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Is Google evil? And why the world is happy I’m not a CEO.

I have recently started following Umar Haque’s blog.

Umair Haque is Director of the Havas Media Lab, a new kind of strategic advisor that helps investors, entrepreneurs, and firms experiment with, craft, and drive radical management, business model, and strategic innovation.

He’s written a manifesto for the next industrial revolution and vouched to provide free consulting to five web 2.0 start ups that actually do something useful for a change (i.e. change the world).

He started an open discussion around the question whether Google is evil or not. I find this a fascinating question. Many people find great comfort in just answering the question with “yes” and pointing to some good examples. However I’ve met a couple of Googlers here and there, read some blogs and read the book. That convinced me that there are at least some people within the company who firmly believe in the Do No Evil motto and work very hard towards that goal.

Also, saying that Google as a whole is either evil or good implies a conspiracy. It implies that a select group of people with evil and greedy plans (I guess most people would point to the shareholders and managers because they wear suits) is in complete control of the company. Not only that, they deliberately employ naive people and let these naive people blog and talk about doing no evil, so that that they can continue their evil plans unnoticed.

This conspiracy theory implies that Google is a well oiled machine, a super organized corporation. My outside observations convince me that that is far from the case. I would not go as far as to say they are an organizational mess, but they are definitely not organized enough to take over the world in a massive global conspiracy.

That argument also means they can’t be all Good. They are definitely doing things that I do not feel comfortable with, even things that I would probably still disagree with if I knew all the inside info. Just use their website to find examples.

So for those people who love simple answers; just pick the answer like and stick to it, if it makes you feel better. There are always more important things in life than answering this question.

This is my reply to Umar’s question:

Can you think of instances where Google has violated this [do no evil] principle?

Probably. In some cases it is hard to decide because they won’t or can’t release all the internal discussion that went into certain decisions. We just have to take their word for it…

Is Google becoming more evil as it attains more market power?

… which becomes a very unattractive option given their current size. No matter how good their intentions, people (and especially institutions that are supposed to protect us from companies doing evil stuff) are just not going to take their word for it. You already mentioned this in a previous post. Update: no that was an article in the International Herald Tribune titled “Google The New Master of Network Effects”, second last paragraph.

Is the relationship between market power and evil set in stone – will Google inevitably become evil, because that’s what happens to companies (and people) as they grow up?

Nothing is set in stone. Google is just a decade old and probably has a hard time dealing with its own size and growth. They can grow really bad or really good. I also doubt that even Larry and Sergey have enough control over their creation to steer it in any direction, although I hope I’m wrong.

In my opinion the “best” (as opposed to “most evil”) thing Google could do is create complete openness. Ideally, they should open source *everything*, including their secret sauces and also have no more secret projects. I think the best way to keep governments happy, make people feel more comfortable and help the world move forward is to make it as easy as possible for a strong competitor to emerge. Ideally a new market player would just have to buy half a million computers, a couple of engineers and marketing team and be able to run a copy of Google, adsense included.

Now this sounds a lot like economic suicide to me, but if they keep growing like this, then if I was Neelie Kroes I would enforce this at some point in the future anyway. So Google could, like Microsoft, wait for that moment or do it themselves right now.

I am sure Larry, Sergey and a whole lot of people working at Google would love this idea, but the shareholders probably won’t like it and it might not even be legal. Unless someone can find a way to do that and make a profit out of it.

Or we can enter the realm of my even more far fetched ideas: just start abusing your power and let the government help you bypass the shareholders. I guess most people are happy that I’m not a CEO 🙂

One reply on “Is Google evil? And why the world is happy I’m not a CEO.”

Haha, great post Sjors! It’s funny how organizations (just like matter, actually) always seem to be a lot less ‘connected’/’organized’ (‘solid’, if you will) if you zoom in, than it seems on the outside.

I’m not sure if completely opening up will change that though. Governments and big organizations produce tons of output. Seeing the patterns and spotting the flaws is still hard. (A lot harder than following 1000 noisy people on Twitter, for instance 😉 Many people complain about ‘information overload’.

Would it be possible that we can somehow ‘process’ the output of an ‘open’ organization collectively? Maybe. It will lead at an interesting world at least, with lots of ‘organic’ organizations, most of them too large to comprehend by a single mind, but still seeming to act like one.

Oh well, end of rant, thanks for making me think! 😉

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