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Don't be evil

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"Don't be evil" is Google's former motto, and a phrase used in Google's corporate code of conduct.[1][2][3][4]

Following Google's corporate restructuring under the conglomerate Alphabet Inc. in October 2015, Alphabet took "Do the right thing" as its motto, also forming the opening of its corporate code of conduct.[5][6][7][1][8] The original motto was retained in Google's code of conduct, now a subsidiary of Alphabet. Between April 21st and May 4th of 2018, the motto was removed from the code of conduct's preface and retained in its last sentence.[9]



The motto was first suggested either by Google employee Paul Buchheit at a meeting about corporate values that took place either in early 2000[10] or 2001[11] or, according to another account, by Google engineer Amit Patel in 1999.[12] 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".[10]

While the official corporate philosophy of Google[13] 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."[14] The motto is sometimes incorrectly stated as Do no evil.[11][15]

By early 2018, the motto was still cited[1] in the preface to Google's Code of Conduct:

"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...[9]

Between 21 April and 4 May 2018, Google removed the motto from the preface, leaving a mention in the final line: "And remember... don't be evil, and if you see something that you think isn't right – speak up!"[9][16]



In their 2004 founders' letter[17] prior to their initial public offering, Larry Page and Sergey Brin argued 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.

In 2009, Chris Hoofnagle, director of University of California, Berkeley Law's information privacy programs, stated that Google's original intention expressed by the "don't be evil" motto was linked to the company's separation of search results from advertising.[18] However, he observed that clearly separating search results from sponsored links is required by law, thus, Google's practice had since become mainstream and was no longer remarkable or good. Hoofnagle argued that 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.

In a 2013 NPR interview, Eric Schmidt revealed that when Larry Page and Sergey Brin recommended the motto as a guiding principle for Google, he "thought this was the stupidest rule ever", but then changed his opinion after a meeting where an engineer successfully referred to the motto when expressing concerns about a planned advertising product, which was eventually cancelled.[19] Journalists have raised questions about the actual definition of what Google considered "evil".[20][21] On the user-facing 'What We Believe' page, Google appeared to replace the original motto altogether (a carefully reworded version stood as of April 10th, 2015, "You can make money without doing evil",[13] which varied significantly from the absolute imperative of DON'T be evil).

Use in criticism of Google


Critics of Google frequently spin the motto in a negative way, such as InfoWorld's 2014 article "Google? Evil? You have no idea".[22][23][24][25][26] Google's 2012 announcement to "begin tracking users universally across all its services" (via "Google Plus" accounts) prompted early privacy and anti-trust concerns referencing the motto,[27][28][29][30] like "Google's Broken Promise: The End of 'Don't Be Evil'" on Gizmodo.[31][32] In the same year, 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).[33]

On May 16th, 2013 Margaret Hodge MP, the chair of the United Kingdom Public Accounts Committee, accused Google of being "calculated and unethical" over its use of highly contrived and artificial distinctions to avoid paying billions of pounds in corporation tax owed by its UK operations.[34] The company was accused by the committee, which represents the interests of all UK taxpayers, of being "evil" for not paying its "fair amount of tax". She told Matt Brittin, head of Google UK, "I think that you do evil".[35] In 2015, the UK Government introduced a new law intended to penalise Google and other large multinational corporations' artificial tax avoidance.[36]

Google's alleged uses of multi-platform mass surveillance,[37] search engine results and other technologies to politically censor content visibility,[38][39] manipulate public opinion,[40] sway elections and shape regime triggered new protests under the former motto. "Google is evil" according to the conservative "Internet Accountability Project", citing Google swinging as many as 2.6 million votes to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 US election.[41][42]

In 2015 The Commercial Appeal reported that "critics say Google's recent moves belie search giant's motto".[43]



On 29 November 2021, three former Google employees filed a lawsuit alleging that Google's motto "Don't be evil" amounts to a contractual obligation that the tech giant violated, that Google broke their own moral code by firing them as retaliation for their efforts against "evil", in what the trio thought were in accordance with the principle, in drawing attention to and organizing employees against controversial projects, such as work for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) during the Trump administration which, as they claimed, amounted to "doing evil", and as such deserve monetary damages.[44]

The plaintiffs' lawyer, Laurie Burgess, says Google employees can be fired for not abiding by the motto.[44]

There are all sorts of contract terms that a jury is required to interpret: "don't be evil" is not so "out there" as to be unenforceable. "Since Google's contract tells employees that they can be fired for failing to abide by the motto, 'don't be evil,' it must have meaning." - plaintiffs' lawyer, Laurie Burgess[44]

The trio circulated a petition calling on Google to publicly commit to not working with the CBP. The three workers, along with a fourth, were later fired, in 2019, on a denied accusation, of "clear and repeated violations" of the company's data security policies.[44]

The National Labor Relations Board wrote, in May 2021, that Google "arguably violated" federal labor law by "unlawfully discharging" the workers.[44]

The trio condemned Google for their behavior in 2021:

Google realized that "don't be evil" was both costing it money and driving workers to organize. Rather than admit that their stance had changed and lose the accompanying benefits to the company image, Google fired employees who were living the motto.[44]

See also



  1. ^ a b c Anon (2005). "Google Code of Conduct". investor.google.com. Archived from the original on 4 February 2005. Our informal corporate motto is "Don't be evil." We Googlers generally relate those words to the way we serve our users – as well we should. But being "a different kind of company" means more than the products we make and the business we're building; it means making sure that our core values inform our conduct in all aspects of our lives as Google employees.
  2. ^ Hoofnagle, Chris Jay (April 2009). "Beyond Google and evil: How policy makers, journalists and consumers should talk differently about Google and privacy". First Monday. 14 (4).
  3. ^ "Google vs. Evil", Wired, vol. 11, 2003
  4. ^ Google Code of Conduct Alphabet Investor Relations
  5. ^ Lawler, Richard (2 October 2015). "Alphabet replaces Google's 'Don't be evil' with 'Do the right thing". Engadget. AOL. Retrieved 7 October 2015.
  6. ^ David Mayer (2 September 2016). "Why Google Was Smart To Drop Its 'Don't Be Evil' Motto". Fast Company. Retrieved 31 August 2017.
  7. ^ Tanya Basu (4 October 2015). "New Google Parent Company Drops 'Don't be Evil' Motto". Time. Retrieved 31 August 2017.
  8. ^ "Alphabet Code of Conduct". Alphabet. 2 October 2015. Retrieved 9 April 2016.
  9. ^ a b c Montti, Roger (20 May 2018). "Google's "Don't Be Evil" No Longer Prefaces Code of Conduct". Search Engine Journal. Retrieved 20 May 2018.
  10. ^ a b Buchheit, Paul (25 January 2007). "Paul Buchheit on Gmail, AdSense and More". Blogoscoped. Retrieved 4 April 2013. (quoting from: Jessica Livingston, Founders at Work, ISBN 978-1590597149)
  11. ^ a b Gleick, James (18 August 2011), "How Google Dominates Us", The New York Review of Books, 58 (13)
  12. ^ Moses, Asher (15 April 2008). "Don't Be Evil or don't lose value?". The Sydney Morning Herald. AU.
  13. ^ a b "Ten things we know to be true". Google Company. Retrieved 25 November 2011.
  14. ^ Ovide, Shira (23 June 2011). "What Would 2004 Google Say About Antitrust Probe?". The Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on 3 October 2015. Retrieved 2 October 2015. 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...
  15. ^ Douglas, N (9 February 2006). "Don't be evil. Fact-check the company motto". Gawker. Archived from the original on 19 March 2016.
  16. ^ Conger, Kate (18 May 2018). "Google Removes 'Don't Be Evil' Clause From Its Code of Conduct". Gizmodo. Retrieved 19 May 2018.
  17. ^ "Letter from the founders, "an owner's manual" for Google's shareholders". USA: SEC. 14 August 2004.
  18. ^ Hoofnagle, Chris Jay (April 2009). "Beyond Google and evil: How policy makers, journalists and consumers should talk differently about Google and privacy". First Monday. 14 (4).
  19. ^ "Google Chairman Eric Schmidt Plays Not My Job". NPR.org. Retrieved 6 November 2022.
  20. ^ Mirani, Leo (21 October 2014). "What Google really means by "Don't be evil"". Quartz.
  21. ^ "What Is 'Evil' to Google?". USA: The Atlantic Monthly Group. 15 October 2013.
  22. ^ "Google? Evil? You have no idea". InfoWorld, Inc. USA. 13 March 2014.
  23. ^ "Why Google Is Evil". The Huffington Post. USA. 7 October 2013.
  24. ^ "Steve Jobs: "Google's Don't Be Evil Mantra is Bullshit"". Wired. USA. 30 January 2010.
  25. ^ "Does 'Don't be evil' still apply to Google?". CNBC News. CNBC. 19 August 2014. Retrieved 21 May 2015.
  26. ^ "Google's 'Be Evil' business transformation is complete: Time for the end game". The Register. The Register. 1 November 2021. Retrieved 1 June 2024.
  27. ^ "Google Kills Reader, Force-Feeds Us Google+: Don't Be Evil?". USA: IBT Media. 14 March 2013.
  28. ^ "The Plus in Google Plus? It's Mostly for Google". The New York Times. USA. 14 February 2014.
  29. ^ O' Connor, Rory (12 June 2012). "Google is Evil". Wired. USA.
  30. ^ Liedtke, Michael (21 October 2020). "'Don't be evil': How Google evolved from 'cuddly' startup to antitrust target". The Sydney Morning Herald. Sydney, Australia.
  31. ^ Honan, Mat (24 January 2012). "Google's Broken Promise: The End of "Don't Be Evil"". Gizmodo. USA.
  32. ^ "Is Google Now (Officially) Evil?". USA: Big Think. 28 February 2012.
  33. ^ "Facebook, Myspace and Twitter chide Google with 'Don't be evil' add-on". The Guardian. Australia. 24 January 2012.
  34. ^ Simon Bowers (16 May 2013). "MP on Google tax avoidance scheme: 'I think that you do evil'". the Guardian.
  35. ^ "Margaret Hodge labels Google tax record 'evil'". BBC News.
  36. ^ "Budget 2015: 'Google Tax' introduction confirmed". BBC News. 18 March 2015.
  37. ^ "Facebook and Google's pervasive surveillance poses an unprecedented danger to human rights". Amnesty International. 21 November 2019.
  38. ^ Jon Guze (18 January 2018). "Don't be evil? In ironic twist, Google steps all over its own motto". The Carolina Journal.
  39. ^ Noah Berlatsky (21 February 2018). "Google search algorithms are not impartial. They can be biased, just like their designers". NBC News.
  40. ^ Joel Kotkin (24 July 2022). "Google: Whatever Happened to 'Don't Be Evil'?". NewGeography.com.
  41. ^ "Google is Evil". Internet Accountability Project. 16 September 2020.
  42. ^ Brian Flood (18 March 2024). "Google has 'interfered' with elections 41 times over the last 16 years, Media Research Center says". Fox News.
  43. ^ "Turning 'evil': Critics say Google's recent moves belie search giant's motto". The Commercial Appeal. Journal Media Group. Retrieved 21 May 2015.
  44. ^ a b c d e f Bobby Allyn. "Ex-Google workers sue company, saying it betrayed 'Don't Be Evil' motto". NPR. NPR. Retrieved 26 December 2021.