At the tech conference re:publica which took place on 6-8 May, numerous participants fell for a hoax by the Peng! Collective. During a one-hour presentation on the main stage with the title “your data, our future”, the artist group unveiled a site called “Google Nest” which mimicked the tech giant’s corporate design.
The site introduced a product family supposedly created by Google to provide a “safe place” “where you feel protected and have the power to protect what matters the most to you”. Where your data creates solutions, not problems”. It included four new and rather creepy services: Google Trust, Google Bee, Google Hug and Google Bye. Trust was to be an insurance which reimburses the user in case of identity theft by criminals or intelligence services, Bee was to be a personal drone who watches over your home and family, Google Hug was to be a service to geolocalise other users who are in need of a hug and Google Bye was to be a service that creates a profile from other online services, videos, images and text for the user’s afterlife.
The hashtag #googlenest trended in Germany for 5 hours and received coverage in major German media outlets. German EDRi-members Digitalcourage and Digitale Gesellschaft as well as three members of political parties, Jan Philipp Albrecht from the Green party, Julia Reda from the Pirate party and Halina Wawzyniak from Die Linke, helped engineer the hoax by reacting against Google Nest in the media.
Google Germany clarified very quickly via Twitter that Google Nest was a satire, a parody and “the website a fake”. However, this was not the only reaction by the company. Only 12 hours after the presentation on stage, the artists received a letter from Google’s Trademark team threatening the collective with legal action:
“Please understand that we take no issue with the concept of parody or criticism. However, in this particular case, we are concerned your lack of any disclaimers and the fact that you are linking to Google properties, copying our look and feel (including our trademarks, fonts and layouts) using false Whois information (namely, listing Goolge Inc. as the registrant, admin and technical contact), and creating false professional profiles Paul von Ribbeck and Gloria Spindle which state that they are employees of Google Nest, misleads users as to the origin and purpose of your initiative”.
As a result, the artists declared that they “decided to not waste [their] time on a Trademark fight and on a guessing game as to whether Google will try to sue [us] or not” and took the website down.
Despite Google’s declaration, that it takes “no issue” with parody, the letter sent by its Trademark team to the artist collective is still surprising. In the past months, the company has very helpfully and correctly been lobbying the EU institutions for the introduction of exceptions to trademark such as for the use of parody and criticism – but apparently does not wish to apply this policy to itself.
Trade associations representing Google stressed in a letter to the European Parliament “the importance to clearly set out limitations to the effects of a trademark” and emphasised that examples of permitted use of trademark should include “uses for purposes of parody, criticism or comment”. It was somewhat more consistent in its approach to the domain name used in the parody. In its letter to the artists, Google offers to buy the google-nest.org domain for 100 USD rather than threatening to use more coercive methods. In the letter to the European Parliament, the trade groups highlighted that they wish to “restate our opposition to proposed amendments which seek to extend trademark protection to domain names. (…) As domain names and the Internet are global, and trademarks are territorial, a nuanced approach is necessary.”
Mirror of the original Google Nest website
Presentation “Your data, our future” at re:publica (07.05.2014)
Google’s tweet (07.05.2014)
Google’s letter to the Peng! Collective
CCIA & EDIMA letter to the European Parliament (12.12.2013)
Jan Albrecht spoof press release (07.05.2014)
(Contribution by Kirsten Fiedler – EDRi)