Google: “Don't be Evil” vs “Don't Do Evil”
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Google: “Don't Be Evil” vs “Don't Do Evil”
Xah Lee, 2011-08-22
Matt Cutts, Google's search engine anti-spam leader, perhaps the most popular face at Google after its founders, posted a interesting post about the phrase “Don't Be Evil” vs “Don't Do Evil”.
- An interesting post about “Don't be evil.” (2011-08-22) By Matt Cutts. @ Source plus.google.com
On the subject of “Don't be evil” but unrelated: sometimes people turn “Don't be evil” into “Do no evil.” What's the difference, you might ask?
So I think “Do no evil” is an impossible standard: reasonable people can disagree on which choices are evil, and for different reasons. I prefer “Don't be evil” because it leaves room for honest disagreements, but still encourages Google to strive to make the world better.
Note that “Don't be evil” is Google's informal motto. See Wikipedia Don't be evil, for some detail and criticism.
I find the concept of “evil” being popular mostly in US America only, perhaps in particular became very popular in the past few decades. US has a infatuation with “good vs evil”, “good guy, bad guy”. Everything is framed as either one of them. This probably originated from western culture and religions, in particular, the scripture of Abrahamic religions (e.g. Christianity), and worsened by Hollywood movies. (Star Wars captures the zeigeist here)
The concept of “evil” doesn't really exist in Asia, or rather very different from Western cultures.
Personally, i despise any quote or quips involving the word “evil”. For one, because of the above. I find the concept itself questionable and valueless. I rather prefer, say, illegal, harmful, damaging, etc, from utilitarianism or pragmatism perspectives. Because, when you use more concrete terms, it gets meaningful, while "evil" is dramatic. For two, i despise any quote, quip, sound-byte. Because they are the source of innocuous propaganda and mis-information. Everyone likes to quote them, so it gets spread. Often they are wise or wise-sounding, but truth, or context, gets washed out. For example, “imagination is more important than knowledge” of Einstein. That quote, taken at face value, is patently false. Even given its context, is arguably not true because it's a philosophical statement. But it gets quoted widely, for various purposes, and to please each individual's personal fantasy.
Likewise, the famous “Don't be evil” of Google, is harmful, precisely because the dramatic quality and vagueness. As we see now, lots debates on Google revolves around that quote, generating countless unnecessary emotion and arguments.
I think the concept of “evil” became popular in US after World War II, during Cold War era. e.g. communism = evil. (Need some expert to confirm this.) One way to ascertain this is to count the frequency of occurrence of the word “evil” in publications
In the original article Matt cited:What Does Google Mean By “Evil?” (2011-08-22) By Aaron Aaron Swartz. @ Source www.aaronsw.com
Aaron mentioned he couldn't think of instances where Google being evil (in the context of his definition of it, roughly: knowingly doing something that will benefit the company but clearly harmful to the public.), and he added 2 possible examples from his commenters. Quote:
- Chris Soghoian observes Google refuses to add Do-Not-Track support to its browsers or servers in order to maximize ad profits.
- Scott Teresi suggests Google's refusal to provide customer support (in order to save money) qualifies.
I like to add possible additions, see: Google Sidewiki Block.
Here, in essence, Google hijacks comments from site owners, with NO OPTION FOR SITE OWNERS TO OPT IT OUT.
Another issue i possibly see as Google Evil™ ☺, is that Google kept giving out SEO advices, in particular the evolution of the “nofollow” tag. From Google's perspective, it is helpful for the health of web. In my cynical perspective, it is a way to increase the SEO/spam war escalation, with desired consequence of increasing online ads, and resulting in more spam and today's content farm. So, in this view, Google intentionally fostered the whole SEO market knowning it will increase ads on the web, albeit without any behavior to specifically favor sites that use Google ad service. (More detail here: Google's nofollow Rule and Why Does Google Give SEO Advice?.)
But i must say, on the whole, in my 15 years in the IT industry with attention to company ethics from a philosophical vantage, i'd say Google is a good company on the whole, and i still trust Google. See: Google Ice Cream; Can Google Be Trusted?.