Definitions of evil vary, as does the analysis of its root motives and causes. However elements that are commonly associated with evil involve unbalanced behavior involving expediency, selfishness, ignorance, or neglect.
I believe in a free internet – free as in free speech, not free beer. I’m unswayed by the blandishments of corporates like Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Oracle and Google. I don’t want to be locked into anyone’s ecosystem, and I strongly believe in open standards and protocols to ensure equality of access to information and services whichever device and environment you choose to use.
And Google? Google’s been harder to avoid.
Google’s innovation and pricing have made its products and services difficult to turn down. Along with the majority of internet users, I came to rely on Google for internet essentials. Initially I took heart from the open source foundation of much of Google’s arsenal – that, and their corporate mantra “Don’t be evil”.
But over time I came to view my use of Google’s functionality as a Faustian bargain. I was uncomfortable that search phrases, email messages and online documents were being parsed to better target advertising. The news that Google was striking deals with repressive governments to limit access to information was unpalatable. Two further discoveries sharpened my thinking.
- In common with Facebook and many other large corporations, Google has structured itself to pay the minimum tax possible in any jurisdiction. It moves its money between subsidiary companies to take advantage of local loopholes and avoid paying its share of tax in the country where the money is earned. This reduces taxation revenue and indirectly affects all of us.
- Google has always lobbied strongly in the political arena for the things it wants, and that’s not unreasonable. But Google went a step too far for me when it joined ALEC, a right wing pressure group that promotes tax cuts for the rich, discriminatory voter registration and similarly self-serving laws in American state legislatures.
According to Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt, evil is entirely relative and will be defined as required by the company’s co-founder, Sergey Brin.
Evil is what Sergey says is evil.
So I no longer find Google’s corporate mantra reassuring. “Don’t be evil” is no more credible than the marketing slogan of any other corporate. When I use Google I feel I’m condoning the exploitation of users, cynical deals with dictatorships, tax avoidance and lobbying against democracy. Google’s products and services may be convenient, but neither personal convenience nor corporate gain can justify evil.