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Most people know that Google’s informal tagline is “Don’t be evil.” In fact, that phrase comes with a little background, nicely described at Wikipedia:
“Don’t be evil” is the informal corporate motto (or slogan) of Google, originally suggested by Google employees Paul Buchheit and Amit Patel at a meeting. Buchheit, the creator of Gmail, said he “wanted something that, once you put it in there, would be hard to take out,” adding that the slogan was “also a bit of a jab at a lot of the other companies, especially our competitors, who at the time, in our opinion, were kind of exploiting the users to some extent.” However, the official corporate philosophy of Google does not contain the words “Don’t be evil”. The statement that can be considered nearest to the supposedly ‘Don’t be evil’ motto (so widely circulated by the media) is the 6th point of the 10 point corporate philosophy of Google which says, “You can make money without doing evil.”
“Don’t be evil” is said to recognize that large corporations often maximize short-term profits with actions that destroy long-term brand image and competitive position. Supposedly, by instilling a Don’t Be Evil culture the corporation establishes a baseline for honest decision-making that disassociates Google from any and all cheating. This in turn can enhance the trust and image of the corporation that outweighs short-term gains from violating the Don’t Be Evil principles.
It’s a great tag line. Mainly because it does effectively paint a vivid picture of what Google is, and/or what Google wants to be. But today, I’ve been thinking a little more about my “what if” question, a question largely spurred by two separate things.
First: I was listening to a Spark podcast, which brought up the issue of cloud data security (i.e. all of that stuff that you store on other people’s servers, such as gmail for example). Here, the interview with Danny Sullivan discussed possible repercussions of hackers attempting to get to your cloud data, the most infamous example, being those attempts aimed at human rights advocates within China.
Second: I was shipping off some iPods to winners of a writing contest, and mulling over whether the Science Creative Quarterly should host another writing contest next year.
It then dawned on me, that it is indeed good (not to use the word too lightly) that Google does prescribe to the “Don’t be evil” mantra, because, after all, they are keepers of an inordinate amount of information. Information that is about me, about you, that is trivial, that is significant, that is lucrative, that is powerful.
At that moment, I also realized that some interesting writing could be had, if writers had the chance to tackle the query:
“What if Google was evil?”
Which also brings up the bigger question. In that I have no doubt that Larry and Sergei currently have the best intentions with their work. However, things do change. People change. People move on (literally or mortally as the case may be), and different people take charge. What then?