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.