This is how the state is closing our companies behind our backs.
The first major government attack on the online presence of our entrepreneurs via Google Maps, at the most difficult time imaginable.
We have been working very closely with Google since 2013, and for several years we have also been official Google partners, with the advertising agency, Touch2media.
Over the years we have become more and more specialized in the marketing of courses and further education, especially in terms of tertiary education for adults.
Since, by chance, the spread of the coronavirus at the beginning of February prevented me from physically starting my semester abroad in China, and all teaching in China was switched to online learning, I realized, at some point, that my partners in Austria would also have to switch to e-learning quickly, in order to survive.
Then came that terrible message: from one day to the next, all group courses were forbidden, and training institutes had to switch to offering their courses online.
As a result, our institutes, especially the family-owned companies, converted the courses they offer to e-learning options, which involved a great deal of effort on the part of the coaches and course planners, in order to implement things as recommended by the government during this time of crisis.
After the online courses and new e-learning platforms were advertised in a planning marathon, I was shocked when I did a final check of the Google websites: all of our schools were suddenly “closed” on Google Maps, without us having done so in the system, and without our having been informed about the changes by Google or the government.
Dear State of Austria and Dear Google: We did not close our schools and they are currently up and running! We are merely adhering to the strict guidelines, and no more group courses are being held at our school for now. I don’t think any entrepreneurs in Vienna have ever been faced with such a big challenge as the Corona crisis has brought on us, and instead of supporting us from the beginning, it seems that the authorities were intent on stabbing us in the back from the start!
Since this is now common practice in other parts of the world, for me it was actually just a question of time, as to when this would happen in Europe, that it would then happen without any information being provided in advance, and that it would be done on the wrong basis – all of which are evidence of a certain incompetence in the decision-making bodies of our state.
I think every marketer or web designer, who is even fundamentally involved with Google, knows that Google Maps is now replacing the classic Google search for many users, especially on smartphones, and that generally, nobody takes the time to open the website of a “closed company”.
Also, for good reason, companies that are closed suffer badly in the Google rankings, if they are even lucky enough to be displayed in the search!
After extensive testing in the Google My Business System, I finally found a way to set our partner companies back to “open”, but most Viennese companies will not have implemented this reversal as of 03.23.2020. Of course, we point out on our own websites that our courses are currently only offered as an e-learning option. And besides, the general public should be aware, by now, when they are allowed to leave their homes during this lockdown phase, and that this definitely does not include “attending group courses”
For me, this puts the Austrian government and certain decision-makers, who automatically assume that an educational company that no longer offers classic group courses must automatically be closed, in a very bad light. The government apparently does not trust our companies to switch to online offers quickly.However, for me, as an Austrian citizen, the fact that this is the first time that the government has intervened on such a large scale, directly via the internet, to the detriment of our small and medium-sized enterprises, which are already suffering an unprecedented plight, and that they did so without even informing the entrepreneurs and without any justification whatsoever, is the even more important and shocking aspect of the matter.Since this is now common practice in other parts of the world, for me it was actually just a question of time, as to when this would happen in Europe, that it would then happen without any information being provided in advance, and that it would be done on the wrong basis – all of which are evidence of a certain incompetence in the decision-making bodies of our state.Unfortunately, here too, I was unable to assess the extent to which the government worked together with Google, with regard to data protection, and who is now responsible for it, to a greater or lesser extent. I’m afraid that, due to the Corona crisis, we are currently unable to get in touch with our direct contacts at Google by phone.
Why am I writing a blog article about this very emotional topic? If such violations of our rights are not brought into the public eye, who knows what could happen next. Will the relationship status in private Facebook profiles also be changed in the future, if you install a dating app? Will our social media profile pictures be changed automatically in the future if they do not depict us clearly?
I do understand that we are immersed in an exceptional situation here, where the state temporarily has other powers, but these should be used responsibly and prudently.
In any case, as members of European society, we must endeavor to ensure that the state does not retain such powers once this crisis is over; too often in history, we have seen how governments, and the population too, quickly become accustomed to such powers, and forget the value of the freedom they have gained.
Google, as a company, has also disappointed me terribly here: 8 years ago, I got to know Google as the very essence of the free internet for business purposes, but there doesn’t seem to be much of that left over, if they do not even have the decency to inform the operators about forced changes (I assume that they will do so at some point, due to media pressure).
So if you are an entrepreneur or if someone you know has a company that is currently “closed”, at least tell him that his company is now officially “closed” on Google too, even if he has switched to online offers.
What do you think? Feel free to write down your thoughts in the comments section, and let’s discuss it!