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Google: Don’t be evil…to whom?

These days Google’s PR is working overtime trying to explain their way out of hypocrisy. When I wrote before about Microsoft, I already mentioned how they are increasingly getting it more difficult to keep their image of innocence. I don’t think they’ll be able to maintain their “Don’t be evil” slogan much longer. In fact, they probably already have their marketing department trying to come up with new slogans.

Don’t be evil? Sure, but everyone forgot to ask the important question. Don’t be evil to whom exactly? It appears the answer is: “To our shareholders.” Just like I wrote before about Microsoft, Google is now a corporation, and they are going to have to keep shareholders happy. That stock price has got to keep going up! Doing anything to make shareholders upset is suicide.

So do you think that Google, similar to Microsoft and Yahoo, are going to want to risk losing business in China? I doubt it. For all their good intentions, Larry and Sergey don’t have the balls to truly not be evil. It was no surprise when I read this article on eWEEK to find the following:

Aware of the trade-offs it is making, Google executives said they believe the company can play a more positive role by participating in the Chinese market, despite restrictions, than by boycotting the country in order to avoid such compromises.

“While removing search results is inconsistent with Google’s mission, providing no information (or a heavily degraded user experience that amounts to no information) is more inconsistent with our mission,” the company stated.

A more positive role? Again, positive for whom? Positive for the Google shareholders? Positive for doing business in China? Positive for making a lot of cash? Or do you think it is positive for all the people in China who are being denied such basic rights as freedom of speech? Do you think it’s positive based on moral grounds and ethics? Is helping governments restricting the rights of people consistent with Google’s mission? Is helping governments censoring information consistent with Google’s mission?

I imagine, based on the quote above, that the discussion at Google might have gone somewhat like this:

Google exec #1: Hmm, we seem to be having some trouble with the Chinese government. We’re going to have to listen to them, or, risk shutting down our business there.

Google exec #2: I’ve noticed the problem. But we can’t just shut down our business there and risk having Microsoft and Yahoo getting all of China. Shareholders wouldn’t be happy.

Google exec #1: I understand your concern, but we can’t comply to these restrictions. Our mission is to give people access to information, we can’t go ahead and start censoring information now. That’s evil. The Chinese government shouldn’t be doing this, it’s evil.

Google exec #2: I know, but consider the options from the perspective of the people in China. We can either say no to the Chinese government and deny those people access to ALL information we have to offer, or, we can censor SOME information, but still let the people have access to most of what we have to offer. That seems more consistent with our mission, right?

Google exec #1: Hmmm, you have a point there. If we look at it that way, we can still help the people in China and keep doing business there while we also keep our shareholders and the Chinese government happy. Everybody wins, happy people everywhere!

Google exec #2: Yee-haaw!

I’m going to compare this to another case, which is a bit extreme but makes it easier to make my point:

Alex: Dude, check this out! Someone left their Alienware laptop in their car. Let’s take it! You’re good at lock picking right? Open the door.

Robert: I’m not sure we should be doing this man. Stealing isn’t right. I can’t help you with this.

Alex: Don’t be like that! You know I’m going to take it anyway even if I have to break the window or force the doors somehow. So you can either help me so we minimize the damage, or I go at it alone and make the owner deal with even more costs to repair the car apart from losing the laptop.

Robert (thinking): Hmm… He does seem to have a point. He’s going to steal the laptop anyway, right? I might as well do the owner a favor and help Alex so that the damage is minimal. Plus, this also doesn’t put my friendship with Alex at risk…I can’t loose him as a friend.

Robert: *sigh* ok let’s do it.

Perhaps you can already see where I’m going with this, but allow me to explain. We can all agree, I’m sure, that what Robert is doing is wrong. He is basically helping his friend commit a crime. But you could also look at it differently and say that Robert is a good person for wanting to help his friend, and, for thinking about the owner of the laptop because of trying to keep the damage done to the car to a minimum.

Similarly, Google thinks, and/or would like us to think, that they are helping the Chinese people by at least trying to provide them with the information they are allowed to view, instead of denying them access to all information, but in the process, they are willingly helping the Chinese government with committing a crime against their people. They are actually helping the government there to restrict freedom of speech and to deny the people there their basic rights.

So much for “Don’t be evil.” Google PR are making all kinds of sharp turns right now trying to explain their way out of this and making them look good, but it won’t work.

And it will only go downhill from here. Once they start doing business there and start to rely on it, the Chinese government will have more power over them and will get them to agree to even more things. Like I said before, corporations are only interested in protecting their interests, and you’d be surprised at the things they can be willing to do in order to protect themselves. In the world we live in, everything seems to be about interests and protecting them. That always seems to have the highest priority instead of moral principles and ethics. Just look at Microsoft. They are willing to fight the EU, South Korea and the US government to be able to release certain software with Windows, but gladly comply to the Chinese government’s request to censor information! Isn’t that just lovely?

Finally, I looked at the following quote from Google:

While removing search results is inconsistent with Google’s mission, providing no information is more inconsistent with our mission.

and couldn’t help but think about this one:

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal to others.

So you know, right now everything Google does is consistent with their mission, but some things seem to be more consistent with their mission than others.

I hope everyone else is able to notice the hypocrisy.

The world, as I usually say, is broken.


  1. Karel Donk » Archive » You are losing your privacy on the Internet (20/10/2006)
  2. Karel Donk » Archive » Google ‘in bed’ with CIA (01/11/2006)
  3. Karel Donk » Archive » Does Google really regret censoring information in China? (02/02/2007)
  4. Karel Donk’s Blog » Blog Archive » On Google VS China: Why Google is now suddenly against censorship in China (15/01/2010)


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