Google vs. Apple: If You're Not Cheating, You're Not Trying

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- There is a famous mantra in sports that I have always appreciated: "If you are not cheating, you are not trying."

As a father of two aspiring athletes, this is not a message I want to bestow upon children. However, as an investor, I appreciate that my company seeks to do everything possible to provide the type of return to have made it a worthwhile investment for its shareholders.

But the question is, should a line be drawn between "effort and ethics" and, if so, where?

I'm not going to pretend I am an expert on either subject, but there's also a famous mantra which reminds us, "All is fair in love and war." If you have been an active participant in the stock market over the past couple of years, you would know that "all-out warfare" is the only way to describe the rivalry that exists between search giant Google ( GOOG) and the largest company in the world, Apple ( AAPL).

Saying these two hate each other would be a gross understatement. However, in their mutually intense despising, there is also a great amount of respect, almost like the N.Y. Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. In baseball the only thing worse than stealing signs is getting caught doing it.

However, stealing signs in business costs money -- a lesson Google is learning today.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission imposed a fine of close to $22.5 million on Google to settle charges for allegedly bypassing privacy settings on Apple's Safari browser, according to a Wall Street Journal report late Monday citing sources close to the terms of the settlement. The search giant is accused of circumventing Safari's special computer code known as "cookies" that are blocked by default to spy and collect data on users.

Upon being contacted by the Wall Street Journal, Google subsequently halted the code and stated that it was unintentional and consumers were not harmed. Nevertheless, it did not stop the FTC from levying what is said to be the largest fine on any individual company.

While that may be true, it's a drop in the bucket for a company that has almost $50 billion in cash on Google's books. Also, it doesn't end there as the company faces potential European sanctions in relation to its privacy laws.

It seems as Google encroaches on another territory with its social media platform Google+ to battle Facebook ( FB), it will need to shore up these privacy concerns in order to remove the FTC scrutiny it is currently under. It would not surprise me to see Facebook use this as ammunition against Google down the road if Google+ continues to gain momentum.

Meanwhile, Apple had to have known about these charges well in advance since it recently dumped Google maps from its upcoming mobile IOS browser while at the same time integrating Facebook. One would have to think so.

After all, its browser serves as the subject and possible "victim" of the charges themselves. Furthermore, I think this will only intensify the current hatred and give Apple more motivation to help Facebook do to Google what it was able to do to MySpace.

Bottom Line

Very few things give me more pleasure than to see corporate rivals constantly going toe-to-toe as they battle one-another for technological supremacy. The results of these wars often contain intrigue, suspense and, from time to time, a bit of embarrassment as Google is now experiencing.

But regardless of what the rivalry may bring, it often has observers clinging to the edge of their seats to see what the other is going to come up with next.

Who would have thought espionage was another element to add to the drama? As in baseball, while you have to give Google an "A for effort," it deserves an F for getting caught.

At the time of publication, the author was long AAPL and held no positions in any of the other stocks mentioned, although positions may change at any time.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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