’t Really About Buses

How Cheaply We are Bribed

The Authoritarian Regime of Tomorrow (brought to you by Google)

Falling Under Technology’s Spell – Chromecast

In Google’s Tentacles – Nest!

In Google’s Tentacles – Robots!

Who’s Driving this Thing!?

Google…the Nation State

The All-Seeing-Eye of Google Glass



About Z.M.L

“I do not believe that things will turn out well, but the idea that they might is of decisive importance.” – Max Horkheimer @libshipwreck

5 comments on “No Longer in Google’s Tentacles…wait, what?

  1. Penny
    February 7, 2014

    Why does a website so critical of Google use their analytics and ad services?

    • TheLuddbrarian
      February 7, 2014

      Certainly a fair question. To respond I would simply note that making use of a tool does not mean that one is not allowed to be (or should not be) critical of it. We live in a technological society and if we want to take part in the conversation it is often necessary to make certain compromises. However this does not mean that one should renounce one’s duty to remain critical.

  2. Penny
    February 8, 2014

    Nevertheless, I find it a puzzling discontinuity to the ideas and values espoused in your writing. The Google spying programs you subject your readers to are wholly unnecessary to the basic functioning of the site, and could be replaced with alternatives like Piwik.

    The arguments you make in your writing are very compelling; allow me to remind you of some of them.

    “tech firms have resolved to continue watching you… Unless we continue to voice our outrage and are willing to challenge the technological status quo that has led us to this point, there will be no resolution.”

    “There is a point, after all, where compliance becomes complicity.” (Winner, 322)
    “This comment should act as a sharp kick to anybody who is concerned about the NSA (or tech companies) surveillance capabilities but is unwilling to seriously consider altering their behavior in using technology”

    “The first step in combating bribery, is to recognize that it is what’s going on, and to refuse to accept the offer.”

    Will this blog continue to be just another façade of outrage without any real change? Or will your actions reflect the rhetoric of your speech?

    • TheLuddbrarian
      February 8, 2014


      First off, I would like to thank you for your thoughtful and properly confrontational push back – your comments show that you have clearly pondered these matters.
      At the outset I would like to quickly address the two questions with which you ended your comment, namely: is this “just another façade of outrage” or will our “actions reflect the rhetoric?” These are fair questions to which the best reply may be that the people who operate this blog (there are three of us) are engaged in quite a bit of activity that extends beyond just writing for this site. There is no doubt that it is easy for a blog to be a “façade of outrage,” and thus let me state that the blog acts as a somewhat theoretical aspect to more serious pursuits done to bring about “real change.” I will confess that the activism in which I am personally engaged does not center solely upon issues of surveillance, but I will say that this blog acts as a forum for “outrage” that is an extension of (not a “façade of”) other activism. Indeed part of the impetus for this blog arose from a feeling that when we were actively engaged in activism we did not always have the opportunity to really theorize the issues at hand.

      That being said, your criticism is totally legitimate. Totally.

      I cannot deny it. Some of these issues are the result of challenges related to time and money. After reading your comment I immediately began to look into Piwik only to discover that in order to install this plug-in the blog will need to be upgraded. I am very receptive to doing this (though ultimately it will have to be a decision the three of us who run the site will collectively make); however, I’ll admit that there is a financial cost and further issues related to a time investment and technical capabilities about which I am less than secure. Meaning this isn’t something that can be instantly solved.

      Are the things I list above excuses? Do they reveal that I too am guilty of what Langdon Winner evoked when he wrote “There is a point, after all, where compliance becomes complicity.”?

      Yes. Sadly, yes. Was I aware of some of these issues? Also yes. Frankly, I made a choice that it was better to make some compromises and speak up in the hopes of reaching a few people than to stay quiet out of risk of being called to task for failing to completely live up to the aspirations.

      Thus I would like to say that I think your criticism is valid, and I think that it demands a real response. In the coming days I’ll speak with the other people who run this blog to see what they think about transitioning it in such a way that it serves to better reflect our values. That being said this isn’t something that I can change right this minute, and while I go about trying to make these changes I do not intend to stop writing (not that I think that’s what you’re suggesting I do). Although I will say that if you have advice on the best way to go about this your expertise would be highly (highly!) appreciated – and if you really have a good idea as to how we can make this site better accord with the values we express (such as Piwik) your insight would be very valuable (and if you want to discuss this in a format other than the forum feel free to e-mail us at librarianshipwreck [at] {and yes, I know that it’s a google e-mail address}).

      Your comments and concerns are spot on, but in your various quotes one element that you neglected to mention is that I usually try to emphasize that to succeed we need to work together and help each other out. So, if you know how we can improve let us know! Seriously. I’m a big believer in mutual aid, and I know that sometimes I could use some help.

      So, thank you for keeping us critical, especially of ourselves.

      – Zachary (The Luddbrarian)

  3. Pingback: Who Watches the Watch Wearers? | LibrarianShipwreck

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This entry was posted on January 30, 2014 by in Capitalism, Smartphones, Technology, The Internet and tagged , , , , .

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