Google was in the news for the wrong reasons over the weekend. It appears that they have killed off one of their services – Google Video (buy/rent videos for download). How they have chosen to compensate customers who had paid for the service seems curiously dumb. Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing covered it, including the letter sent out by Google (snippets below):

“To fully account for the video purchases you made before July 18, 2007, we are providing you with a Google Checkout bonus for $5.00. Your bonus expires in 60 days… The minimum purchase amount must be equal to or greater than your bonus amount, before shipping and tax.

After August 15, 2007, you will no longer be able to view your purchased or rented videos. “

Presumably customers are being offered $5 per video purchased but I don’t understand why Google didn’t just refund them all. To offer a time-limited ‘bonus’ when you’ve cancelled something your customers legitimately paid for is just asking for a comparison with Microsoft’s historical antics. Small wonder Google no longer tout their ‘Don’t be evil’ tagline (it’s now number 6 on a list of 10 philosophies and rephrased ‘you can make money without doing evil’). There are some great comments on other posts about this subject, over at BoingBoing and TechCrunch (links at the end of this post)

In one simple move, Google has demonstrated why people are reluctant to trust purchasing content online protected by digital rights management (DRM) – buyer beware, who knows how long you will have access to what you have bought. But it runs deeper than that. This is not just about DRM, it also affects the world of ‘software as a service’ (SaaS). Google, Microsoft and others are currently pushing for organisations to run their business using online services – Google Apps and Office Live being the most heavily promoted. It’s bad enough feeling like you have been ripped off buying a product that you are suddenly banned from accessing. But what if you are running your business on services that are either cancelled or have their terms of service changed in such a way you can no longer use them? What is a reasonable notice period to enable you to move somewhere else? And what compensation should you reasonably expect to cover the disruption and any losses incurred? The power dynamics between tenants and virtual landlords are vastly different from those in the physical world…

On a related note, Cory Doctorow delivered a great presentation about why DRM doesn’t work at Microsoft Research back in 2004 (Those research talks are one of the biggest things I miss since leaving MS). It has been wrapped up into a ChangeThis manifesto for download – Copyright, technology and DRM. Recommended reading!

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Technorati tags: Google; Digital Rights Management; Software-as-a-service

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