“Don’t be evil” has been Google’s unofficial motto for a long time, but in recent years it’s questionable whether they’ve lived up to the slogan. So we asked you what you thought. Here are your best arguments.
Not Evil: As a Big Company, They’re Always Going to Offend Someone
One thing many of you pointed out is that Google’s come under more scrutiny about the evil banner because they’ve gotten a lot bigger since they made that original motto. Our own Andy Orin put it well:
As a company’s size and influence grows and their decisions affect millions of people, it can be a mistake to characterize them as evil because they did something you didn’t like. They are a profit-driven business of course, and not an altruistic NGO working plainly for world betterment, and so everything they do is tied to making a buck. Anyway, as far as evil corporations go, Google is not very evil!
It’s not as evil as extremists will say out there, but it’s also not as good as evangelists will tell you. It’s a corporation. While I don’t think they’ll go as far as purposedly ruining people’s lives, blackmailing people, among other practices, they are out to profit somehow. And it seems recently that they are always threading in the grey line of privacy, testing grounds to see how far users are willing to accept changes.
But one thing I’ll have to say is that the company is becoming increasingly more “corporation-ish” over the years, and I don’t like it. I don’t think it’s the same Google as it was when it started it’s business, it grew up too much. See that this isn’t an evil thing, just something that commonly happens with corporations that gets to a certain size – it changes.
This is why we have cases like Google Reader and YouTube bot crapping all over users. I don’t think it’s actively trying to make so many people pissed, but I think, like many other companies that grow up too much, it lost it’s focus, lots of decisions end up being made by people who don’t share Google’s initial vision, they tend to screw up a lot, the unified vision of innovating without being evil is lost in several areas, they will bend over to lobbying strategies and other forces, and it kinda seems that parts of it don’t work together with others.
To me it brings up the question, “Do good intentions upscale very well?” Can they survive the growth of a company like Google? I’m picturing Google as a quazi-benign mega bear with clumsy butter-paws that are fated to knock things over.
Whatever you may think about Google, they’re not as evil as a lot of companies out there, and a lot of their less desirable actions are partially the price you pay for becoming a big company with many new interests and needs—not to mention a wide userbase with diverse interests and needs. You can never please everyone.
Evil: They’re Collecting All Your Personal Information
That’s fine and dandy, but many of you said that doesn’t matter: they’re collecting your personal information and using it for profit, which is a direct violation of your privacy and is clearly evil, and being a “big” company doesn’t excuse that. Reader Annie’s Boobs says:
Evil. How else would you view someone trying to collect every bit of information you leave out there on the web purely for profit?
They are collecting info about me for profit. I’ve giving it to them. And in return I get awesome services like Gmail, free of charge. They aren’t hiding the fact that they do it, so its not evil at all.
It isn’t NSA style tracking in the name of security and you have no say in the matter while being all hush hush about it.. If you don’t want Google to have info about you… don’t use it. There are a lot of alternatives that are actually getting pretty good.
While Google itself might not be “evil”, the data they save (and eventually sell) can—and most likely will be—abused. I’m sure there are a few seedy things going on inside the company itself, but I trust the 3rd party companies that eventually get the data even less than I trust Google itself.
The question is: even if you enter that agreement with them, does it absolve them of the behavior? Can the average user be expected to understand the possible consequences of this data collection? Seeing as this is a relatively new issue in today’s world—at least on this scale—perhaps the answer to these questions will change over time.
Not Evil: Their Data Collection Makes Your Life Easier
Some of you took this argument 180 degrees in the opposite direction. Sure, they collect your data, but you’ve not only agreed to that, you want them to collect your data. After all, it’s what makes their services so great, says Steve W Schow:
People get angry at Google for being this large, data-collecting engine, which is the exact thing that makes it such a wonderful product! Instead of telling Google to censor itself or modify what data it is collecting, people need to stop and re-think how they interact with the product. All of this technology is relatively new in human history and it will probably take a long time, but Google is doing great things.
It is up to you to think about posting anything online with your real name if you worry about the repercussions. Commit yourself to a lifetime of map folding if you’re worried about Google tracking where you are going. (Maps works better when it know where people are going and how fast they are moving!)
Information will always be used for fraudulent/criminal purposes, don’t confuse that for the wonderful things that Google is doing to make your life better.
Both points are true: Google’s data collection is useful, and you enter into that agreement. But, they are not necessarily mututally exclusive. Just because something is good now doesn’t mean it can’t be abused later.
Evil: They No Longer Have Consumer Interests At Heart
After they shut down our beloved Reader…EVIL
Many of you (including unwritten_law9‘s to the point answer above) said that maybe once upon a time, Google was all about creating great services, but they’ve strayed more and more as time has gone on. They no longer have the user’s best interests at heart. Covarr gives more examples:
I’m gonna go with evil because of their increasing reliance on anti-consumer tactics. Connecting all their services to Google+ in spite of near-unanimous complaints was entirely uncalled for. Intentionally working around Safari’s privacy settings was uncalled for. Letting people file copyright claims on content that wasn’t theirs was uncalled for.
Google isn’t evil, but they are (or at least can be) assholes. Android was built on the idea of being open-source and accessible, but they’ve been reeling that in. . . Chrome is bloated but lacks the full customization you would expect from the maker of Android. I also despise how music you buy on the Play store can only be downloaded twice before requiring their Music Manager.
I’ve also read up a bit on how they operate on the inside. There’s more headbutting than collaboration, not really an ideal place to work even if you can wear jeans and have a pool table on your floor. If you ever have issues with Gmail, you’re probably screwed since there’s no way to contact anyone at Google via phone. That’s one thing Yahoo has on them. Despite my criticisms of them, I still use their services because you pretty much have to. They know this and it’s why they can pretty much do anything they want without fear of losing users.
They may have started these services under the guise of better services for you—and at the time, they may have meant it—but now they’ve thrown user desires to the wind and make changes that serve only themselves.
It’s Not an All-or-Nothing Answer
I would have to say no, at least in comparison to other big players. All corporations are evil to one extent or another so it’s not a 0 or 100% decision.
People act like Google is evil because their unofficial motto was “don’t be evil.” Now that they are less not evil than before, people act like they are evil, but I don’t think they’ve done anything bad enough to actively be actually evil. Compared to Google of yore, maybe, but not compared to a lot of other companies out there.
I don’t think Google is evil, but actually judging the morality of a company is difficult, and almost silly. However, I do think that Google has had a massively positive effect on the world. Even if you don’t personally like any of Google’s services, their existence has likely had a positive effect on things that you do use. For example, imagine the iPhone in a world without Android. Without that competition, the iPhone likely wouldn’t have advanced nearly as much as it has, and today’s model would be years behind where it is.
Is Google perfect? Of course not. Are they “good” or “evil? I don’t know. But I definitely think the net effect of their existence is quite positive.