- Chris Hondros/Getty Images
Last August, Google announced it would change its name to Alphabet, which would effectively be a holding company for Google and its various businesses – YouTube, Android, etc. – as well as Google’s more outlandish experiments, like its moonshots factory, “X”; its investment arms; and more.
The reasons Google provided mainly had to do with clarity for investors. By creating two specific segments of Google, investors and shareholders could separate the strengths of Google – namely, search and ads – from its riskier endeavors, like self-driving cars. Another reason: Larry Page, then Google’s CEO, wanted to take a backseat in operations in order to focus on his bigger dreams, like the company’s moonshots in health and energy.
That’s all well and good for Page, Sergey Brin, and the various executives at Google and Alphabet. But one year later, if you ask a random person on the street if they know what Alphabet is, they likely wouldn’t know.
This Google Trends data, which compares the volume of Google searches for “Google” versus “Alphabet,” says it all:
And that is probably the biggest benefit from the name change: Google’s more controversial projects, such as its efforts to expand its reach with accident-prone drones and sensitive healthcare technology, no longer have Google’s name on them. They’re now owned by Alphabet, an innocent-sounding company you’ve probably never heard of.
- Seth Wenig/AP
Google has wrestled with its public image for years
For over a decade, Google was the darling of the Internet Age, providing the best search experience, as well as the best online maps and email experiences. Its unofficial motto was “Don’t be evil,” a reminder that while the company manages a ton of personal data, it must never use it for “evil,” which would tarnish the important bond of trust Google had with its customers.
(“Don’t be evil,” by the way, also created the notion that Google would never do anything perceived as evil, which is a challenging, if not impossible, expectation to live up to.)
Toward the end of the 2000s, Google’s image started to change. A big moment was when Google introduced Android in 2008 – an operating system that looked and felt a lot like Apple’s iPhone operating system, which was introduced one year before. People found it suspicious that Google developed Android while its CEO, then Eric Schmidt, sat on Apple’s board of directors during the iPhone’s development. Making matters worse, Apple’s late founder, Steve Jobs, called Android “outright theft” and vowed to destroy Android, fueling feelings that Google wasn’t living up to that “Don’t be evil” mantra.
Other instances in recent years where Google came across as creepy:
While changing the name from Google to Alphabet and reorganizing Google’s various properties under Alphabet doesn’t change the past, it does help prevent similar public relations debacles from happening in the future. Since it’s technically Google’s parent company currently working on all of its projects that might be considered “creepy” – like drones, self-driving cars, genetic engineering, machine intelligence, or its project to extend the human life span – the name Google is kept out of people’s mouths and out of the media, to some degree.
All of this is to say Alphabet and Google are not bad or evil companies just because of this PR shift. If anything, it’s extremely smart of Page and company to separate Google’s uncertain experiments from its solid-yet-mundane search and ads business. But the staggering difference in public awareness between Alphabet and Google is worth noting – so if you ever see a news headline about Alphabet, just think “Google.”