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Don't Be Evil

Entry 766, on 2008-05-09 at 17:29:09 (Rating 2, Computers)

Everyone knows the famous success story of Google and their company motto "Don't be evil". Of course the motto doesn't really mean a lot because very few companies would admit to being evil even if they are. Most are very good at justifying decisions which most of us would consider to be evil using excuses like "the realities of the business world" or "our responsibility to our shareholders".

I do have to admit though, that Google hasn't shown a lot of evil behaviour. They provide an excellent service for free. They distribute lots of cool software, like Google Earth, also for free. And they have stopped Microsoft dominating yet another area of computing (search). So I basically approve of the way they have done things.

Today the BBC News web site reported a vote by Google shareholders to force the company to do more to fight censorship and support human rights. Because the vast majority of control in the company is held by the top executives the motion will have little real power, but is there a real case here anyway?

A major glitch in Google's reputation has been its agreement to censor the Internet in China at the insistence of the Chinese government. In that case they didn't appear to be doing much to fight censorship or help with human rights. The company claims the fact that they are there at all has helped provide more information to the Chinese people even if it is censored. And, no doubt, other companies don't have had any issues with the morality of the situation when it gives them the chance to get established in China.

I suspect Google could have done more to avoid the censorship issue and maybe the US government could have stepped in as well, but on balance I think they have done OK. The fact is that I am prepared to forgive a small moral stumble here and there if the company performs its core role well. I use Google search every day, and I love Google Earth, so as long as they continue to produce great products and services I will be happy with them.

I'm a lot less likely to forgive companies which produce junk products (yes, I mean Microsoft) because they demonstrate evil in their ethics and they don't bring any good into the world to compensate. I'm sure it was Microsoft that Google had in mind when they created that motto: Don't Be Evil!

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