Google VP Neal Mohan: Don’t Call Us A Walled Garden

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Neal Mohan, Google’s Vice President of Display Advertising, took the stage at Federated Media’s Signal event this morning in San Francisco, and the first few minutes were pretty awkward. Google has been tangled up in some big controversies recently, and interviewer John Battelle started off by grilling Mohan about them.

First, they talked about last month’s revelation that Google had circumvented Safari’s block on third-party cookies. Mohan repeated the explanation Google offered when the news came to light — that Google was just trying to add the +1 button to display ads for users who had opted-in via Google+. Serving the cookie was the “unanticipated and unforeseen consequence” of using a “known workaround” to make that happen. Now that Google realized what has happened (or, less charitably, now that it has been caught), Mohan said it has “begun the remediation of that process.”

More generally, Battelle asked about the sense that Google is pushing Google+ integration into more and more products — most infamously, the Search Plus Your World feature that inserts results from your Google+ network into Google’s organic search results. Mohan said that Google tries to integrate its products because it benefits users. For example, if you’re searching for a flight on Google, and the timing conflicts with things you’ve already scheduled on your Google Calendar, it’s useful for Google to surface that information.

“That’s a long-term focus,” Mohan said. “That is going to be an objective of anybody who develops products within Google.”

But, Battelle wondered, does that mean that Google is starting to create a “walled garden” around all of its products? Naturally, Mohan said no.

“I really wouldn’t characterize it that way,” he said. “I think you have to go back to the core principles. Google from its earliest days has been about the open web.”

Supporting the open web is still a “fundamental tenet” of Google search and its other products, Mohan said. But that doesn’t mean you should expect to see Facebook and Twitter accounts in Search Plus Your World anytime soon: “We are not the only party in those relationships.”