Debate: Does Google Violate its “Don’t Be Evil” Motto?

by on November 17, 2008 · 28 comments

Tomorrow evening, I’ll be participating in an IQ2US debate arguing against the proposition that “Google violates its ‘don’t be evil’ motto.” The venue is Caspary Auditorium at The Rockefeller University, 1230 York Avenue at 66th Street, in New York City.

Jeff Jarvis, Esther Dyson and I will be debating Harry Lewis of Harvard, Randall Picker of the University of Chicago Law School, and Siva Vaidhyanathan from the University of Virginia. Jarvis’ blog post on the subject has gotten some interesting discussion.

As with any company, one can complain about the details of how Google does business. I think I call it like I see it with respect to Google, having derided their gaming of the regulatory system in the 700 MHz auction and lauding their generally good corporate citizenship on privacy.

You have to drain the word “evil” of meaning to apply it to Google. But even in the casual, slightly anti-corporate sense that the founders probably meant it, Google isn’t evil.

Though publishers and holders of copyrights protest (often from ignorance of the modern media landscape), Google makes their material more available, more useful, and more profitable.

Owners of trademarks may object, but Google AdWords brings new products and better prices to consumers.

Surely Google should avoid censorship on behalf of the Chinese government, but exiting China would abandon the Chinese people to government-approved information sources only.

Google Earth, Maps, Street View, and basic search challenge privacy, but Google has made itself a model corporate citizen by working to educate users, by making its products transparent, and by openly resisting government subpoenas.

Some say Google’s search monopoly makes it the most powerful company on earth, but it’s always one misstep (and one click) away from handing its customer base to a challenger.

Disruptive technologies and businesses always make life uncomfortable for the old guard. These complainers should be ignored. Google earns a rightful profit as it makes people around the world more aware, educated, and informed. Evil? Hardly.


Previous post:

Next post: