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Mar. 24 2010 - 7:48 pm | 17,244 views | 0 recommendations | 2 comments

Don’t Be Evil: Why Google Made the Right Decision About China

Three cheers, hats off, bravo for Google for standing up to the pinhead dictator control-freak thugs running China who remain mired in 1950’s Cold War Communist Controlism in which what you have to offer your citizens is so pathetically valueless that you need to build walls to keep them in and firewalls to keep out all information lest the people find out that you’re the biggest douche bag loser in the galaxy.

Heaven (or Mao) forbid that Chinese citizens google “democracy” or “Tiananmen Square massacre” and find out that their cowardly leaders have been lying to them, and that they are, in fact, evil. When Chinese bureaucrats see the Google corporate motto “Don’t Be Evil,” they look in the mirror and think “Don’t be Me?” and that is what they are afraid their citizens are going to discover.

As Sergey Brin and Larry Page wrote in their document released with Google’s Initial Public Offering: “We believe a well functioning society should have abundant, free and unbiased access to high quality information. Google therefore has a responsibility to the world.”

Those who control information control the world, but if everyone has access to that information no one can control the world. Information transparency trumps political hegemony. Chinese bureaucrats just figured that out. No wonder they’re running scared.

What does “Don’t be Evil” mean? According to the company’s code of conduct, “Don’t Be Evil” “means making sure that our core values inform our conduct in all aspects of our lives as Google employees.” And what are those core values? Brin’s and Page’s answer is the very model of a statement of how markets can be moral when they are grounded in a foundation of trust. “Being a Googler means holding yourself to the highest possible standard of ethical business conduct. This is a matter as much practical as ethical; we hire great people who work hard to build great products, but our most important asset by far is our reputation as a company that warrants our users’ faith and trust. That trust is the foundation upon which our success and prosperity rests, and it must be re-earned every day, in every way, by every one of us.”

The code of conduct goes on for pages detailing all manner of potential evils to avoid, for example, dealing with competitors private information. Here we see the reign of the golden rule: “The level of business ethics to which we aspire requires that we apply the same rules to our competitors’ information as we do to our own, and that we treat our competitors as we hope they will treat us. We respect our competitors and, above all else, believe in fair play in all circumstances; we would no sooner use a competitor’s confidential information to our advantage than we would wish them to use ours. So, although gathering publicly available information about competitors is certainly a legitimate part of business competition, you should not seek out our competitors’ confidential information or seek to use it if it comes into your possession. If an opportunity arises to take advantage of competitors’ confidential information, remember: don’t be evil. We compete, but we don’t cheat.”

Of course I am well aware of the controversies that have arisen with Google’s growth, including click fraud, the use of competitors’ trademarked keywords in Google’s AdWords advertisements, the inclusion of morally-questionable content in Google Groups (most notably pornographic content and racial hate speech), copyright issues related to the Google Print Library Project of scanning millions of books without direct permission from authors, additional copyright issues associated with Google’s purchase of YouTube, and the initial problems with China, in which Google was forced to make concessions for the censorship of politically sensitive material in order to gain access into the country.

But once Google was there, all of us in the West were hoping that smart Chinese web surfers could outsmart the bureaucratic bobbleheads running the economy, so this latest turn of events is a minor setback in the long-term trend of more freedom for more people in more places more of the time. Information wants to be free, and so do people. This too shall pass.


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  1. collapse expand

    Pride is a powerful motivator and the Chinese government is relishing its growing role in the world economy. Since the late 1970’s, the Chinese government has followed a strategy of incremental increases in economic freedom while maintaining strict limits on political freedom.

    This strategy has an inherent tension, in that economic wealth and prosperity, especially the kind that comes from productive trade instead of government largesse, have a tendency to lead to increases in political freedom. (It makes sense: if people are less dependent on the government then they are less likely to put up with its crap.) But if the Chinese government allows too much political freedom then the bureaucratic elite will surely be ousted.

    So the dilemma is this : economic freedom leads to prosperity, which the Chinese government wants and indeed craves because of the international profile that it brings with it, but political freedom leads to oblivion, at least for those currently on top. The question is, will they now try and restrict more economic freedoms as they begin to see the inevitable results of a wealthy populous on political freedom? My guess, is probably so. It’s better to be the dictator in a poor country than the doorman in a rich one.

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    Dr. Shermer is the Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine and editor of Skeptic.com, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, and an Adjunct Professor at Claremont Graduate University. His latest book is The Mind of the Market, on evolutionary economics. His last book was Why Darwin Matters: Evolution and the Case Against Intelligent Design, and he is also the author of The Science of Good and Evil and of Why People Believe Weird Things. He received his B.A. in psychology from Pepperdine University, M.A. in experimental psychology from California State University, Fullerton, and his Ph.D. in the history of science from Claremont Graduate University (1991). He was a college professor for 20 years, and since his creation of Skeptic magazine he has appeared on such shows as The Colbert Report, 20/20, Dateline, Charlie Rose, and Larry King Live (but, proudly, never Jerry Springer!).

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