Friday, January 15, 2010


By Philip J Cunningham

There’s something irremediably banal about Google’s corporate motto. It’s hip, it’s hype and it’s hypocritical.

"Don't be evil" is a curiously negative construct; eschewing evil is not necessarily about doing good. In sum, a sophomoric yet shrewd manner of self-presentation that is not without its believers.

It speaks to the informal, idealistic ethos of a student-run Silicon Valley garage start-up, even though Google is now a multibillion-dollar entity with nearly 20,000 employees and computer links and arrays vast enough to map, copy and store billions and billions of private bits, day after day.

But pretending not to be a big company does not make Google a small company any more than their witty motto means they are doing good.

There are numerous shades of gray between not doing evil and evil, especially if one’s core business is information mining in service of advertising.

Neither the super suave Mad Men nor real life ad men pretend their business is about maintaining a high moral standard. Advertising, an ethically-challenged field of endeavor in the best of times, favors the big-wigs rich enough to afford its product, while seeking to indoctrinate the little guy, --capitalism’s answer to communist propaganda.

But Google’s difficulty in hewing to its motto extends beyond ad revenue to brave new frontiers of surveillance, digital profiling, and the questionable storage of vast information files on individuals that would be the envy of the old Stasi or KGB.