“Don’t Be Evil”

Incognito sent me a link to this article, with the comment: “‘don’t be evil’ went out the window pretty fast eh?”

He got that right.

Naturally Google management rationalizes its cooperation with the Chinese police state as being for the greater good, but I don’t get this as a business decision. Imagine how much good will they could have bought with their other customers by telling the commies to take a hike. I think it might have been good for business in the long run, a force multiplier. As a first-line tech company the example they could have set might have done a lot of good for everyone by showing that it is possible to say no. (How many big companies would have to say no before the Chinese government blinked? Maybe not so many.)

Google’s Achilles heel is its founders’ hubris. Some of the company’s products override customers’ hierarchies in an attempt to impose Google’s search algorithm as the best solution to all problems. (See here for my own complaints.) These are the guys who bought a Boeing jet for personal use and rationalized it as a business decision. It’s their money, and maybe the purchase made sense on the numbers, but they should have known how it was going to play as PR. Or maybe they knew and didn’t care. In the perfect world there would be no penalty for attitude, but in the real world Google is vulnerable to political assaults, and it might not hurt the company to have a rep for principled, pro-freedom behavior. As it is they come across as just another bunch of driven, amoral business cynics, which is, perhaps not coincidentally, how Bill Gates was widely perceived before he got into trouble with the government.

UPDATE: Some of the reactions to Google’s behavior remind me of the Smith & Wesson boycott. The Google situation is different, because some of Google’s competitors, such as Yahoo! and Microsoft, seem to be acting at least as unscrupulously as Google is, but some of the anti-Google sentiments seem remarkably similar to those once expressed about S&W.

UPDATE 2: That didn’t take long. Here’s a report on What Google censors in China that compares Google’s search results with those of its chief competitors.

10 thoughts on ““Don’t Be Evil””

  1. I like how they gave the US government the finger when it came to protecting US citizens’ rights. And how they basked in the glory of fighting for their users’ 1st amendment rights. A few days later, they’re embracing the butchers of Tianemen. All for money right? US users love the 1st amendment, so sell them on that. The Chinese government controls the purse in China, so sell them censorship. Don’t be evil my ass…

  2. I thought Google resisted the govt subpoena out of concern about revealing trade secrets, and because the subpoena wasn’t specific enough, rather than out of any principled objection to govt snooping.

  3. If GOOGLE will deliberately bias search results, conceal ideas opposed by the Chinese government when so directed, and assist in the suppression of freedom; when suitably recompensed and/or threatened ………. why the hell should we believe that they are not already deliberately biasing results,and concealing ideas opposed by the US or any other government
    when so directed [or paid for by private parties], and/or assisting in the suppression of Freedom right bloody now?

    What credibility does GOOGLE have now as a fair broker of truthful information? If you cannot trust the accuracy and completeness of the information that they present, because they have already proved that they can be bought, why should you trust or use their services?

  4. “If you cannot trust the accuracy and completeness of the information that they present, because they have already proved that they can be bought, why should you trust or use their services?”

    Of course you can’t trust the accuracy or completeness of what you find in Google! But not because Google is bad but because it’s the frickin internet. I just find it funny you think Google is a “fair broker of truthful information”. Google’s not the Encyclopedia Britannica. Google doesn’t determine what appears in the search engine by what is truthful. You really don’t want them to either. They don’t judge. Search results are determined by internet users’ linking, I think.

    Google’s capitulation to China’s censors (something Google is not alone in btw) is because they want entry into the Chinese market, not because a private individual or company bribed them. Google doesn’t censor then the Chinese are worse off because they no longer have Google and the info it offers. If they don’t follow the laws in China, then no Google. This is probably a situation common in many non-First Amendment countries. BTW they apparently include on the Chinese version of Google a statement explaining when search results have been censored. Despite the censoring, at least they’re honest about what they’re doing. In other words, they’re notifying the searcher when results have been blocked. You’ll also notice Google isn’t offering email or blogger in China, probably so as not to be in a Yahoo situation where they send some guy off to the Gulag.

  5. For a lot of reasons (I work for an I-bank) I must maintain anonymity on this but I can tell you that the view of hubris as the catalyst for downfall is the understatement of the year. And there is nowhere it is more pronounced.

  6. lindenen, Subotai essentially has the right of it….you’re quibbling with the argument, it seems to me.

    You yourself said “They don’t judge….., I think.”

  7. It’s apparent Google no longer believes their users are their customer. Perhaps they never did. There are many enterprises (teachers, newspapers, aircraft manufacturers, etc.) which make major policy decisions which are unrelated to, or even adverse to, their customers’ interests. Their ultimate fate is seldom a desirable one.

    Sell Google short.

  8. “You yourself said “They don’t judge….., I think.”

    Yes, because I’m not totally sure about how their search engine works. I think it’s just determined by internet users linking to certain sites.

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