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Don't be evil: Wikis


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"Don't be evil" is the informal corporate motto (or slogan) of Google,[1] originally suggested by Google employees Paul Buchheit[2] and Amit Patel (Google employee)[3] 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."

"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.

While many companies have ethical codes to govern their conduct, Google claims to have made "Don't Be Evil" a central pillar of their identity, and part of their self-proclaimed core values.[4] In 2006, when Google declared their self-censorship move into China, their "Don't be evil" motto was somewhat replaced with an "evil scale" balancing system, allowing smaller evils for a greater good, as explained by CEO Eric Schmidt at the time.[5]


Origin of the motto

According to John Battelle's book on Google, The Search, the phrase "Don't be evil" was not coined by Sergey Brin or Larry Page, but rather by Paul Buchheit, the engineer behind Gmail:

On July 19, 2001, about a dozen early employees met to mull over the founders' directive [to elucidate Google's core values] ... The meeting soon became cluttered with the kind of easy and safe corporate clichés that everyone can support, but that carry little impact: Treat Everyone with Respect, for example, or Be on Time for Meetings.
The engineers in the room were rolling their eyes. [Amit] Patel recalls: "Some of us were very anticorporate, and we didn't like the idea of all these specific rules. And engineers in general like efficiency — there had to be a way to say all these things in one statement, as opposed to being so specific."
That's when Paul Buchheit, another engineer in the group, blurted out what would become the most important three words in Google's corporate history. "Paul said, 'All of these things can be covered by just saying, Don't Be Evil,'" Patel recalls. "And it just kind of stuck."
... In the months after the meeting, Patel scribbled "Don't Be Evil" in the corner of every whiteboard in the company... The message spread, and it was embraced, especially by Page and Brin... "I think it's much better than Be Good or something," Page jokes. "When you are making decisions, it causes you to think. I think that's good."

Avoiding conflicts of interest

In their 2004 founders' letter[6] prior to their initial public offering, Lawrence E. Page and Sergey Brin explained that their "Don't be evil" culture prohibited conflicts of interest, and required objectivity and an absence of bias:

Google users trust our systems to help them with important decisions: medical, financial and many others. Our search results are the best we know how to produce. They are unbiased and objective, and we do not accept payment for them or for inclusion or more frequent updating. We also display advertising, which we work hard to make relevant, and we label it clearly. This is similar to a well-run newspaper, where the advertisements are clear and the articles are not influenced by the advertisers’ payments. We believe it is important for everyone to have access to the best information and research, not only to the information people pay for you to see.

Chris Hoofnagle agrees [7] that Google's original intention expressed by the "don't be evil" motto is linked to the company's separation of search results from advertising. However, he argues that clearly separating search results from sponsored links is required by law, thus, Google's practice is now mainstream and no longer remarkable or good. According to Hoofnagle, Google should abandon the motto because:

The evil talk is not only an albatross for Google, it obscures the substantial consumer benefits from Google’s advertising model. Because we have forgotten the original context of Google’s evil representations, the company should remind the public of the company’s contribution to a revolution in search advertising, and highlight some overlooked benefits of their model.


Some products and actions by Google have been accused of contradicting the company's "Don't be evil" ethic; Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch strongly condemned Google's compliance with China's Golden Shield Project,[8] calling it a form of self-censorship. According to Amnesty,

These forms of censorships seem to contradict the very principles that Google — whose unofficial motto is "don’t be evil" — was founded upon. Until January 2006, Google's Support Center claimed that it "does not censor results for any search term", but removed this claim after reaching its deal with China.[9]

However, Elliot Schrage, at the time vice-president of public communications and global affairs, at a testimony hearing before the Committee on International Relations of the U.S. House of Representatives, responded to these accusations with an apology where he claims that it is better for Chinese citizens to have access to some of Google, which can be achieved via partial self-censorship, than to be completely censored anyway by the Chinese government and given no access at all. He goes on to state that "we believe that our current approach to China is consistent with this mantra ['don't be evil']. Our hope is that our mix of measures, though far from our ideal, would accomplish more for Chinese citizens’ access to information than the alternative." [10]

In January 2010 Google experienced a cyber attack on their corporate infrastructure, in an attempt to hack Gmail accounts of human rights activists in China. Google stated they will no longer censor results on even if it means pulling out of China.[11]

Also in January of 2010, Apple CEO Steve Jobs strongly criticized the slogan. This was mainly due to their intentions to gain traction into the mobile space with their android operating system.[12]


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