Don't be evil
"Don't be evil" was the informal corporate motto (or slogan) of Google. It was first suggested either by Google employee Paul Buchheit at a meeting about corporate values that took place in early 2000 or in 2001 or, according to another account, by Google Engineer Amit Patel in 1999. 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." While the official corporate philosophy of Google does not contain the words "Don't be evil", they were included in the prospectus (on Form S-1) of Google's 2004 IPO (a letter from Google's founders, later called the "'Don't Be Evil' manifesto"): "Don’t be evil. We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served — as shareholders and in all other ways — by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains." The motto is sometimes incorrectly stated as Do no evil. The motto has since been replaced by the phrase "Do the right thing".
Avoiding conflicts of interest
In their 2004 founders' letter prior to their initial public offering, Larry 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, director of University of California, Berkeley Law's information privacy programs, has stated 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.
The End of "Don't Be Evil"
In an NPR interview, Eric Schmidt revealed doubts he had when Larry Page and Sergey Brin recommended the motto as a guiding principle for Google. Others have raised similar questions about the actual definition of what Google considers "evil". Google's 2012 announcement to "begin tracking users universally across all its services" (via "Google Plus" accounts) resulted in public backlash on the motto.
And while the motto is still cited in the current Investor Relations Preface to the Code of Conduct, which states:
“Don’t be evil.” Googlers generally apply those words to how we serve our users. But “Don’t be evil” is much more than that...
The Google Code of Conduct is one of the ways we put “Don’t be evil” into practice...
The Commercial Appeal objects "critics say Google's recent moves belie search giant's motto". Indeed, criticism of Google now frequently spins the motto in a negative way, such as InfoWorld's 2014 article "Google? Evil? You have no idea". Major social networks even co-developed a "Don't be evil" browser bookmarklet (specifically to expose alleged SERP manipulation promoting Google-owned content over that of others). On the user-facing, aforementioned 'What We Believe' page, Google appears to have replaced the original motto altogether (a carefully reworded version remains as of 10 April 2015, "You can make money without doing evil", which varies significantly from the absolute imperative of DON'T be evil).
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"Our goal is to develop services that significantly improve the lives of as many people as possible. In pursuing this goal, we may do things that we believe have a positive impact on the world, even if the near term financial returns are not obvious...
"Don't be evil. We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served—as shareholders and in all other ways—by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains. This is an important aspect of our culture and is broadly shared within the company..."
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