Google has dropped an unofficial slogan from its internal paperwork—and the reason has some consumers concerned.
The phrase “Don’t be evil” was a short, powerful slogan for the internet company that regulates the way many users interact with online content. However, the company is abandoning the phrase, albeit quietly.
“Don’t be evil” has been part of the company’s corporate code of conduct since 2000. When Google was reorganized under a new parent company, Alphabet, in 2015, Alphabet assumed a slightly adjusted version of the motto, “do the right thing.” However, Google retained its original “don’t be evil” language until the past several weeks. The phrase has been deeply incorporated into Google’s company culture—so much so that a version of the phrase has served as the wifi password on the shuttles that Google uses to ferry its employees to its Mountain View headquarters, sources told Gizmodo.
Using archived versions of Google’s website, Gizmodo was able to discover just how much of its published code of conduct had been changed.
Here are excerpts from that reporting:
Here’s the relevant section of the old code of conduct, as archived by the Wayback Machine on April 21, 2018:
“Don’t be evil.” Googlers generally apply those words to how we serve our users. But “Don’t be evil” is much more than that. Yes, it’s about providing our users unbiased access to information, focusing on their needs and giving them the best products and services that we can. But it’s also about doing the right thing more generally – following the law, acting honorably, and treating co-workers with courtesy and respect. …
And here’s the updated version, first archived by the Wayback Machine on May 4, 2018:
The Google Code of Conduct is one of the ways we put Google’s values into practice. 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 set the bar that high for practical as well as aspirational reasons: Our commitment to the highest standards helps us hire great people, build great products, and attract loyal users. Respect for our users, for the opportunity, and for each other are foundational to our success, and are something we need to support every day. …
The phrase still appears in the final line of the code of conduct, but the changes are enough to generate major media coverage.
The phrase “Don’t be evil” has significance for the company, going back to its IPO.
In 2004, to mark Google’s initial public offering, founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page wrote an “owner’s manual” for shareholders.
In it, they explained “Don’t be evil,” and stated in an online posting: “We believe strongly that in the long-term, we will be better served — as shareholders and in all other ways — by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short-term gains.”
Google has declined to comment on the changes, leaving the public to speculate on what the move means. The rewrite comes as Google has faced internal criticism from employees for developing artificial intelligence for the Pentagon and concerns over new AI that deceives phone callers into believing they are speaking with a human being.Top of Form
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On Twitter, users see the change as a sign of Google’s changed motivations and willingness to compromise core values.
Evil is fine now.https://t.co/LpMpc1FmBH
— Wolfie Christl (@WolfieChristl) May 19, 2018
Well, I guess that’s one way to fix the “we might be being evil” problem. https://t.co/jV09oqsZvg
— Mike Ananny (@ananny) May 19, 2018
Now officially evilhttps://t.co/anZHZmwXGE
— Elijah Waxwing (@elijahwaxwing) May 19, 2018
Others see the timing of Google’s move as stranger than fiction.
Google quietly removing most of its “don’t be evil” dicta from its code of conduct, while working on secret autonomous weapons with the Pentagon, would be called out as too on-the-nose if it happened in fiction. https://t.co/QoNWaZaePe
— Tasha Robinson (@TashaRobinson) May 21, 2018
What do you think of Google’s choice of words? What can it do to reassure rattled consumers?