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Google's Eric Schmidt Says, "We don't have an 'Evilmeter"
engine

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Msg#: 3672834 posted 9:39 am on Jun 12, 2008 (gmt 0)

Google Inc Chief Executive Eric Schmidt on Wednesday detailed his theory of competition in the Web industry while saying Google's famous mantra of "Don't be evil" is often misunderstood.

In an on-stage interview with writer Ken Auletta of the New Yorker magazine, Schmidt said "Don't be evil" is meant to provoke internal debate over what constitutes ethical corporate behavior, rather than representing an absolute moral position.

"We don't have an 'Evilmeter' we can sort of apply -- you know -- what is good and what is evil," Schmidt said before an audience of media industry professionals at an event sponsored by Syracuse University's Newhouse School in San Francisco.

Google's Eric Schmidt Says, "We don't have an 'Evilmeter" [uk.reuters.com]

 

npwsol

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3672834 posted 11:26 pm on Jun 12, 2008 (gmt 0)

As for the moral compass, I only sail to my own.

That's exactly the point. Everyone sails to their own moral compass. Who, may I ask you, decides where to put something on that scale of greys you refer to? People can and will come up with wildly different results on a number of topics. There may be a commonality among most people, but not everyone will necessarily make the same choice for any given item. It's why we have disputes and votes and laws, and it is why throughout history people have rebelled against governments. "What they are doing is wrong and evil" is one of the strongest guiding forces throughout human and societal history.

You may be suggesting that there is some absolute, universal guiding force like a god which defines, in absolute rules (much like a programmer) what is good and what is evil; in that case you're welcome to your beliefs, but I can tell you that it isn't really that simple. Right and wrong are nothing but abstract ideas created by the human mind.

Receptional Andy



 
Msg#: 3672834 posted 11:39 pm on Jun 12, 2008 (gmt 0)

do not possess a handy 10 commandments for being an angelic internet corporation

As far as I'm aware, Google have some kind of definition of what the phrase means. A recent quote on "don't be evil":

It's built around the recognition that everything we do in connection with our work at Google will be, and should be, measured against the highest possible standards of ethical business conduct

We can get an idea of what the "highest possible standards" are by looking at other statements by Google: for instance words like "bad", "harmful" or not "consistent with the openness of the internet". There is no shying from moral judgement there.

Right and wrong are nothing but abstract ideas created by the human mind

Black is white and white is black. You're right. But you are required to assume in order to function on any practical level. Cartesian doubt is not a moral stance: it's a thought experiment.

albo

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3672834 posted 2:30 am on Jun 13, 2008 (gmt 0)

A thought experiment on black: at what point does, "Do no evil" (taking into account all possible standards of evil) become, "Take no action"?

How may one speak, without fear of hurting even the most sensitive eardrums?

IanKelley

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3672834 posted 5:05 am on Jun 13, 2008 (gmt 0)

Thank you, that makes the point very elegantly.

BeeDeeDubbleU

WebmasterWorld Senior Member beedeedubbleu us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3672834 posted 8:56 am on Jun 13, 2008 (gmt 0)

I've asked before, what exactly Google has done that's so evil, and have never gotten an answer that made any sense. The only answer that was based in reality was capitulating to China which, it is generally agreed, was a necessary compromise.

I don't know about the others but I was not saying that Google was inherently evil. Having said that, you say that is was "generally agreed" that the Chinese capitulation was a necessary compromise? Who outside of Google agreed with it?

In order to do business in a country you have to be willing to respect their laws.

Yes, you are absolutely right about that but "respect" is perhaps the wrong word to use in this case. "Accept" would be better.

Nothing evil about that.

Why is there nothing evil (or let's just use the word wrong) with that? Google made up some excuse about it being better that the Chinese had some Google than none. Better for who? I think we all know the answer to that.

Google has a lot of clout nowadays and they could have taken the moral high ground by refusing to capitulate to the Chinese government. IMHO this would have done a lot more for the Chinese people than meekly acceding to their censorship laws (and it would not exactly have been business suicide). All they did was to show that commercial pressures and the need to increase profit are more important than taking this moral high ground that they seem so fond of.

I understand that until 2006 Google's website had a statement saying that there was no way that they would ever censor search results. They removed this after capitulating to China.

------------------

Getting back to the "evil" thing, we seem to be getting into a discussion about whether or not Google is evil when the topic is actually Schmidt's statement. We have to ask ourselves why he felt it necessary to say this after happily using "don't be evil" for seven years?

As this thread has clearly illustrated there are lot of opinions on what is evil and I don't think there is any room for this as a motto or mission statement. For a major corporation it was a bad idea - full stop.

He knows that in future they will have to make unpopular (perhaps not evil) commercial decisions that could result in them getting their noses rubbed in it like happened with the China issue. I think that is why they are trying to distance themselves from the statement now.

zett

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3672834 posted 9:47 am on Jun 13, 2008 (gmt 0)

IMO, the question is whether the word "evil" does apply to the business world.

Can a for-profit organization, whose only goal is to generate profit for its owners, be "evil"? OK, maybe through bribery. Or if they paid someone to kill the CEO of a competitor. That would be clearly "evil". But what about arranging deals that actually lock their customers in? What about trying to become a monopoly? That certainly is not "evil" per se as this ensures future profits (the declared goal of a for-profit corporation). And what about trying to trace and track every individual on this planet? What about become more of a "Big Brother" than Orwell could ever have imagined? Evil or not?

Again - Google can hardly be evil in their day-to-day business, because this word probably does not apply to for-profit organizations. Therefore this phrase -"don't do evil"- is utter B.S., some clever marketing lingo to make the world believe that at Google there are just friendly do-gooders, giving the company a nice non-profit polish. This communication strategy has worked perfectly.

Yep, after all those years, people STILL believe that MSFT is the enemy. Ha. They could not be more wrong. MSFT is struggling to not let Google into their market (OS's and desktop business apps). The desire to acquire Yahoo is proof for that. At MSFT, they are soo desperate that they would be willing to give up significant amount of money to get a chance to beat Google.

Now think again, who is doing evil (or not), and who is the new enemy.

I'm using live.com from now.

zett

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3672834 posted 9:53 am on Jun 13, 2008 (gmt 0)

I don't think there is any room for this as a motto or mission statement. For a major corporation it was a bad idea - full stop.

No, it was PERFECT. For years it served very well to give the company a non-profit look. It made people promote Google for free on their websites, in magazine articles, in TV. Had they used a motto like "Grab the content of the world" (which is of course, outright silly) we would not be talking about Google today.

BeeDeeDubbleU

WebmasterWorld Senior Member beedeedubbleu us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3672834 posted 10:17 am on Jun 13, 2008 (gmt 0)

I did say for a major corporation. They were not a major corporation when they adopted this. It was before they floated. ;)

npwsol

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3672834 posted 1:54 pm on Jun 13, 2008 (gmt 0)

Google tracks the searches of people who use its services, which is no different than any of us tracking user data on our sites. I assure you Microsoft and Yahoo! track the same data from any of the users on their respective sites. They do it relatively anonymously (as anonymous as search habits can be; see AOL), and I feel confident that Google will never sell or release this information (see AOL). I also trust Google's technical ability to secure that information better than anyone else could.

Part of the reason for Don't be evil was specifically this: they knew how much data they collected, and who knows how much more they could collect. It's part of their business model: improve the product that brings people to the site by making it more capable of understanding what the user is searching for. "Understanding" is a stretch, but you get the idea. How do you do that? Track the search term and then the result they choose; try to adjust your algo to be able to semantically determine what a user is looking for.

And as BeeDee said, the statement was adopted before they became a major corporation. Why? Because Sergey Brin and Larry Page grew up in the same world we all did, and they saw all the things that big, "evil" corporations did, and they did not want their baby to become like that.

Why is this statement being made? I think to promote transparency in their business model: this is how we consider our actions. This is how we attempt to avoid becoming ethically dubious.

Black is white and white is black. You're right. But you are required to assume in order to function on any practical level. Cartesian doubt is not a moral stance: it's a thought experiment.

My only real argument in this regard has been that social ethics and laws are based around a compromise of individual morality; a general consensus on "okay, that's fair, and that's not."

Thusly I reach the conclusion that right and wrong are abstract ideas: I cannot touch them, I cannot see them, I cannot taste them, I cannot smell them, and I cannot feel them. They are not a reading on a sensor I can point at actions to determine where they fall. I have only my mind and my thoughts in deciding what is right and wrong. Hey... that kinda sounds like what Google's trying to say.

zett

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3672834 posted 2:10 pm on Jun 13, 2008 (gmt 0)

Google tracks the searches of people who use its services, which is no different than any of us tracking user data on our sites.

I think it is VERY different if you can build a complete user profile from "innocent" services that do not require user registration. I bet very few around here could do that, mostly for the lack of sufficient traffic.

Now, the AOL case has shown what danger lies within such detailed data. Yet Google aquires more and more and more data to complete those user profiles. Not too long, and they know most things about most of the people (connected to the net). IMO this is a privacy nightmare waiting to happen.

Please note, that I did not say that this is evil per se. I was just wondering:

what about trying to trace and track every individual on this planet? What about becoming more of a "Big Brother" than Orwell could ever have imagined? Evil or not?

To me, it is certainly "evil"; given the fact that they are a for-profit organization designed to make their owners money, it's probably not evil in their opinion (of course, that decision was probably made only after a thorough discussion at The Plex).

npwsol

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3672834 posted 2:44 pm on Jun 13, 2008 (gmt 0)

If you tracked user data on a technology sales site (CPU, tower, motherboard, etc.) which someone used frequently, you could build up a pretty good profile on said user based on what they were looking for and what they purchased. You could determine what chipset manufacturers they preferred, motherboard form factors they liked, whether or not they preferred Intel or AMD processors, the nature of some of their peripherals. You could get a good idea of what they were looking to do with their computer, and a host of other information; then you get their name and address. Credit card number, billing address, fun stuff, you know.

The only real "difference" between Google and other sites is that people go to Google to find everything. This was not a problem when they started up. It is a problem now, because they are the big, bad corporation.

As I said, there was a reason Sergey Brin and Larry Page wanted that statement in the charter. I don't see Google as having walked away from it.

BeeDeeDubbleU

WebmasterWorld Senior Member beedeedubbleu us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3672834 posted 3:48 pm on Jun 13, 2008 (gmt 0)

As I said, there was a reason Sergey Brin and Larry Page wanted that statement in the charter.

... and there is clearly now a reason why Eric Schmidt doesn't. ;)

npwsol

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3672834 posted 4:25 pm on Jun 13, 2008 (gmt 0)

Eric? Is that you? Sorry, I can't tell; I just assumed since you were speaking for him... (one could argue I've done the same)

But seriously, have you read the article? Of all the things talked about regarding "Don't be evil," where was he defensive? Where was it implied that the model didn't work? He described a system that was in place before he became CEO, and a situation where an engineer was able to stop the rollout of a product because he considered it "evil" to some degree. Yes, it's a PR move; yes, it's to help remove some of the criticism. Who are you to say that they don't want it? This statement just says "Hey, listen, it's not something we ignore, but it's something we use as a method for creating discussion."

With the China situation, what was more "evil?" To cave to China's censorship laws, or to get Google blocked from China because they refused? A billion people can't search with Google in the blink of an eye. Is it wrong to deprive a billion people of your services because you refuse to respect the laws of their government, regardless of how evil those laws may be? Certainly it increased their profits, which is something a corporation must do for its shareholders, but look at it this way: It was either censored information from Google or no information from Google. Give me the black and white morality reading on that, because I've certainly never been in the position to have to make that choice.

How's this one for you: If you considered a law to be wrong in your country, would you still abide by it?

What do you want from them in terms of living up to the statement? Should Schmidt call each and every one of us every time Google's about to make a decision, to consult with us about how it stands morally? I'm all for raising concerns about actions considered "evil" with Google, and I'm all for Google making transparent its reasonings for taking those actions. What I'm against is the presumption (that is, without proof) that Google is being disingenuous about its Don't be evil slogan.

Murdoch

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3672834 posted 4:45 pm on Jun 13, 2008 (gmt 0)

I "absolute position" my "internal debates" straight into the toilet...

Sorry. Couldn't help myself.

BeeDeeDubbleU

WebmasterWorld Senior Member beedeedubbleu us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3672834 posted 4:57 pm on Jun 13, 2008 (gmt 0)

Is it wrong to deprive a billion people of your services because you refuse to respect the laws of their government, regardless of how evil those laws may be?

No, it's not wrong. The Chinese impose all sorts of censorship and worse on their citizens. They won't stop while major international corps like Google condone it.

How's this one for you: If you considered a law to be wrong in your country, would you still abide by it?

Of course I would and I do it every day. There are several laws in my country that I would change but I can't so I have to abide by them or face the consequences.

zett

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3672834 posted 5:11 pm on Jun 13, 2008 (gmt 0)

What do you want from them in terms of living up to the statement?

Maybe a bit more sensibility?

The China situation is bad, but understandable. What de-masks that "do no evil" slogan as marketing hype and smokescreen is the fact that they could've said "nope, we're not going to submit to the Chinese laws".

Nobody (except for those ugly, greedy shareholders) actually forced them to go to China and to submit to the Chine government. Nobody. They could've walked away, because submitting to an evil regime actually makes you evil.

But to be more concrete:

- Do not work with/support/submit to evil regimes
- Be honest and open and transparent towards your partners and customers
- Do not try to become Orwell's Big Brother
- Respect copyrights

But I guess that is already too much.

IanKelley

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3672834 posted 6:14 pm on Jun 13, 2008 (gmt 0)

Whether or not Google is evil, and whether or not it's scandalous of them to claim to be attempting to avoid evil, one thing is for sure... If one company is going to be better than everyone else at search (and therefore bigger) I would rather it was a company that at least considers ethics an issue.

npwsol

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3672834 posted 6:29 pm on Jun 13, 2008 (gmt 0)

I should probably make it clear that on this issue in particular, I'm playing the devil's advocate (talking about the China issue only). It is not in line with my own views on China and human rights and Google's involvement, but as I've tried to assert before, there will always be a dissenting view somewhere; in this case, apparently not enough people inside of Google felt that this was evil. So how is that possible?


No, it's not wrong. The Chinese impose all sorts of censorship and worse on their citizens. They won't stop while major international corps like Google condone it.
...

Of course I would and I do it every day. There are several laws in my country that I would change but I can't so I have to abide by them or face the consequences.

In the international market, what's so different between you and Google? If Google is going to play in the international market, then they should play internationally. Google's job is not to police the world on human rights issues, and they do not carry a flaming sword of justice wherever they go. Bear in mind that there's a difference between "Don't be evil." and "Be good."

Nobody (except for those ugly, greedy shareholders) actually forced them to go to China and to submit to the Chine government.

Which is both a blessing and a curse in the corporate model: you are at the will of the shareholders.


- Do not work with/support/submit to evil regimes
- Be honest and open and transparent towards your partners and customers
- Do not try to become Orwell's Big Brother
- Respect copyrights

- Is evil by association valid? I think it can be, but obviously some people disagree.
- Where have they not been to the extent that's reasonably allowable? I've still not seen any evidence of this. (I'm somewhat ignorant at times; does Google provide a tool to give you a quality score measurement for your site? Because A) That would be nifty and useful, and B) Would be a great way to make AdWords more transparent)
- When did Google start bugging your phones and houses to listen for keywords? I'm sorry, but clearly you and I cannot agree on the difference between "subversive bugging for the purposes of control" and "tracking user data while using a service to improve said service."

Well, there's one scenario in which I will agree that their data collection is Orwellian: that is if the government subpoenas their tracking data under the USPAII, and they give it up. Google cannot give their data to the government under such a vague and broad-reaching violation of the U.S. Constitution. If they did, that would be Orwellian. But as it is, they are using the data to improve their services, and I cannot disagree with that just because they are big and have a 60% market share.

- I think we may have gone over this in the Viacom-suit thread. I made my stance fairly clear, there, and don't wish to make it a debate again, but I will reiterate for the purposes of this post: Google makes efforts to keep YouTube clean of copyright infringements, but the volume of videos and the presence of legitimate music videos makes it difficult to weed out copyright infringing material; even still, it appears to me that they have done a good job.
Their cacheing of data on the main search results can be a violation of some copyrights if they happen to cache a page which was moved to a paid-members only area, and it becomes accessible through google. Perhaps a solution could be that Google should only show cached results which are less than X days old, and only if the server appears to be down at the time?

As for my actual stance on China: I'm with you. Google should not do business in China. My only fear is that China will simply not care. Even still, I say we do something; petition Google, on the grounds that they are in violation of their charter by association, anyone? Once again, I think Google's ears are more open to us than most other companies'.

jecasc

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3672834 posted 11:41 am on Jun 20, 2008 (gmt 0)

Googles "Don't be evil" was empty talk for me when I followed how they tried to bully gmail trade mark holders in the UK and Germany in giving up their trademarks.

First doing sloppy trade mark research and then when finding out the trademark is already in use trying to coerce the rightful owners to give it up by dragging them through the courts - with no chance of winning - but probably with the intention to produce as much costs as possible, thats what I would call evil.

BeeDeeDubbleU

WebmasterWorld Senior Member beedeedubbleu us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3672834 posted 12:26 pm on Jun 20, 2008 (gmt 0)

Good point!

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