Don't be evil and all that jazz!

34 comments

Okay lets analyse Google's 'informal' corporate motto...

When I was a kid (read 18-25) here I sincerely believed that a 'Don't be evil' philosophy was a great thing to have. However as I learnt about the world and the way things work I realised that there are a few flaws in this naive view.

When you see pain and suffering around you that you aren't prepared to correct (because to do so may be evil - if you correct it you MAY just cause pain and suffering in greater magnitude somewhere else) you start to look at your attitudes more closely.

At this point you start to look at yourself and think - I'm stagnating, I'm becoming afraid to make decisions pretty much to the extent that 'I'll do nothing rather than do any evil - even when offered the chance to do good.'

How many people remember the proverb 'The road to hell is paved with good intentions'?

All the time you stand for something that is intrinsically negative in its outlook - you are well down that road to hell.

I'll open the floor for discussion here....

Comments

money is evil.

money is evil.

You're just getting old, that's all

Are you also finding that rap music stupid and too loud? Do you notice that the boys are dressing like complete slobs with their baggy pants, and the young teenage girls are dressing like tramps with their too low slung pants and too high cut tops? (incredibill is nodding his head vigourously right now).

You're just getting old.

That, however, is not any sort of justification for Google's policy and whether or not they actually follow it IRL.

And is it just me, or is today a slow news day :) ?

I'm over 30 and I like rap music

(Turns down KRS-One)

I agree with kali. It's not enough to know what you do want, you need to know what you want. If your whole life is organized about ~not~ getting something, you're probably going to get it. People whose navigation is based on what they are for are more effective than people whose navigation is based on what they are against. (It's like driving by looking out the rear view mirror)

Google's text ads are a toxic business model. Everything looked OK when Google's market share was rapidly growing and they could show Wall Street steady returns. Now that their market share is saturated, Google is watering down the search results on the left to get people to click the ads on the right.

Yes it was a slow news day....

.. I had too much time for philosophy.

(aside - no I don't find rap music to loud, stupid for the most part - but then again that can be said about most styles of music with lyrics - and as for the fashion the young people pretty much wear what the fashion companies tell them too anyway; same as they always have, apart from two very brief interludes '67 & '77 where it took about 6 months before the fashion companies actually started exploiting what was happening)

I was actually trying to engender a serious discussion, about whether following a motto can change a culture and if so whether following a motto which is effectively a negation is a bad thing?

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When you see pain and suffering around you that you aren't prepared to correct (because to do so may be evil - if you correct it you MAY just cause pain and suffering in greater magnitude somewhere else)

I don't really get this. How would the correction cause pain and suffering somewhere else? And why not correct it in such a way that doesn't cause pain and suffering.

Also, nobody can or should try to alleviate all pain and suffering. It would be impossible. So I don't believe that seeing it and not doing anything about it, is necessarily evil.

Doing no evil, is to me very different than stopping all evil.

Moto or Marketing Point?

Was it really a moto or just a marketing point? I think it started out as a sincere attitude but became corrupted when they decided to exploit it for their own marketing and anti-SEO propaganda purposes. That is when Google became too enamored with itself and it's own power and started try to control how linking is done on the web under the justification of "do no evil" and the conceit that Google somehow knows how to build web pages better than the actual content creators.

How would the correction

How would the correction cause pain and suffering somewhere else? And why not correct it in such a way that doesn't cause pain and suffering.

Many of the best things in the world had the opportunities that created them come from wars and other of the worst bits that humanity has to offer.

Some philosophers and historians believe that the competition created by arms races drove the innovation needed for Western culture to spread and become as powerful as it has.

There are always unintended consequences of change. Only in the past half century or so have people even thought of viewing history in a non linear way.

If big words and small type won't bog you down this is a good read
A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History

My view is very simple

People suck.

I had that view until I

I had that view until I exercised this morning. Now people are better...at least on average and for a bit.

Mean people suck.

Nice people swallow. ;)

On a serious note, unintended consequences may be viewed as less than evil simply because they are unintended. Still doesn't change the reality. Bombing a nation because they are killing their citizens in a civil war is evil? Or good?

There's a case to be made for dispensing with the word 'evil'. Evil tends to become a catchall description and is an easy way for people to forego determining motive, ignorance, intent, etc. It's also a crutch for theologies that would assign 'evil' to a person under the pretense of influence from external influences like Satan. It is when people are unable to take responsibility for their own actions that they call it 'sin' and turn to God. Attributing lust or greed to the influence of an evil force is a simple way of absolving oneself of guilt.

The Chinese have a belief that is you save someone's life you are responsible for them. How much better would it be for people to assume that they are in part responsible for everyone while maintaining thay they are responsible for their own actions?

Manuel DeLanda (A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, War in the Age of Intelligent Machines) examined the role linguistics played in history and will continue to play in the future. It's much deeper than history is the propaganda of the victors.

We could start by realizing that all people have the capacity for 'evil' and 'good'. Sometimes restraint is the sole determining factor for which adjective is assigned to someone.

The Utopia

The Don't be Evil motto is a big utopia, there's nothing much to say.

Google has hardly released a software for Linux users..."OMG Google is Evil!!"
Google made a branded Firefox homepage..."OMG Google is great, Yahoo is Evil!"
Microsoft has given thousand of computer to Africa..." OMG Microsoft is Good, Apple is Evil"
Microsoft is trying to be everywhere in the house..." OMG Microsoft is Evil!"

The marketing trend tended to persuade people that their product was better than the other. When Linux claims Freedom, Microsoft claim Improvment ...etc...
In the end, the user is caught in-between.
Solution 1:
Don't listen to the others, take what YOU need
Somution 2:
Develop your own webservices, software and OS...

((hum, I'd go with solution 1 :) )

uh uh

Quote:
People suck.

Evil people suck.

But most people are good.

the evil in one man

is in all of us.

Then don't let him out!

Quote:
the evil in one man

is in all of us.

Then don't let him out!

To me it reminds me of times

To me it reminds me of times when mission statements were all the rage years back - disguise marketing statements in vague language and sell it as something you intend to do.

I don't think that, just because they say do no evil, that they'd shut down operations the moment that some employee broke that statement. i.e. even the naivest person must see that as a marketing statement (don't believe me, pop over to his forums and ask him :) ).

Same for "organise the world's information". My desk is a mess, covered with information, still waiting for Google to call to tell me when they're coming round to organise it for me!

Using Sure deoderant didn't bring women flocking to my door (well, no more than usual anyway, in percentage terms), using Daz didn't really make my whites whiter than white, and Gilette razors still take multiple strokes (David Beckham must have sissy stubble), and there don't seem to be too many people complaining about those. i.e. I think we're over emphasising a marketing statement made by Google.

> money is evil

And Google does no evil. Therefore I bags first dibs on their coffers contents please :)

Money Isn't Evil

For the love of money is the root of all evil: Semantics sure. Important distinction though. Assigning evil to an object is dangerous. Another step toward removing responsibility from the equation. And illustrates nicely the role that words play in our history and will play in our future.

Evil is a shifting target

The problem is that evil moves around.
In some places in India it is ok to kill girl children because they are not valuable. In America that is evil.
It used to be ok to beat your children but that is going the way of the dinosaur or at least I hope so.
Filtering SERPs on behalf of the government is good in China but Evil in the US.
The list goes on and on.

Evil doesn't sit still. There is a cultural context to it, and Google as a global organization will find it increasingly difficult to espouse a narrowing list of good without crossing the line somewhere.

Restraint

Quote:
We could start by realizing that all people have the capacity for 'evil' and 'good'. Sometimes restraint is the sole determining factor for which adjective is assigned to someone.

The 'Do no evil' motto is effectively restraint applied to a group.

mymo raises an interesting point about evil being relative to the culture that you are in at the time.

Evil Relativity

Which leads to more dangerous ground.

Hey look! Those guys eat people! That's evil! Let's enlighten them! Those poor souls worship a snake! That's evil! Look! Their skin is a different color! They must be evil... And so entire cultures were wiped off the face of the earth with the sword, or the Book, or artillery or disease.

And don't forget the ages old debate about whether people are born with a sense of 'right and wrong'. Or are we born tabula rasa? Are all behaviors learned? Some of them? Which? Who has earned the right to stand on the blood-soaked moral high ground and proclaim? Isn't this why ethics/morals debates typically end up in a muddled and mired mass of posturing?

uhm..

The whole concept of "Evil" as aplied to the mundane business of operating an advertising agency slash search engine annoys me. And sometimes I find it utterly ridiculous and childish as well.

Why is it that we don't -- as potential customers of plumbers or electricians -- discuss what may be "Evil" relative to those two trades?

I am not sure about this, but it appears to me that "Evil" is some kind of umbrella term invented by the (christian?) church in order to easily refer to a whole lot of things that said church has deemed less attractive behaviour.

Apparently, and IIRC, that is things like, say, killing each other, or stealing. But also less "hands on" things like lying, desiring something, or having another belief. Some of that is no doubt quite reasonable from the perspective of church and state (wich werestrongly intertwined back then), and some also from a general "humanitarian" viewpoint, but ... none of it has anything whatsoever to do with a search engine or advertising agency.

Most of these things are now regulated by law in stead of by religion.

Not The Christians

Can't credit (or blame) the Christians with the concept of evil or the coining of the word. You can't even pin the creation of all good or all evil deities on the Christians as that particular development was the product of Zarathustra or Zoroaster if you prefer. Before Zarathustra came along even the deities were perceived as having the capacity for good and evil. (very human eh?)

And much of what you say I feel to be true. Assigning evil to a search engine or its employees is a stretch. But it was a representative of Google that made the 'Do No Evil' statement. Don't drop your left hand if you don't want to get hit with a right hook...

And still, if we delve into censorship the topic of 'evil' may very well come up, and perhaps that's justified. Censoring words or ideas can be construed as one of the worst evils. And yet the practice of censorship was embraced by Churches for hundreds if not thousands of years. Governments seem to like the idea as well.

In terms of Google...

Lots of smart people and interesting perspectives here!

But in terms of Google's motto, "Do No Evil," I believe they've previously explained that for them evil is whatever Sergey says it is.

I see nothing wrong with that, as we've already seen everyone has their own definition. So if their particular definition is whatever Sergey says it is, this gives us a good insight into Sergey, his culture and his beliefs.

I think all companies should have a similar mantra based on what their owner(s) believe evil to be. Nothing wrong with it that I can see.

And yeah, evil may change for Google as Sergey changes, grows, matures, changes his mind, whatever. That's okay too.

I think all companies should

I think all companies should have a similar mantra based on what their owner(s) believe evil to be.

I still think Kali's "do right" being a better guider than "do no wrong" is a great idea.

evil

is defined by groups, christians have their definition, muslims, anarchists etc. all define evil in different ways so for them anyway "evil" is defined.

I guess you could join the google cult and embrace their definition, maybe thats the whole ploy.

Evil is the absence of Good (Oversimplification but true)

"I think all companies should have a similar mantra based on what their owner(s) believe evil to be. Nothing wrong with it that I can see."
Sorry, Jill, I can't agree. Why? Because I'm sure that Ken Lay and Jeffery Skilling who have been convicted, but are not contrite in the least, believe to this moment that they "did no evil". See how "Enron's failure also cost investors an estimated $47 billion" =
http://www.sacbee.com/content/business/story/14260551p-15074399c.html

"I still think Kali's "do right" being a better guider than "do no wrong" is a great idea."
I couldn't agree more, Aaron!

My favorite quote about "Evil" is from Joan of Arcadia: "Evil is charming and beautiful. It makes you doubt yourself. It asks for one small compromise after another until it whittles you down, and, it functions best when no one believes in it."

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I see nothing wrong with that, as we've already seen everyone has their own definition. So if their particular definition is whatever Sergey says it is, this gives us a good insight into Sergey, his culture and his beliefs.

And with the amount of power and influence in the hands of Google at the present time understanding what the Google culture is is a part of an SEOs job. As DigitalGhost mentioned if we start delving into the subject of censorship then the Evil/Good debate would need to be debated in greater detail and with specific regard to that topic, but just in general if you look at the subject areas of religion and politics then in Google's current position there is a whole weight of debate that needs to be looked at. Consider the searches 'Best Religion' and 'Best Political Party' for instance.

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I think all companies should have a similar mantra based on what their owner(s) believe evil to be. Nothing wrong with it that I can see.

Jill, I totally agree with you here all companies should have such an outlook and I also believe that Google at least have considered the issue and address the subject at the very top level of their organisation, which I give them great credit for.

This also draws in one of the other great debates I have had over the years, what is the difference between a company and a corporate entity. You have pretty much defined a company as having individuals that own a significant portion of the shares and have influence in the direction of the organisation. There are corporate entities where this is not the case and effectively the management/direction of the organisation is comprised of the best people at playing the backstabbing game of corporate politics and generating income for the shareholders - the morality of these organisations should be brought under even greater scrutiny.

To continue along this line it seems that the change from company to corporate entity occurs when all the original owners have retired from directing operations and the shareholding has been split up. Family firms where ownership carries on from father to son (or mother to daughter or any combination thereof) seem to be able to retain some of the culture of the founders for a longer period of time.

Brokerblogger - I love that Joan of Arcadia quote and I believe that everyone should formulate their own views on what is good and what is evil, but as DigitalGhost pointed out earlier before instigating a witchhunt you need to understand the motives, knowledge and culture of the those that you are accusing. (Not sure that witchhunt was the right word to use there considering the witchhunts were one of the occasions where no one even thought about considering the motives, knowledge and culture of the victims)

"...I believe that everyone

"...I believe that everyone should formulate their own views on what is good and what is evil, but as DigitalGhost pointed out earlier before instigating a witchhunt you need to understand the motives, knowledge and culture of the those that you are accusing."

Agreed about "formulate their own views", because that is what happens. I just hope people want to gain wisdom and discernment as they "formulate", and not go down the road of "the end justifies the means" too much along the way. To say what I stand for vs. what I am against: "Do unto others...". To me, "Kali's "do right" being a better guider than "do no wrong". I wish every leader would say and do what "right" they stand for, and mean and do what they say.

As for understanding some Google culture, I can't resist a quote from an old blog post of mine that talks about the Google founders: "When Sergey Brin and Larry Page were at Stanford University they wrote "The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine" ( http://www-db.stanford.edu/~backrub/google.html ). Near the bottom of this college paper that presents a prototype picture of Google is Section "8 Appendix A: Advertising and Mixed Motives".

Sergey and Larry say: "Currently, the predominant business model for commercial search engines is advertising. The goals of the advertising business model do not always correspond to providing quality search to users." They go on to say: "..we expect that advertising funded search engines will be inherently biased towards the advertisers and away from the needs of the consumers. The Google founders then say: "Since it is very difficult even for experts to evaluate search engines, search engine bias is particularly insidious."

(No judmentalism here, just an interesting observation, don't you think?)

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Quote:
(No judmentalism here, just an interesting observation, don't you think?)

Very!

So, Larry and Sergy grow up! Nothing wrong with that!

a

few have taken the mark of Sergey.

Will de-progging become a new cottage industry? I didn't realize people actually took these inane statements from google seriously.

You and your mates are in a

You and your mates are in a jungle. Your taken captive by a nervous tribe...

Surrounded, one of them instructs you to kill/sacrifice one of your own to save the rest (and yourself).

Do no evil.

"..we expect that

"..we expect that advertising funded search engines will be inherently biased towards the advertisers and away from the needs of the consumers." (Larry & Sergey)

I'm hoping they are "growing up" more now that Nicholas Fox, senior business product manager for AdWords, is on record as saying: "I am very concerned about the user experience. They do the search, saw both unpaid listings and ads, then click and get to another page of ads. That's not a good user experience. It's a pretty bad experience. My guess is that as a result of seeing these ads, users are going to become blind to them." (from Danny's 5/26/06 SEW "longer version" Blog post: "Google AdsBot Now Coming To Assess Your Landing Pages, Will Impact Your AdRank." = http://blog.searchenginewatch.com/blog/060526-072126
If you read this, Danny, I hope I didn't exceed my limit of publishing paid content while recommending subscribership for your good "inside info".

Maybe Google is learning the hard way (which is always the best way) that serving the needs of the consumer, is the best way to service the goals of the advertising business model. Advertising funded search engines need to be inherently biased towards the needs of the consumer, first, so that the long term needs of the advertiser are serviced the best. I just hope Google adds to its informal corporate motto the sage advice of "..and an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

As for, "Surrounded, one of them instructs you to kill/sacrifice one of your own to save the rest (and yourself)." = You "do no evil" by never compromising (making a deal) with "evil". IMO, the end never justifies the means, no matter how tough the situation is. It really comes down to the "integrity" (most looked up word for 2005 in the Mirriam-Webster online dictionary) of "putting your 'money' where your mouth is". Why? Because Evil "..makes you doubt yourself. It asks for one small compromise after another until it whittles you down,.."

Do Good

A positive "Do Good" is just as much a quagmire of ill-definition as "Do no evil" is.

Example:
By adding a new algorithm just devised by the engineers, you can so improve the relevancy of searches that the top 3 organic results will answer 99.9% of all searches made. This will be good for the users.

However, the shareholders have asked that this algorithm not be deployed, because it would reduce all adwords income to almost zero, wiping billions of dollars from the value of the company, and actually causing quite a few investors to go bankrupt, as well as causing direct financial harm to thousands of lesser investors. Not deploying the algorithm is good for fewer people, but is *very* good for them as in actually saving livelihoods.

So, which "Do Good" action do you follow? Do you sacrifice the small good to everyone for the life-saving good to a relative few, or do you follow the tennet that the good of the many outweigh the good of the few, knowing that those most hurt are the one's who sponsored the creation of that good in the first place?

In fact, where exactly lies "the good of the many"? Short term or long?

Decisions are strategic, and though there should be ethics involved, the Good/Evil distinction is just too binary and too simple for any real-world issue.

Not trying to impose my opinions on anyone (a conversation only)

"...I believe that everyone should formulate their own views on what is good and what is evil." I agree with what Kali said, because we all "make our own beds", and have to figure out a way to be content "lying in them".

"Decisions are strategic, and though there should be ethics involved, the Good/Evil distinction is just too binary and too simple for any real-world issue." = Evil and Good are in the "eye of the beholder" for many vs. what Christian beliefs hold, which is that they are objective vs. subjective. This is why many people rationalize and do "the end justifies the means" when they think it suits their purposes.

I love your example, Black Knight, as it brings up "abuse of power" issues which I have long been interested in. In fact, it closely resembles a scenario I heard a long time ago about the "possible fact" that there is a car battery in Europe that lasts so long, there is never a need to replace it. I don't know if that's true, but I do believe someone's greed would have forced the introduction of that battery into the marketplace, if it were at all possible.

No offense, but I think your premise is flawed in the sense that "relevancy" is a moving target. When you say "By adding a new algorithm just devised by the engineers, you can so improve the relevancy of searches that the top 3 organic results will answer 99.9% of all searches made." you are not taking into account this fact about relevancy. What is relevant to one person is not relevant to another or, potentially, even that same person at a different time.
Besides "time", "place", and "content" influencing search relevance, the intent of the searcher is crucial. That is why Rusty Brick's "The Search Engine Relevancy Challenge" ( http://www.seroundtable.com/archives/001900.html ) has the results it does.

So, ever if it were possible for your example's premise to be true, I don't think it would do all the negative things you said. In fact, it might attract many more users to that search engine who came there with different intentions ("commercial" or "research" on differing content with the same or similar keyword strings). As long as the arbitrary relevance of the AdWords ads increases from where they are now, it might even greatly increase the AdWords income for those using that search engine.

So, IMO, let technology bring better products and services to the masses, and then let the marketplace adjust to all the "good" and "evil" ramifications. I personally experienced the ramifications of what the Internet did to a 100 year old, family owned publishing company that used to generate a lot more income than they do now. For me, the "good" far outweighted the "evil" of all the ramifications.

ah!

Zarathustra... interesting name. It seems we can get a good geeky-philosophical discussion going about this Zarathustra versus this Zarathustra

*LOL* I will refrain from engaging in it, I do not have knowledge enough about either Z to feel comfortable debating them. But it seems like one of them does not recognize the existence of evil (in other forms than history repeating).

Anyway, being from up north I am fully familiar with deities (I don't mind calling them "gods" in plural, as there are quite a few of them) with human traits. They even hold animals, and have houses, carts, and all. Our great ancestors believed in them, so it is told. Still, some are more evil -- or at least evil-minded -- than others.

Anyway, what I did not say -- i forgot -- was that the definition of "Evil" (or of "Good" or whatever) seems to me to be a matter of belief, as in "faith", or "general understanding of the world we live in". So it has a somewhat "universal" nature, whereas running a business has a more mundane nature. So, running a business -- or any other task you do -- will always be subject to your faith, beliefs, or general understanding of the world (as any other thing you do or don't do in your life).

In other words "good and evil" operates at a level above the significance of life and death of any random corporation. The latter just don't matter to the former.

Now, what if somebody has not got the same beliefs as those at the wheel of said company? What if they act in accordance to their own belief systems? I am not sure about the religious practices of the Google founders, but as Google is increasingly going global it will meet very different beliefs in any case.

>> everyone should formulate their own views on what is good and what is evil

I believe that imposing upon others or oneself the power to even define evil, will be seen by some as blasphemy.

Enough now...

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