There has historically been a lot of talk about whether or not Google is evil. The company brought this upon itself, by making “do no evil” a part of its public policies.
Interestingly, the Google Book Search Twitter account tweeted the following this morning:
The tweet, as the link reveals, is actually a quote from a book of essays, poems and plays by Oliver Goldsmith, author of the 1766 novel The Vicar of Wakefield. The full quote, from The Good-Natured Man, is:
“Don’t, my life’s treasure, don’t let us make imaginary evils, when you know we have so many real ones to encounter.”
It’s not uncommon for the Google Book Search Twitter account to tweet quotes from various publications in its database, but this one, being about evil, caught my eye, given the company’s relationship with the word.
In its 2004 Founders’ IPO letter, Google included a section carrying the header, “Don’t Be Evil.” Here’s what it said:
Don’t be evil. We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served-as shareholders and in all other ways-by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains. This is an important aspect of our culture and is broadly shared within the company.
Google users trust our systems to help them with important decisions: medical, financial and many others. Our search results are the best we know how to produce. They are unbiased and objective, and we do not accept payment for them or for inclusion or more frequent updating. We also display advertising, which we work hard to make relevant, and we label it clearly. This is similar to a well-run newspaper, where the advertisements are clear and the articles are not influenced by the advertisers’ payments. We believe it is important for everyone to have access to the best information and research, not only to the information people pay for you to see.
The part about not accepting payment for inclusion has been in the spotlight in recent weeks, now that Google seems to have somewhat reversed its stance on that, with its new Google Shopping results. It’s interesting that one thing Google once considered evil, appears not be seen in that light by the company any longer. It’s worth noting, however, that not everyone (even outside of Google) thinks this is necessarily evil either.
Google’s own code of conduct both begins and ends with bits about not being evil. The preface says:
“Don’t be evil.” Googlers generally apply those words to how we serve our users. But “Don’t be evil” is much more than that. Yes, it’s about providing our users unbiased access to information, focusing on their needs and giving them the best products and services that we can. But it’s also about doing the right thing more generally – following the law, acting honorably and treating each other with respect.
The Google Code of Conduct is one of the ways we put “Don’t be evil” into practice. It’s built around the recognition that everything we do in connection with our work at Google will be, and should be, measured against the highest possible standards of ethical business conduct. We set the bar that high for practical as well as aspirational reasons: Our commitment to the highest standards helps us hire great people, build great products, and attract loyal users. Trust and mutual respect among employees and users are the foundation of our success, and they are something we need to earn every day.
The code of conduct (last updated just over a month ago), concludes: “And remember… don’t be evil, and if you see something that you think isn’t right – speak up!”
Given that the tweet came from the Google Book Search account, it also seems worth bringing up the fact that last week, a judge granted class action status to authors suing Google over the company’s book scanning.