December 14, 2014

Corporations both large and small have mottos that they use to promote their products and services, and even set the tone for interactions with customers. Ford Motor Company, for example, believes that all of its vehicles are “Built Ford Tough.” The motto is meant to convey a message to consumers that every car Ford builds is ready to tackle the harshest conditions drivers can throw at it, and will start each morning without fail. For the world’s largest tech corporation, Google, the unofficial motto of the company has long been “don’t be evil.”

With every new algorithm update that impacts the web for billions around the globe or new analytic tool that invades the privacy of millions, the debate about Google’s evil nature heats up. In this post, we’ll look at the case in favor of labeling Google evil and the opposite view that Google is not evil.

From Humble Beginnings

Whether you believe Google is evil or not, it didn’t become evil overnight. You cannot read the technology or business section of a newspaper today with a direct or veiled reference to Google popping up. The company’s service began humbly as a search engine. As the company sought to improve the quality of search results provided to users, it adopted a system of tracked searches that eventually evolved into Google Ads and Google Analytics.

These systems allowed Google to provide web surfers with search results that were as relevant as possible. Alongside those search results were targeted ads that applied to individual users and analytics that helped advertisers continue to focus tightly on target markets. From there, everything snowballed. Google now operates its own news service, payment system (Google Wallet), shopping (Google Catalogs), and even its own social media platforms (Google+ and YouTube.)

This is when people began contemplating the evil nature of Google. Was it evil to start invading the lives of users to help businesses and marketers (and Google itself) make more money?

Indicting Google: The Evil Corporation

Those who believe Google is evil often point directly to the company’s formation as the foundation of its evil. Google’s leaders throughout its growth have been Eric Schmidt, Larry Page, and Sergey Brin. These individuals were all deeply involved in the bitter battle between Google and Apple for supremacy in the field of technology in the 21st century.

While these men swore for years that Google and Apple were not direct competitors, it would appear they were in fact working behind the scenes to directly confront Apple’s every move. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs allowed these individuals into the fold on a number of cooperative projects, with the assumption and belief that the two were not competitors. It was Apple that first introduced the world to the modern smartphone, with touchscreens and no physical keyboard.

After the release of the first iPhone, Android devices suddenly hit them market with eerily similar designs and intellectual property that Apple insisted was stolen. When the first iPad hit the market in 2010, it was followed in short order by a number of competing Android devices. The Android operating system itself morphed overnight from a simply OS to one that matched the performance of iOS.

A battle between corporations for consumer dollars doesn’t necessarily make a company evil. One could argue that Apple itself is evil. After all, is Apple upset because Google seemingly (there is no solid proof) copied its intellectual property, or is it upset that another company is generating billions in revenue each year? Both companies are greedy and will do whatever it takes to protect their bottom lines.

As Steve Tobak, a management consultant, puts it, Google really is evil. He notes that Google now uses an individual’s search terms, email content, and location to send targeted ads on a constant basis. Google may in fact know more about you now than you know about yourself. Its programs and algorithms give it the power to track and predict your daily habits and learn how you live your life. Online behavior is just a starting point.

Google announced plans in early 2014 to buy Nest Labs. The company is the manufacturer behind learning thermostats that have already penetrated 1% of American homes. With Google Glass and an upcoming smartwatch ready for the market, Google is quite literally involved in every aspect of a person’s life.

A Rebuttal: Consumers Speak Out

For every individual that chimes in to indict Google as an evil corporation, there are an equal number of pundits and consumers ready to defend Google against such attacks. The most common defense of Google’s activities places the blame squarely on consumers. We all clamor for a web experience that is more efficient, more accurate, and helps improve our daily productivity.

We don’t want to search all 100 results pages that come up when we search specific terms online, so Google responded with technology that tracked our online behavior and learned our habits. As a result, we get the results we want, faster. We wanted to be able to access our email from anywhere, share photos and videos, and store it all in the cloud to protect against device crashes. The result, Gmail, Google+, and Google Drive. Consumers demanded these services, and Google responded by enhancing its tracking and behavior algorithms to better serve users.

Another common defense of Google is the sheer size of the company. Google quite literally has a hand in every marketplace in the modern world. From Google News and Google Finance to YouTube, Google+, and Google Wallet, there doesn’t seem to be a sector of the market Google has yet to penetrate. When a company grows that large, it is bound to rub people the wrong way. Massive global corporation like Google bring a user experience that won’t be appreciated by everyone.

When people prefer a more personalized interaction, and end up getting Google’s one-size-fits-all solution, they get upset. This often ignites the Google-is-evil debate anew with each new market penetrated by the company.

Evil or Greedy?

At the end of the day, your verdict on Google’s evil nature is going to come down to personal opinion. Those who enjoy Google’s services rarely indict the company for its ambition. On the other hand, those who don’t appreciate the invasion of their privacy and fear the power Google has over data online are quick to hand down a guilty verdict.


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