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|Google's Eric Schmidt Says, "We don't have an 'Evilmeter"|
|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]
Now I understand why Google is acting "evil" in many ways. It's just that *WE* think their behaviour is "evil". They, however, have -after some internal debate- decided that it's OK to behave like this. Now it's all clear to me.
Thanks, Mr. Schmidt, for the clarification.
IMO, if you're bandying around powerful words like 'evil', you are taking a moral position.
|... meant to provoke internal debate over what constitutes ethical corporate behavior, rather than representing an absolute moral position. |
Oh yes, "Internal debate" and "absolute moral position". Of course! We all know that Google is famous for telling us what happens in their internal debating sessions! ;)
It may be the start of a re-education of the public because of some unpopular move they are considering for the future?
"Well when we said 'don't be evil' we didn't really mean 'don't be evil'. What we meant was ..."
I completely agree Andy. There are numerous words in the english language to convey what Eric is speaking of. Using the motto "Don't Be Evil" is a pretty clear, to me, to attempt to imply moral behavior not corporate responsibilities.
Yes, but they know this. As I said this may be why they are starting to back track a little.
It strikes me yet again that a lot of people here have a very negative view of Google, one which I only moderately understand. They make the big bucks, so it must mean they're another big, bad, corporation. Any time they say anything, it must be a smoke screen to hide the truth from us!
I don't see what most of the people here see in Google. In this I see two things: a PR move (Google knows the best thing it can be is a household name), and a truly legitimate attempt at being transparent in areas where it makes sense. Do you want them to be transparent in the way they weight their searches? Because you might as well just ask them to opent he flood gates and let the spammers through. Google's stance is that the best content on the internet is developed to standards without a focus on the search engine.
Do you want them to be transparent in the way they handle the AdWords bidding system? Sorry, boys, trade secret. Wouldn't want M$ or Yahoo copying that model; not to mention it's highly dependant on PageRank (by all accounts).
Evil is a relative term. As humans we all need to know and understand that. Morality? It is relative to you, me, and our seperate viewpoints. A strict judge might say it's always wrong to steal, where a more compassionate one might argue that it's okay to steal, say, to feed your family. Neither is right, neither is wrong; they are opinions, and morality always is. Simply because there's a strong consensus on certain things doesn't mean it's fact. Killing, for instance, is considered to be universally wrong; yet we have the death penalty. A better question still: If you could go back in time, would you kill Hitler before he rose to power? (don't cop out and argue for all of the technological advances WWII gave us; this is a question of morality, not gain)
To me, "Don't be evil" definitely sounds like a term that's meant to foster debate. If something strikes you as wrong, call it evil and ask why. Would you be comfortable if M$ started doing this? etc., etc.
I contend they use the word evil because it carries more weight. I don't know this for a fact, but if it were something I were to impose, I'd say evil, because you would want to think much harder before becoming associated with something considered "evil."
No, Evil is an absolute term, distinguishing between white and black and Evil is black.
[edited by: Staffa at 3:48 pm (utc) on June 12, 2008]
|they are opinions, and morality always is. |
No, it isn't. Under what circumstances would you consider it morally okay to rape a woman? Burn a baby's arm with cigarettes? Twist a child's arm until it snapped? Stick hot needles in the eyes of a cat?
I'm all for post-modernism, but some things - intentional abuse for the purposes of vicarious pleasure - are not relative.
|Schmidt said "Don't be evil" is meant to provoke internal debate over what constitutes ethical corporate behavior |
Seems fair enough - Schmidt appears to be saying not "We will never do any unethical" but "We will never stop questioning whether what we are doing is ethical or not."
I would not consider it morally okay. But, using your example, if a boy grew up with a father who kidnapped and raped women persistantly, he might grow up to consider it morally okay. He does not know anything else, he was not taught anything else. How could he know it's wrong?
Why do some men beat their wives? Do they think it's evil? Why do some people steal? You don't think they justify it for themselves? There is a big difference between knowing what Society considers evil and knowing what you consider evil.
The reason? It is why there are people out there who do things we consider wrong without blinking an eye. It is why you and I are disagreeing at this moment: It's how you were raised, it's the circumstances you found yourself in, and it is the lessons you learned as you were growing up, and finally it is your own thoughts and deliberations which shape your morality.
[edited by: npwsol at 4:11 pm (utc) on June 12, 2008]
|Any time they say anything, it must be a smoke screen to hide the truth from us! |
I'm not sure where the conspiracy theory comes into this. We can judge what Eric Schmidt said on its own merits.
A word like evil is actually an interesting choice, since there are few behaviours that most people would categorise as truly evil. There are mistakes, and misguided actions. People and companies can be wrong, but it rare that they would be called evil for those actions. You're unlikely to fall foul of such a statement, unless your actions are extreme.
Which makes Schmidt's distancing from the statement even more bizarre, and IMO derisible.
|"We don't have an 'Evilmeter' we can sort of apply -- you know -- what is good and what is evil," |
The fact is, if your stated intention is to 'do good' or to 'not do evil', you are claiming a moral position - that you have your own definition that you will use to judge your actions. If you lack such a definition, to use such words as a published goal is at best meaningless and at worst deliberately misleading. It doesn't matter if everyone else has a different definition of evil.
Put simply, it looks like the statement is a form of weak moral relativism: to imply that the phrase "don't be evil" can never actually be applied to actions in a meaningful sense. I can certainly judge actions based on that statement, as I imagine Google can too. IMO it's irrelevant as to whether or not individuals feel that Google has or hasn't lived up to this - the suggestion is that no-one has the right to judge one way or another.
ah, yes, 'evil' is relative, as black is. No, wait, did I say black? Well, I meant some sort of dark grey, of course ... and no, I am not quite sure how dark or perhaps not so dark the black is today ...
Oh well ...
|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. |
What this suggests to me is that he is saying that Google will decide internally what they consider to be evil. Well that's alright then, eh?
|It strikes me yet again that a lot of people here have a very negative view of Google, one which I only moderately understand. They make the big bucks, so it must mean they're another big, bad, corporation. Any time they say anything, it must be a smoke screen to hide the truth from us! |
Quite often, yes. This is not just Google by the way. All large corporations (and governments) are economic with the truth when it comes to ethics and increasing profit.
|"We don't have an 'Evilmeter" |
Maybe not, but they definitely have an “evil algorithm”, with lots of factors that go into that for decision making purposes, most notably stock price, revenue growth, ad sales, Adsense revenues, public perception, advertiser relations, user experiences, ect.
Personally I think there has been a dramatic change in this algorithm over the past 5 years.
|Quite often, yes. This is not just Google by the way. All large corporations (and governments) are economic with the truth when it comes to ethics and increasing profit. |
I'm debating starting a seperate thread to discuss this.
I certainly don't disagree with this sentiment on the whole; I'm rather suspicious of most large companies' motives. The primary concern is very typically the money lining their pockets.
But there is a period for a large corporation where it still has the values it had when it started up. Has Google truly strayed from this? I'll be the first to admit I'm not the most savvy at interpretting business moves (I can still see through things like Charter calling NebuAd an "enhancement"), but it seems that on this board everything Google is met with sneers, thrown stones and violent cries of "rabble rabble!" Every time I read a thread on here about Google, I feel the fervent need to remind people that cracking a joke is not the same as making a point! In fact, it degrades us to the level of politicians jabbing at eachother instead of discussing the issues and their solutions, or, in a more closely relevant fashion, to the townsfolk of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery."
When Google started out, they started with a clear mission: Organize the information on the internet. These days they're doing alright at that. I can find fixes to most bugs in a few minutes thanks to Google. A lot of my non-bug search results send me to Wikipedia, but they always send me to the right article, even if the phrase I used to search doesn't match the title.
So what's changed? Where are the X's and O's for Google? They are hitting us with quality score slaps on ads, but all this means is that your site is run-of-the-mill! Sure, it lines their pockets a bit, but it encourages you to improve your site, and thus the user experience, and thus your conversions. I understand that the primary goal of any corporation is to improve their profits, but I see Google doing it in a way that improves the internet for the laymen, and for those individuals with the drive to truly stand out, and thus the "right" to.
For simplicity sake, what makes something "Evil" in the IT world is something that no one else but the corporation has control over. For example people swear Microsoft is evil because windows is a closed source system - you only get exposed what MS wants to expose to you through documented api's. What makes Google evil is the fact that the internet itself - especially how google is "Wrapping it up" and selling it to users is becoming an "Application" if you will and this "Application" is more of a black box than windows EVER was or ever COULD be.
When google started selling "Apps" and other services and providing apis/integration points and other features of their systems they exposed themselves to the criticisms of a community that DEMANDS open standards - especially to integrate, build and expand upon.
So far google fills this "don't be evil meter" by "summer of code" type events but now that they lost their "evil meter" so to say what reason do they have to be open?
As google gets bigger it seems its only motivational way to increase profits is to force people to their way of thinking. The only way Google could increase profits is to lock people in, build foundations that are exposed through public apis but hidden behind a black box that is google.
Google is becoming "Evil" buy destroying the very freedoms that an open system, open api and "Seemless" architecture would provide. The very same evils MS committed that created the demand for Linux, Open Source and Standards Compliance - the very same evil that MS still contends against but yet NO one can hold google accountable for.
|but it seems that on this board everything Google is met with sneers |
I too have been bemused by this fact for quite some time.
One popular view at WW seems to be that Google has broken their promise to do no evil. From where I'm standing I would say that, so far, Google has done a good job of being a reasonably responsible corporation.
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. In order to do business in a country you have to be willing to respect their laws. Nothing evil about that.
As far as I can tell the "evil" at Google is that they make changes to their algorithms that effect the profits of WW members. It's a little bit funny really.
There are a lot of smart people at WW but sometimes... Various posters in this thread have said that good, evil and morality are not relative, and are instead black and white.
So exactly where do you get this absolute moral compass? The bible? The laws of your country? I feel like I'm reading perspectives written 100's of years ago instead of 2008.
|So exactly where do you get this absolute moral compass? |
Mmmm... I think you miss the point. :)
If you make a statement that says "Don't be evil.", you have to be prepared not to be evil. In anyone's eyes. They were a very young and naive company when they made that their corporate philosophy and publically announced it, and I doubt they would make the same decision in 2008.
It's like saying that you have an unbreakable encryption algorithm, or the most secure computer in the world. Be prepared for scrutiny.
Google isn't evil. They are what they are - a corporation, with responsibility first to shareholders.
|So exactly where do you get this absolute moral compass? The bible? The laws of your country? I feel like I'm reading perspectives written 100's of years ago instead of 2008. |
But relativism can only be taken so far. It's a good way of looking at things to get perspective, but is no guide to practical behaviour. In fact, there appears to be widespread consensus about behaviours that would constitute evil across many aspects of behaviour and different cultures. It doesn't matter what source an individual uses as the basis for it.
Regardless of ethics, it feels like Google may be starting to regret their choice of words with this popular slogan. Personally, I've always considered the phrase to be essentially meaningless applied in this sort of context. "Don't be evil" as published by a company that supply an internet search engine is a not meaningful statement. "Colourless green ideas sleep furiously" ;)
"Try to make information easier to find" = OK. "Don't be evil" = an explicit request for moral judgement. A statement that either makes people like you a lot more, or a whole lot less: emotive words get emotive reactions.
They don't have an evil meter? Then what is that little green bar in my tool bar? I thought 0=Evil 10=Good ;)
I like your post, Ian, and yours, bakedjake. Ian's partly because his views are in line with mine (;)) and jake's because he raises an excellent point. Google does invite scrutiny by having that as a company motto.
I think it's safe to say that the people involved in meetings at Google, by their own admission (I can't cite, but do remember reading. Please correct me if I'm wrong), are not just marketers and bigwigs. They get people from all of their departments involved, and what this provides is multiple viewpoints, many of those belonging to people who are not simply looking for the almighty dollar.
Deciding if something's evil at Google involves many people with many different ideas about what is right and wrong in terms of our modern world, which fosters debate and consolidation, and a means of addressing some of the concerns you or I might have without us being in the room. It is a good mentality for a corporation to have, and I feel as though it has worked well. Clearly some disagree, and I'll concede their right to, but let's make like Google and discuss their actions before we label them as evil. How does this change affect us? How does this change affect our customers? Does this help progress the internet, or does it stunt it? If we sincerely have a problem, we're in a position to raise concerns, and I have a feeling that Google, unlike many other companies, will address our concerns; they'll respond and they'll open a discourse. I find Google to be very active in the developer community, so this is certainly a possibility!
With regards to Google creating a closed system: I feel this is necessary. If we had the source for Google's closed system, how much easier would it be to crack? Or how many google clones would pop up in a single day, ones without the same commitment to customer privacy (or at least anonymity)?
In the same degree, I don't hate M$ because of their closed operating system, I hate M$ because of their propensity of locking computer manufacturer's into long-term contracts and otherwise preying on the laziness of people. I hate M$ because of their shift away from absolute backwards compatability, and their new cover-fire methods with regards to technology (here's .NET, here's windows forms, forget MFC, wait, no we're developing a new one, forget windows forms!). M$ uses its position to lock the masses into their system, which in turn locks other corporations (who depend on the masses' familiarity with the products they use) into using their services. As society matures and becomes more technically savvy (if it happens before the end of the world), I suspect people will become much less dependent on M$ and thus greater competition will emerge. I also see this happening these days, albeit slowly.
Google, on the other hand, to establish standards we can build upon, and to use as reference. If it weren't for Google, how popular would AJAX be today? True, they offer services and tools which we can only see one side of, but thanks largely to the open structure of the internet, we are not dependent on them.
|you have to be prepared not to be evil. In anyone's eyes. |
It is impossible to be good in everyone's eyes. Most of us learn this even before we hit puberty.
I think the intent was simple and commendable. They knew that going corporate would change things and they wanted to try to preserve some of their ideals by putting them into the charter.
No doubt Google's founders were naive when they did this. They were putting entirely too much faith in the maturity of their audience.
|No doubt Google's founders were naive when they did this. They were putting entirely too much faith in the maturity of their audience. |
The other thing about relativism is that it pretty much means that the other person's opinion is always just as valid as yours: even if you don't agree with them. Maturity and puberty are not relevant.
"Don't be evil" uses a word that means different things to different people, by definition: "evil". Using such a word means that you invite others to judge you by their own criteria. Likely, if your criteria correspond to theirs, you'll like them much more. If the criteria don't match, you'll like them much less.
Schmidt's statement seems like an appeal to relativism - an attempt to make the statement meaningless, because they don't want to be morally judged any more. Fine. Perhaps, they don't want to be morally judged any more because there are a lot more people that disagree, as evidenced by various comments in this thread.
Given the cynical world reflected here, I suppose negative comments are expected (I haven't read all the thread because this kind of stuff is a waste of my time, when comments come from people who haven't done the kind of work in corporations to generate mission, vision and value statements).
Ok, Eric's remarks sound a bit lame. An excuse.
Unless you've done this kind of work, which I have -- leading people to generate values, mission, and vision.
The reality is that if you do this process properly, it is EXACTLY how Schmidt describes it. Google is a great case study example of how to do it right, and some of the potential risks of making these things public.
What's that saying -- opinions are like [blank], everyone's got one!
Guess it all depends on what the meaning of the word be be. :)
Yes, it's amazing how much semantics actually does matter.
Andy - While I certainly agree that relativism can only be taken so far, given the need for social interaction and thus social ethics. I say social ethics for a reason; I always interpret morality to be personal, whereas ethics are a silenting agreed upon code for interacting with one another.
Still I argue that relative morality applies in this case. When Google takes action, they will take action based on the relative morality of its employees involved in the decision making, and more importantly their collaborated ethics. If we disagree with their decision, we should foster debate and raise our concerns with Google. Again, what is the problem, and why is it a problem? The statement "Don't be evil." is something we should use to our advantage in dealing with Google, because Google is big and getting bigger; as we all know, when a company gets big it sometimes gets lost. The statement is vague and it is placed somewhere concrete, where we're not likely to see it go missing, and in this regard it is beautiful. I don't know if it's what they're trying to do, but we can't let them walk away from it.
If people feel Google is being evil, what actions do they consider evil? Why are those actions evil? Who are those actions affecting? Then, if the consensus is that the actions are evil, how can it be fixed?
Follow Google's example of how they implement Don't be evil and use it. But I guess that requires people to be able to debate and agree, which requires maturity. Could we start a thread on this and get away with it? Or would it turn into a flame war? WebmasterWorld is more mature than any of the other communities I've interacted with...
Google seems to me to be "childish" in a lot of ways. Dont be evil sounds like something a kid would say. Look at the Google logo, it looks like a crayon drawing from preschool.
This kind of naive overtone as not just another evil corporation like microsoft I think ads to their charm and popularity. I don't know how much of it is genuine, and how much may be a manufactured similar to what goes into a presidential candidate.
I am sensing that as Google grows up and becomes bigger and bigger that some of it may be manufactured.
|If people feel Google is being evil, what actions do they consider evil? Why are those actions evil? Who are those actions affecting? Then, if the consensus is that the actions are evil, how can it be fixed? |
There is a lot to be said for a utilitarian approach, but at the same time, that's very different from relativism.
For me, the change in tone implied by the recent statement suggests that we are encouraged to see the answer to the question "is this evil?" as "what does it mean to be evil?". A reasonable enough question in itself, but one that is less palatable when delivered in the current context.
Let's say that every action is equally good and evil, or that morality is impossible to determine. I don't necessarily disagree with that. But if I announce to the world that my main aim is too be a good person, I'd better have some clear ideas on what the statement meant, and a lack of relativism, otherwise my words would amount to nothing more than a party trick. I may as well have said "don't be purple".
If you look at some of the statements Google have made about their competitors, I'd suggest they present a pretty clear idea of what they consider to be acceptable behaviour. IMO it is wholly unreasonable to suggest in public that the same process of judgement should not be applied to them.
|... Various posters in this thread have said that good, evil and morality are not relative, and are instead black and white. |
So exactly where do you get this absolute moral compass?........
First you seem to miss the point. In morality, ethics and everything else you can apply a scale from good to evil or white to black between the two you can insert as many shades of gray as you like.
Therefore, stating that evil is relative is incorrect.
As for the moral compass, I only sail to my own.
PS : I wasn't even referring to Google
[edited by: Staffa at 9:58 pm (utc) on June 12, 2008]
|Schmidt's statement seems like an appeal to relativism - an attempt to make the statement meaningless |
I agree, it does sound like an appeal to relativism. Or perhaps a reminder that Google never claimed to have the final word on right and wrong... That they strive to have a conscience but do not possess a handy 10 commandments for being an angelic internet corporation.
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