Someone told me recently that a presenter at a workshop they'd attended began a topic with a statement something to the effect of: "Can we all start by agreeing that Google is not evil." I was glad at the time that I wasn't at the workshop. At the time, Google was in the news for cooperating with the Chinese government to censor the Internet in China.
But evil is a big word.
Reuters talked with Google CEO Eric Schmidt back in June and one of the topics was the company's philosophy or motto, "Don't be evil."
Schmidt said "Don't be evil" is meant to provoke internal debate over what constitutes ethical corporate behavior, rather than representing an absolute moral position.Sure. That's a good excuse.
"We don't have an 'Evilmeter' we can sort of apply -- you know -- what is good and what is evil," Schmidt said before an audience of media industry professionals at an event sponsored by Syracuse University's Newhouse School in San Francisco.
I started thinking about this blog post recently because Google has been in the news repeatedly. Google is getting into the content business with Knol - a project similar to Wikipedia that will let users create something like an encyclopedia online. Is that a conflict of interest, for Google to create content? After all, content is profitable to Google. Google sells advertising that gets priced based on the traffic a website gets. Now they can put ads on their own content and (conceivably) place it higher in the rankings of Google's search engine so that it gets more traffic (and makes them more money). In that situation, they make money for selling the ad to themselves and they make money for having the ads on their page. Double dipping at its finest - but with the twist that Google can influence how much traffic their own pages get.
Is that evil? If it happens, I think it would be bad. But Yahoo! has content and that doesn't seem to create too many problems in cyberspace (although Yahoo! isn't Google).
Google has also been in the news over privacy issues, recently. Not really because they did anything. But a former Google employee has started a search engine called Cuil (pronounced "cool") and the main selling point is that Cuil doesn't keep any kind of history on your searches. Google does. If you have a Google account you can access your search records - and (of course) so can they. For some people, that just adds to their paranoia about life...
On top of it all, the blogosphere is buzzing this week with rumors that Google is going to start a venture capital arm. It can use its profits to shape the tech world into whatever it wants, maybe.
So, is Google evil? Bad, maybe. At times. Aren't most large corporations? The word "bad" just doesn't have the same ring to it, though. That's why Iran and North Korea weren't part of the "Axis of Badness." Words have meaning.
I'll leave you with this. Adam and Blog Your Thoughts thinks Google is a lot like Wal-mart. Things that make you go hmmmm...