The End of “Don’t be Evil”

It sounds simple: don’t be evil. How hard can it be, really? Don’t kill kittens. Don’t perform illegal acts involving chainsaws, guns, or exotic fruits. Easy.

For such a simple motto – slogan, really – Google seems to have been having difficulties with this lately. Has the omnipresent company grown from its don’t be evil roots, or are they as good-hearted as they’ve ever been?

Evil Act Number One: Messing with Search

Google is all about search. That’s how they make their money, which means it’s their core product. While they offer other services, like Google Analytics and Google Docs, their primary revenue stream comes from advertisements that they show in their search engine. To that end, they need to keep the advertisers happy; to keep the advertisers happy, they need to gather as much data on you as possible. What better way to do this than through a social network?

Absolutely nothin'.

Absolutely nothin'.

Google+ is one of those social networks that seems promising at first. Sure, I’ll sign up; it looks like a nice enough service. Then a week later you realize that you haven’t used it at all. A month later you try to remember why you ever thought you’d use it. Now Google is trying to throw their social network in your face, with Search Plus Your World.

Now, instead of showing items based on a relevancy factor, Google will show you what your friends think or have said…so long as it’s on Google+. Google won’t show you anything from Twitter or Facebook in SPYW, opting instead to draw you in to Google+.

Fishy at best, anti-competitive and illegal at worst, Search Plus Your World is the beginning of the end for relevant, unbiased results in your Google search results.

Evil Act Number Two: Stalking You

Google isn’t the only internet powerhouse monitoring your activity across the web, but it’s certainly the one gathering the most information. Even if you choose to go with a different search engine, chances are that Google is monitoring your activity. It can do this through a variety of ways, like digging through the services that you use Google products for (like, you know, email) or leaving a cookie in your browser, monitoring the sites you visit and things you say.

Beyond that, Google has a powerful tool in their information-gathering arsenal: Google Analytics. A useful tool for bloggers and website managers, Analytics allows someone operating a site to get detailed information on their visitors, right down to what operating system and browser they’re using, their (general) location, and what they viewed on the site. You know who else has that information? Google.

I don’t know about you, but I would prefer if someone didn’t set me up for tracking that I didn’t know was going on. Sure, given Google’s large presence on the Web, I don’t think any single site running Analytics will hurt in the long run, but every single contribution counts. I’m not a big fan of the service, but I see its usefulness.

Evil Act Number Three: Being ‘Yucky’ with Advertisements

I get that Google is offering (a ton of) free services. They make some good tools, from Gmail and Google Docs to Google Search and Chrome. I’m used to seeing advertisements in Google Search results, as that’s how they make money. Cool.

What I don’t like is seeing advertisements based on an email that I’m reading. Sure, I doubt there’s an actual person viewing my email, but it still puts me on edge. It’s much the same when I launch Google Chrome. The first time I saw an advertisement in that Start Page (granted, it was for a Chromebook) I began using Safari as often as possible.

This probably sounds whiny. I could pay for some other email service, or use another search engine, there’s something horrible going on with my mother; feel free to leave those out of the comments section. Why? Because I’m looking into the first one, I’m using DuckDuckGo for search, and you don’t even know my mother. I think.

Evil Act Number Four: Buying a Weapon for the Patent Wars

Everyone has been doing this lately, but it doesn’t make it any less appalling. The patent wars continue, with multiple lawsuits being brought up in multiple countries in an effort to gain a leg-up on the competition through backhanded, broad patents for technology instead of trying to compete by creating excellent products.

Not really, but you get the point.

Not really, but you get the point.

Not only is Google preparing to participate in this ridiculous ‘war’, they’ve also wasted twelve billion dollars in order to do so. You don’t pay that kind of money for a company that has been practically screaming for bankruptcy unless you’ve got something underhanded going on.

One could argue that Google is simply trying to play on the same level as other companies, and they’d be right. Unfortunately, I don’t think those same people ever paid attention when they were told that two wrongs don’t make a right.

Evil Act Number Five: On Verizon and Net Neutrality

Oh, Google. Supporter of the ‘open web’, bringer of light to the dark halls of proprietary formats and closed systems, how have you fallen? Some time around a billion years ago (it’s not an exact science) Google saw that they needed Verizon to sell Android phones, and Verizon needed Google’s backing behind their own internet agendas, which included proposing a variety of principles to the FCC in regards to net neutrality. Thus began the don’t be evil company’s courtship with one of America’s biggest telcos around a decidedly evil agenda.

Essentially, what all this means is that Google and Verizon wanted to make the wired web completely neutral, barring companies providing non-mobile internet access from messing with data or website speeds. What they didn’t do was use solid language or mention the mobile web anywhere…except to say that the rules should be different.

What’s that? The nation’s largest cellular service provider and the company that makes the operating systems on their (one-time) most popular phones wants to stop the FCC from bringing net neutrality to wireless companies? That makes perfect, non-evil sense. Maybe. Not really.

This move was a classic smile-in-the-front, dagger-in-the-back maneuver. By creating standards for wired service providers while trying to retain control of mobile internet, Google and Verizon made it difficult to argue.

Okay, but All Companies are Evil

Well, maybe. Sure, I guess. Even if these other companies are evil, the important thing going on here is the sheer size of the company we’re dealing with. So many people I know don’t know how to enter an internet address that isn’t for Facebook or Google. For them, Google Search is the Web. This makes Google an immensely powerful company in this space, and puts them in a position to do some real harm to the Web as a whole.

If this were a no-name company being creepy the easy answer would be ‘okay, but they’ll obviously die soon, you can’t get away with being creepy’. Unfortunately, Google isn’t a small company. They have money. They have talent. They have dedicated employees that genuinely believe they are helping change the Web (which, to be fair, they are). Google, as an entity, will probably be around long enough to deal some real damage.

I don’t expect Google to change. They’re a for-profit company, and I get that their ultimate goal is to pay stockholders. That’s cool. What I would like to see is the end of such lies like “Don’t be evil”. If you’re going to invade my privacy, mess with how I see the Web, and show me advertisements on every turn, don’t pretend you’re a nice guy.


  • http://otkwebdesign.blogspot.com/ Antonio Ooi

    Love your post! Checkout my similar post too:
    How Google+ Affects SEO
    http://otkwebdesign.blogspot.com/2011/12/how-google-affects-seo.html

  • x

    must resist not falling for troll…

  • Coerv

    I totally agree with that. Companys like Google, Facebook and Apple are scaring me more and more. Those companys are so powerful, that there are only few others left, who dare to compete with them. That can’t be healthy.

  • http://jimmydid.it/ Jim Silverman

    1. twitter chose to not renew their deal with google search. facebook partnered with microsoft. google is reacting accordingly. not evil.

    2. none of the information google analytics gathers is an infringement on privacy, unless you wear a tinfoil hat.

    3. serving more relevant ads is a benefit to the user and the advertiser. also, chrome doesn’t serve any ads.

    4. apple is actually much more anti-competitive with their patent library. in fact, google has only used their newly acquired patents in defense of their existing products.

    5. wild conclusion to jump to based simply on a lack of verbiage.

    all in all, this is a wildly off-topic and ill-advised article on an app review blog. it’s completely biased and lacking factual evidence. not to mention grossly hypocritical.

    p.s. this blog (and the entire envato network) is using google ads and google analytics.

    • Nathaniel Mott

      > 1. twitter chose to not renew their deal with google search. facebook partnered with microsoft. google is reacting accordingly. not evil.

      I am aware of that. It’s also a fallacy that this means Google can’t access that data. Google can, and does, scrape Twitter just as often as it does other websites.

      >2. none of the information google analytics gathers is an infringement on privacy, unless you wear a tinfoil hat.

      For most people you’re absolutely right, but there’s going to be a select few that don’t enjoy Google gathering *any* of their info simply because they visited a site running GA.

      >3. serving more relevant ads is a benefit to the user and the advertiser. also, chrome doesn’t serve any ads.

      That first part is debatable and the second is flat-out wrong.

      >4. apple is actually much more anti-competitive with their patent library. in fact, google has only used their newly acquired patents in defense of their existing products.

      And, if this were one of the Apple-centric sites I would have talked about that. I think that ‘so far’ needs to be added to the end of that second sentence as well.

      >5. wild conclusion to jump to based simply on a lack of verbiage.

      Every omission with something like that it either based on incompetence or clear intent. Either way it’s flawed.

      >all in all, this is a wildly off-topic and ill-advised article on an app review blog. it’s completely biased and lacking factual evidence. not to mention grossly hypocritical.
      p.s. this blog (and the entire envato network) is using google ads and google analytics

      Have you noticed that we tend to run articles that *aren’t* application reviews? So far as the lack of evidence and bias goes, that’s why it says ‘Opinion’ with the category.

      You’re right, the AppStorm network runs Google ads and uses GA. That’s out of my control, and speaks to the fact that 1. Google is near ubiquitous and 2. Running this goes against what AppStorm as an entity may think. They ran this opinion article that disagrees (slightly) with a business model they’re using. Freedom of speech.

      • http://jimmydid.it/ Jim Silverman

        yes, obviously freedom of speech. but i still don’t think this is the right forum for rambling hate articles, which (even you agree) are extremely biased and not based on fact.

        at this point, i’d like to point out how your desire for google to access your social network information is in direct conflict with your apparent concerns of google having access to ANY of your information.

      • Vibin

        @Nathaniel Mott
        How do you think Google can access Twitter data without its permission? Vic Gundotra himself told Search Engine Land that Twitter isn’t ready to renew the deal.
        And talking about competition, Google is the same company which renewed their search deal with Firefox, their very own competitor, I’m sure MSFT wouldn’t offer that much amount.

        Google may not be perfect in this aspect but it is much better than Facebook (sells personal info, as Assange says), Apple (doesn’t care about labor at Foxconn), Twitter (now trying to censor tweets) and other companies.

  • Griz

    All this is fruitless academic musing unless a definition of evil is agreed upon. In practice, the ethical code of any entity, corporate or human, is a constantly moving target.

  • aemi

    With all do respect to Nathaniel, I believe the only guy who got it right is Jim Silverman.

  • http://wojodesign.com Kyle Deming

    I mostly agree with these points, except I don’t see anything wrong with ads in email. Unless they are actually reading people’s email (which I doubt they are, and I’m not aware of any evidence in favor) then there is nothing harmful about this practice.

    Definitely agree that Google has dropped the don’t be evil thing like a hot potato.

  • http://twitter.com/jholyhead James

    Let’s face it, they’re only a heartbeat away from the Third Reich.

    Or not.

    Google is a Public company. They are accountible to their shareholders. If they don’t make money, they go bust, then no GMail, no Docs, no Search, no Wave (what…they killed it already?). None of what they are doing is evil, none of it is really even unethical. They’re treading into grey areas, but generally doing a pretty good job of it.

    If Google bugs you that much, you could always go back to Yahoo or Bing – oh look, I made a funny

  • andy

    How can people justify SPYW???

    Its being forced upon everyone, you can’t open any type of google acc without joing G+.

    My search results are utter nonsense! I don’t want crap from G+, I want to search the World Wide Web! Isn’t that what a search engine is for?

    Its a disgrace how they are forcing it onto people, the only people using G+ are the ones who have a vested interest in it, in other words marketers and NOT regular people

    • Chris

      To be fair on Google+, the only thing I’ve heard or seen about it in recent months is the small “Google+” menu item at the top of the search that I always ignore. Other than that, I don’t know what you mean by them “shoving it down our throats”.

    • Vibin

      Very well said, man. Go make a social network and give its data access to Google, so that Google can show results from it.

      Because your very own Facebook and Twitter aren’t ready to make/renew deals.

      So.

      STOP BLAMING GOOGLE FOR THIS MESS!

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  • http://davetaylormp.com dtmp

    Could someone please point out where Chrome has ads? I’ve been using it for a while now and have yet to encounter any (that I can perceive).

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  • http://twitter.com/sirquini Sirquini

    I have to agree with Jim Silverman in this one; in my opinion regarding to Ads, you can opt-out, you are not forced to provide your mails’ content or web results, plus, you can disable the “search plus your world” option so you will see the normal search results.

    Sorry if my English is not so good.

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  • Carolin

    I am really freaked out after reading the whole article. I’ve never had deeper thoughts about these big companies’ real goal before.

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