• Peter Kasting

    On the contrary, as a Googler, I think dropping “Don’t be evil” would be a huge mistake.  You are correct when you note that that slogan gives Google much further to fall when it makes mistakes.  But that serves as a greater incentive not to make such mistakes.  If Google had a different motto or none at all, and didn’t get called out in the press for the kinds of problems that have occurred the last few months, don’t you think it would be much more likely for more such problems to happen in the future?

    With our existing motto, we have good public reason to hold each other’s feet to the fire internally.  And as long as we do the best we can, we’re more likely to hire idealists like me who really value a company that is trying to do the right thing and not be “just another big company”.  Maybe that makes the folks like me stupid — or maybe it’s an important positive feedback loop that, despite a bad few months, has not yet lost all its power.

    I still believe that Google can, should, and will be different — not “just another big company” as you assert that we have indeed become.  The day I stop believing that is the day I start looking for another employer.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Peter, I think internally Google should work hard, as I know the company has, not to be just another big company. I’d love that this is also your public goal, as well. I don’t want that given up.

    But one problem with “Don’t Be Evil” is that it defines every other company but Google as evil, but it’s nature. That’s how I think outsiders would interpret it. That’s how I think some of your competitors would interpret it. And plenty of employees at other companies don’t believe they’re being evil, either.

    That’s why shifting the motto to something different might help. “Be good” or “Be good to our customers” doesn’t mean you still won’t get your feet held to the fire. But it does mean you’re not inadvertently suggesting everyone else is bad. That motto measure you against yourself. Don’t Be Evil measures you against what you perceive everyone else being.

    The other thing is that Googlers really, really need to understand that outside of Google, politicians, the press and perhaps a growing number of your customers do see you as just another company. I can’t say enough how many times I’ve felt like Google has pushed out some change that causes concerns with the reaction of “but we’d never do that!”

    Just saying or thinking that Google would never do something because you know the internal culture doesn’t cut it in a world where people are used to companies doing whatever they can get away with.

    Be good — that would be awesome. I wish more companies would. But don’t assume that people just believe you’re being good. You have to prove it each and every time.

  • http://www.seo-theory.com/ Michael Martinez

    A better motto might have been “Don’t be selfish”.  Adhering to a standard like that would have helped Google avoid some of its recent mistakes, such as drumming up a lot of fear and uncertainty over SOPA with misleading statements about it breaking the Internet, destroying freedom of expression, and being bad in general (all nonsense — except that Google’s Public DNS would have to be radically altered and Google would have to stop participating in the estimated $38 billion annual “dark” economy built on top of IPR theft).

    Truly putting users first means you have to be willing to take a hit on your stock price and revenue stream.  I’m not convinced Google has quite figured out that part of the equation, but I’m willing to wait and see.

  • Peter Kasting

    I really disagree that “Don’t be evil” on its own implies that all other companies are evil.  I agree with you that plenty of people at other companies, and in fact plenty of other companies, want to do the right thing and be more ethical than the minimum pure self-interest would demand.  I don’t think Google is explicitly or implicitly saying that that’s not the case.  There’s absolutely nothing in those three words that speaks about anyone but Google.  Even if the origin of the motto came from people who were painfully aware of how evil they felt another company was acting, that still doesn’t mean the result they came up with passes judgment on the entire rest of the world as you seem to think all outsiders believe.

    I also think it’s very clear to many of us Googlers that a lot of people do, in fact, see us as “just another company”.  Any Googler who thinks otherwise is blindingly ignorant about the rest of the world.  Sadly there are definitely a cohort of Googlers who are, in fact, that ignorant. In any case you are completely right when you note that we need to prove we’re doing the right thing and not assume others’ good will.

  • fjpoblam

    I think dropping “Don’t be evil” would be a very good thing. I think it is possibly not understood in the manner intended. 

    First, we may be aware that many take it as “Don’t DO evil” [emphasis mine, but I’ve seen that quote on blog comments, many times]. The semantic difference is substantial. An example is that one may easily _do_ evil without _being_ evil.

    And could a few even think it has something to do with doing *good*, or that one may be justifiably disappointed because it doesn’t?

    But more important, I think “Don’t be evil” is intended to remove morality from the arena of Google activities. The intent is to place Google in a[n ideal] realm of pure logic. Attainable? No: Google a being made of subjective humans. Maybe they’ve achieved an automated car: but not an automated [amoral] system programmer.

    Maybe Google should simply aspire to one goal: eschew obfuscation.

  • http://gravitationalpull.net/wp/ ampressman

    What? I think by far most Internet citizens feel that Go Daddy was evil for supporting SOPA and Google and many, many other web sites that fought against it were doing the right thing.

  • Subhorup Dasgupta

     I cannot comment on what the guiding principle at Google may have been in the early years, but this article was very informative, and offers a good deal of food for thought. I too wrote about my understanding of how Google got to this point where its privacy policy and its monopolistic behavior is becoming more and more noticeable. Maybe readers of this blog will find it useful.


  • http://ciarannorris.co.uk Ciaran

    Put simply, “Don’t be evil” is a simplistic, even childish way of looking at and judging the world. Very few things in this world are black or white, and selling advertising certainly isn’t. Google is, depending how you track these things, a teenager now – it’s time to grow up.

  • Anonymous

    It is truly amazing to me that the “evils” of Google are touted by the media, but the same media ignore the truly disgusting actions of competitors (and potential competitors) such as the landline telephone companies and cell phone carriers.

    Think about it.  Google collects huge quantities of information, anonymizes it, then uses that information to target advertising to you.  This is the same amount of advertising that you would get anyway, just not specifically targeted to you based on your browsing habits.  For the life of me, I don’t see the harm in that.  Plus, you get great services – email, web browser, various google voice services – all for no charge at all.

    On the other hand, witness the telephone companies that engage in blatant price gouging and allow unscrupulous affiliates to “cram” bogus charges, such as phony “security” services, “preferred” message services and outrageously expensive long distance services (for land lines), onto your monthly phone bill.  This egregious behavior has gone on for decades, but the same media that criticize Google are silent with regard to the phone companies.

    Right now you can avoid a $10 monthly charge to Verizon for SMS messages by setting up Google Voice to route your messages.  Is seeing targeted advertising instead of blanket random advertising worth it to save $10/month?  You bet, in my view!

    Sure, there is the potential for Google to abuse the information it gathers.  But so far I have seen no evidence of this.  Until I do, I will continue to use Google’s services and encourage it to provide more.

    One good example of “more” is Google Wallet.  Soon there will be several companies competing for control over point-of-sale (POS) financial transactions using mobile devices.  Apparently Verizon (as well as other carriers) wants this lucrative business, since it appears that Verizon has blocked Google from implementing its “wallet” service on certain devices (e.g., Galaxy Nexus).  Which company would you trust for your financial transactions – Google (or maybe Apple) or Verizon?  Based on its history, I would not trust Verizon or the other telephone carriers, but I might trust Google or Apple.

    In fact, the large, well-capitalized companies like Google and Apple are well-positioned to crowd the phone carriers out of the POS transactions business and other services.  This will diminish the phone carriers to the status of “dumb pipes”, which is probably what they should be anyway.

  • http://esjr.pip.verisignlabs.com/ esjr

    I have struck them — Google — off my dance-card : exit chrome [enter comodo], exit google DNS, 3rd party cookies etc.
    Some of their recent moves, even before the new ‘privacy’ policy, like their ‘creative’ use of certain protocols (TCP, HTTP and DNS) reek of ‘entitlement’…old MS at it’s devious worst spring to mind.
    Apart from the privacy invading chicanery, the ‘model’ is destroying true content : most sites no longer tell/sell or service anything except their ‘service providers’ up stream with data-streams on clicks and eye-balls.
    The whole thing is going the way of the banks : the business is no longer the business, the ‘derivatives’ are.
    sic transit…

  • Anonymous

    Pass the cool-aid!

  • Anonymous

    Google is a huge corporate profit machine beholding to its shareholder’s interests, just like any other large public corporation.

    This holy of holy religious talk is just plain silly!

  • Anonymous

    Well then, maybe they should change it to:

    “less evil than some”

  • http://www.thenetworkgarden.com hypermark

    Great post. I blogged a few days back that Google had “jumped the shark,” but that perhaps wrongly implies that the company’s best days are behind it, when that clearly need not be the case. It’s almost like they need a messaging “do over” so they can gain the halo effect for all of what they are doing right, without having to live up to a bunch of sanctimony that they themselves created.

    Can we just say it already? Google has ‘Jumped the Shark’

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1581498299 Niki Bright

    I think any company, no matter how big they are, where you can not reach the appropriate executive by phone is an evil company.  Both Facebook and Google think they can blow people off by referring them to outrageously inadequate online “customer service” pages. I’ve been in business for decades and when I have called the president of Sony or GM (w/ serious concerns) I get through, or I get a competent secretary who takes a message and the person gets back to me.  Good luck with that when trying to contact one of these new-age “evil punk-run” companies.