Posted November 21, 2008 3:54 pm by with 22 comments

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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. 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?

  • I don’t think I really have the right to say they are evil, even if I really want to. It is their own business and they can do what they want, and run it like they want. Just like our businesses are our own and we should market them, and run them the way WE want – we wouldn’t want someone stepping in and telling us how to run our business, would we?

  • JM

    Google is over the peak of the hype – they simply become a normal company. With all goods and bads. But I hope and guess sooner or later they have to let someone look into their big black money spinning box – and they can´t stay ahead of the market forever. At least we should all pray for that 🙂

  • “…and 26% said both, neither, or “FIRST!””

    LMAO! 🙂

  • Evil?? What is evil to you may not be to somebody else.. All depends.

    But all jokes aside, Google is the “Sweetheart” of the net if you compare them to some of the other companies 😉

    Mike —

  • Corporate shennanigans will always be an issue with super-corporations. I prefer to take a neutral stance to see and observe what will eventually unfold.

  • Yeah compared to companies like Microsoft, google really dont seem evil by comparison

  • What difference does it make? Can we do without Google?

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  • I think Google has matured beyond the “Don’t be Evil” stage into a focus on their business model and a consistently respectful and intelligent treatment of their customer base. My congratulations go to Eric Schmidt for this.

    I note that there is no mention of “evil” in their latest 10Q, for example.

    Good thing, too — “Don’t be Evil” was an absurdly sophomoric statement, as well as being deeply hypocritical. For a company that has built their business on copyright theft and pornography (remember that first interview with Playboy?) to use “Don’t be Evil” as their company motto; well, that belongs in a Will Ferrell comedy.

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  • PS3

    Are you saying that pornography is evil then Ted? 🙂

  • Well, I do have sympathy for the devil, as my favorite band would say.

  • Only time will tell.

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  • evil or not, I can not decide it. I’m to scared if Matt Cutt here what I’m saying here about Google :LOL:

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  • GPS

    Not evil. Well, not most the time. 🙂

    Many people lump any/all truly successful companies into the ‘evil’ category…..not based on facts…..just because.

    Google’s good outweighs their bad by a long, long shot.

  • not evil in this time, maybe some others time…Ups Sorry…

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  • CEOmike

    Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely – Junus

    Skilling, Ebbers et al. plus others like Yang who drive their companies to the ground – were/are they evil? Absolutely because they thought they were God and what they did was “good” in their own sight.

    We are having an endemic bout of evil in the global meltdown, evil brings chaos and sufferring, originally masquarading as good. Try contacting Google “customer support” Ha. Also, there is billions being made in click fraud – I can tell you how to avoid detection and make thousands per day – Google can not admit it to fix the problem, this is evil.

    By the way Google search used to be better than others but now I find it good but not the best for some subjects. They realize this and thus the push to get 100% of the market.

  • Jordan McCollum

    Just a note, CEO Mike—that quote is correctly attributed to Lord Acton.

  • They are good but slowly becoming evil unlike other companies who are evil from the start. I say they are evil because of paid links, they penalize sites who have paid links but Google Adwords is all about paid links, isn’t this being hypocritical? I’m just saying…

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  • I guess you’ve got to have a taste for blood if you want to run with the vampires.

  • i like to look at this in the terms of Services verus Cost(instead of evil)

    For example free email unlimited, great search engine
    cost , some ads, some statistal tracking

    The services are just so good that the cost is so fractional

  • Corporate shennanigans will always be an issue with super-corporations. I prefer to take a neutral stance to see and observe what will eventually unfold.

  • Corporate shennanigans will always be an issue with super-corporations. I prefer to take a neutral stance to see and observe what will eventually unfold.

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