Why Google's "Don't be Evil" is Useless

According to Wikipedia,  one of the early proponents,  Paul Buchheit,  wanted the creed to be: 

also a bit of a jab at a lot of the other companies, especially our competitors, who at the time, in our opinion, were kind of exploiting the users to some extent

There are two fundamental problems with this perspective.  The first is that evil, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.  Without a specific definition, the word evil can be applied to any business practice or business competitor.  If we asked the unnamed competitors if they were being evil, their answer would most probably be: no.   In fact, they could use the same arguement Eric Schmidt regularly uses.  If Google behaves in an “evil” fashion, customers won’t use Google’s products.  Why wouldn’t this also be true of Google’s competitors?

The second problem is that the practices Buchheit decries are also used by Google every day.  Every technology company seeks to shape the technical landscape to their advantage.  A clear example of this is Google’s Android phone operating system.  The whole point of the Android OS is to get users to interact with Google’s online search, email, and other services.  For example, it isn’t possible to sync an Android phone’s contact list or calendar with anything but Google’s online services.  Google choose not to include the bluetooth syncing software, widely available for the Linux platform, that would enable the use of standard syncing software.  The fact that they’ve released two versions of the Android software without the bluetooth functionality suggests it will not be there anytime soon.  In more recent events,   Google went after an Open Source developer with is lawyers, rather than first asking nicely.

So wha’ts the alternative?  I think Google would be better served by something like Hewlett-Packard’s 1966 Corporate Objectives (from HP Memory Project). Those objectives proved a practical foundation for decades of success.  The objectives were:

  1. Profit, To recognize that profit is the best single measure of our contribution to society and the ultimate source of our corporate strength. We should attempt to achieve the maximum possible profit consistent with our other objectives.
  2. Customers. To strive for continual improvement in the quality, usefulness, and value of the products and services we offer our customers.
  3. Field of Interest. To concentrate our efforts, continually seeking new opportunities for growth but limiting our involvement to fields in which we have capability and can make a contribution.
  4. Growth. To emphasize growth as a measure of strength and a requirement for survival.
  5. Employees. To provide employment opportunities for HP people that include the opportunity to share in the company’s success, which they help make possible. To provide for them job security based on performance, and to provide the opportunity for personal satisfaction that comes from a sense of accomplishment in their work.
  6. Organization. To maintain an organizational environment that fosters individual motivation, initiative and creativity, and a wide latitude of freedom in working toward established objectives and goals.
  7. Citizenship. To meet the obligations of good citizenship by making contributions to the community and to the institutions in our society which generate the environment in which we operate.
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