Here’s a nice discussion from the New York Times’ Bits Blog—and a debate held this week by Intelligence Squared US. The arguments, naturally, centered around Google’s purported motto: “Don’t be evil.”
Everything from corporate identity to workplace policies to business behavior was fair game. The Bits summary of the arguments included seven deadly sins of Google and eight of its virtues (both of which I hope were delivered tongue-in-cheek). Sins, complete with Latin, from Siva Vaidhyanathan, an associate professor at the University of Virginia:
Luxuria (extravagance or lust): The people who work there get massages. That is corporeal lust of the highest order.
Gula (gluttony): They can eat all day, no matter what they want. There is so much food that they never need to say no. That is the very definition of gluttony.
Avaritia (greed): The Google-Yahoo advertising deal is one of many examples of Google overreaching to corner a market, or completely undermine a market, in an effort to maximize its returns.
Acedia (sloth): Its very model of advertising is based on free-riding. Google makes money off of our work. We blog, we put our cats on skateboards and record them for videos. We do all of this work, and then Google harvests our work, runs all of this content through this computers, spits it back out at us, with almost no actual value added.
Ira (wrath): There are hundreds of small companies all around America that have found their Google ranks decline significantly because they tried to optimize their results. They were just doing what a company should do, trying to get more attention for themselves. And Google’s algorithms, its faceless, soulless algorithms, came at them with wrath.
Invidia (envy): Google has recently tried to push its suite of services that directly compete with Microsoft Office. Of course they have at various times threatened to muscle out eBay, muscle out PayPal, muscle out Amazon, in various ways.
Superbia (pride, or hubris): The actual motto of the company is “To organize the world’s information to make it universally accessible.” What could be more hubristic than that?
And virtues from Jeff Jarvis, author of What Would Google Do? (sadly, no Latin):
Google has opened up the world’s knowledge to the world: No longer do we end an argument saying, I don’t know. We go to Google. Google will tell us.
Google respects the wisdom of the crowd: Google learns what it learns because it trusts us.
Google takes the wisdom of the crowd and it gives it back to us: Look at the Google Flu Trends search. It lets us know how often we search for a flu, and how the flu trend is coming. That is our knowledge, not Google’s.
Google connects people: We often are accused online of being anti-social. I think we’ve become hyper-social. I think we’re more connected. Admit it, how many of you have searched Google for an old girlfriend or boyfriend?
Google is a platform that enables us to create: It is an age of creation, and Google creates the platforms, the tools to let us create, the means to let us pay for that.
Google does have ads: [Web publishers] can do what we want with our ads. We can start whole businesses with [Google]. We can create movements with it. We can be found with it. And I believe that Google ads will help support the future even of news.
Google.org is trying to solve (with hubris) the problem of energy and global warming: Politicians are trying to get us on energy with regulation and taxes and prohibitions and slaps on the wrist. Google is giving this investment, and innovation, and invention.
Google has a new model on how to treat employees: We get, they get, massages. [He stops here because his time runs out]
The official debate was a draw, with just under half of the audience voting for and against. The comments of the Bits blog (through the first 99 comments) was, naturally, a bit more slanted in favor of Google: 30% decided it was evil, 43% said it wasn’t and 26% said both, neither, or “FIRST!” (j/k).
Based on these arguments, what do you think. Has Google violated it’s “Don’t be evil” motto?