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Entry 1970, on 2019-03-10 at 19:17:32 (Rating 3, Computers)
Google's original catch-phrase, and part of their code of conduct was "don't be evil". Well that idea certainly seems to have been thrown out, now that the company has transitioned to a highly successful corporation. What a joke that has become, and in fact even Google must realise it, because the phrase was officially dropped last year.
I really think they thought that Google was going to be different and that "don't be evil" actually meant something. Here is part of the original code of conduct: Googlers generally apply those words to how we serve our users. But "Don't be evil" is much more than that. Yes, it's about providing our users unbiased access to information, focusing on their needs and giving them the best products and services that we can. But it's also about doing the right thing more generally - following the law, acting honorably, and treating co-workers with courtesy and respect.
Look at that, and it's pretty obvious why they couldn't honestly keep it. Here's an excerpt from the current code: The Google Code of Conduct is one of the ways we put Google's values into practice. It's built around the recognition that everything we do in connection with our work at Google will be, and should be, measured against the highest possible standards of ethical business conduct.
See the difference? From a simple wish to do something good for customers and to follow the highest standards of pure ethics, they transitioned to a form where they strive for the highest standard of "business ethics".
I'm sure many business people (especially those in big corporations) really do believe that business ethics is a thing, but many people would say that it is an oxymoron of the same type as "military intelligence" and "female logic". Yes, I know that those two examples are an attempt at being humorous, but I think that "business ethics" actually is something which might not really exist, at least if the business is going to be successful in the conventional way, and that ethics is defined in a recognised way.
So it really seems to me that Google has gone down the same route as many other companies which started off being idealistic and, as they became more successful, just went down the same old path of throwing out ethics and trying to maximise profits using conventional business practices.
For example, the original code contained this: "providing our users unbiased access to information". Does anyone really think Google still provides unbiased information? Clearly it doesn't because the results of Google Search (still the product they are best known for) are biased in three ways: first, they reflect the biases the Google algorithm gains from the user; second, they filter out material which is considered by Google to be unacceptable; and third, they inject ads which are often not necessarily particularly relevant, and are clearly purposed to making Google more profit rather than providing the user with better information.
For example, I recently wanted to buy some tickets for a concert, so I Googled the name of the internet service I usually buy tickets from. At a quick glance it looked like it came up first in the search list so I clicked the link and started to find the tickets. But after a short period I realised the site wasn't what I was expecting and was actually the rather controversial site Viagogo, where many people are often scammed. I should have checked for the "ad" icon, but I missed it that time, and many people don't ever look for it. A friend did buy tickets there, and she is now not sure whether they are even genuine.
Is this providing the best, unbiased information, or is it just making a quick, easy profit with little regard for the overall quality of experience? And is this what Google means by "business ethics"?
I know that Google Search is a really good service and I have tried alternatives, like DuckDuckGo, which are OK but really just don't give the same quality of results. And I understand that a free service needs to be paid for some way, but I think Google could do a better job of optimising the quality for the user, even if that means that the pursuit of profit isn't quite so high in their list of priorities.
Google do provide some other really good servies and products too, like Android, YouTube, and Google Chrome (now the most widely used web browser by a significant margin). But can they really claim responsibility for these creations? No. In every case they are either based on existing technology, usually free, or they were created by someone else and acquired by Google.
Android is built on top of the open source OS Linux, YouTube was created and made popular by another company before Google bought it, and Chrome is based on an existing free rendering engine.
So what has Google really done? They created an excellent search engine. In fact, even that isn't true, because Google search was created in 1998 by Larry Page and Sergey Brin as a research project when they were both PhD students at Stanford University.
So are there any real examples of Google being genuinely creative and innovative? They have acquired a lot of really good basic systems, tidied them up a bit, and applied a commercial model to them to make the company incredibly rich. Plus they have applied their own extreme political ideology to filter what people can and can't see. Is this an example of them being not evil? I don't think so.
It might seem here that I have been unfairly criticising Google, and that point is partly true, but every other major corporation involved in technology have done exactly the same thing. That includes Microsoft, Apple, and Facebook. In fact, Facebook is probably the single most objectionable technology company on the planet right now. I have never seen so much success generated by such a mediocre product and such a truly immoral business model.
Now at this stage I do have to admit that I use Google, Apple, Facebook, and even Microsoft products every day. Does that make me really hypocritical? Well, in some ways it does, but I don't use those products through choice, I use them because I have to.
To be fair, Google and Apple do make really good products, and I do choose to use them despite their questionable business practices. But Microsoft and Facebook make such junk that I would never use them if I had a realistic choice. But if I want to be part of the computer community today (and I do, because I am an IT consultant) I have no viable alternative.
Where did things go wrong? Well I think there is a basic flaw in corporate culture where companies which become successful through clever engineering and genuine innovation are eventually taken over by professional management types. It happened with Google when their CEO, Sundar Pichai, who has an MBA (never a good sign) took over, and it has happened when Tim Cook (another MBA type) took over from Steve Jobs at Apple.
Whether this more "professional" and "business-oriented" style is a good or bad thing could be debated. Some would say that to create great products and to truly innovate a company must be financially successful and well organised. Well maybe, but if you are going to take that path don't even pretend that your prime motivation is to create great products and services for your customers. And forget about meaningless statements like "don't be evil". They're not relevant when a company is taken over by the management types.
Comment 1 (4997) by Jim on 2019-03-12 at 12:22:07:
I'm confused. If the conventional management model is so bad, then why do so many successful companies use it? In fact, is it not all companies? You seem to be ranting on about something which you claim is evil, but where is your evidence (that being something else you demand of others)?
Comment 2 (5000) by OJB on 2019-03-13 at 12:29:11:
Well, that's a good point, but many smaller companies start out with flatter management structures and at that stage of their existence they tend to be very innovative and creative. But as they become more successful they generally have to it in with the standard structure of gathering public funding, having a board, and engaging "professional" management. Then their creativity crashes.
Even companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft tend to buy new technology from small startups, because they rarely do anything genuinely new themselves. So I think my original comment about the destructiveness of professional management still has merit.
Comment 3 (5001) by Jim on 2019-03-15 at 11:10:50:
So you think conventional management stifles innovation. Doe that answer my question?
Comment 4 (5002) by OJB on 2019-03-15 at 11:28:21:
OK, I see your point. You were asking why - even if my contention about the negative impact of professional managers is true - do corporations persist with that model. I think it is all just part of the "system". Corporations are basically obligated to run a standard management model once they go public or the investors will ignore them. You might say it's all a big conspiracy!
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