Beyond Good and Evil

Remember Google’s slogan back when it was called Google?

“Don’t Be Evil”.

They dropped it in 2015 when they became a sub of the new company, Alphabet.

At that point, Google came under Alphabet’s umbrella “Code of Conduct“, which states in part,  “Employees of Alphabet and its subsidiaries and controlled affiliates should do the right thing — follow the law, act honorably, and treat each other with respect.” Of course, it doesn’t cover cases where the law is ambiguous or where it simply hasn’t yet caught up to all the new possibilities in the ever-evolving tech world. As long as you follow the law, you don’t have to worry about “evil”.

I’m not sure dropping the old slogan was any kind of tacit permission for an employee to go ahead and be evil at that point, but it doesn’t much matter because the business practices that Google had in place from the get-go were already deep into a gray area that could easily qualify as “evil” in the estimation of many. In other words, their definition of “evil” was sufficiently fungible as to be meaningless in the context of a code of conduct.

I’m thinking of this today because I saw a headline link (on my Google News feed – where else?) that said, “Google will stop scanning your GMail messages to sell targeted ads.” As you may have forgotten, the extremely popular, “free”, web-based GMail service has been scanning the content of every message you’ve sent or received from day one, trying to figure out how to better target you for ads it wants to sell. At least, that’s the explanation they’ve given for this practice, as if that in itself wasn’t already “evil”.

Do you care? Did you have any expectation of privacy when using GMail? Does someone in the employ of the U.S. Postal Service “scan” your mail to see how it might “serve you better”? Would you be upset if they did?

Anyway, they’re not going to do it anymore. You’re probably thinking that the outcry from angry users finally convinced them to live up to their stupid slogan. But, no, that’s not it at all. They’re allegedly not going to look at your emails anymore because,

“the practice has made it difficult for Google to find and retain corporate clients for its cloud services business, according to Diane Greene, Google’s cloud division head, who spoke with the Financial Times. This is due to general confusion over Google’s business tactics and an overall apprehension to trust the company with sensitive data.”

They’re going to stop doing an evil thing because it’s costing them money. That’s pretty much what Nietzsche was saying, right?




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