Google is Evil but Why Are People Surprised?

by Chris Seibold Sep 22, 2010

In just a few short years Google has gone from every techie's favorite corporation to a bubbling mass of pure corporate evil. How did this happen? Why is Google now the equivalent of the lump in the toaster oven at the end of Time Bandits? That is an interesting story.

You're likely familiar with the genesis of Google. Two Stanford students came up with the idea to search the web and rank the results according to an algorithm. It seems like a simple idea now but when Google was first doing it, Yahoo! was still indexing pages and not actively searching the web.*

Google quickly went from a small time player to the dominant search interface, (sorry Ask Jeeves, Bigfoot, Alta Vista and too many others to list). People loved it. Google had no readily apparent source of revenue in the early years (the company was run with investment capital) so the users saw it as a free ride. They were getting search results they'd pay for, for free! What's not to love?

Then came the ads. Turns out that companies have to make money sooner or later and Google's preferred method of raking in the long green in the early years was advertising. This was Google's first big chance to act like a money grubbing corporation everyone loves to hate. When the web was dominated by garish, flashing "swat this fly and win" ads, Google went the other way. The ads displayed on the search page were understated, just text. Clearly, this was a different kind of company, right?

People still loved Google. Google was the premier search company and it earned revenue with understated advertising. Everything was perfect. No reason to fire up the V-Hate! That just wasn't enough love, Google wanted more. How about free e-mail. Not just 5 mb of storage but a gigabyte of storage. That amounts to all the email you'll ever get stored for you, for free, by Google. Well, there were the tasteful ads and all, but that's a small price to pay.

Free email, great searching? Google really is the white knight in Silicon Valley! But the wheels started to come off when Google went to China. Google agreed to censor some results when people used the Chinese versions of Google. Censoring results? When Google's mission statement is:

"To organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful."

It is difficult to reconcile that mission statement with Google's censoring web results. It looked like a grab for cash and market share. Eventually Google did revise the company's policy towards China.

China was the first indication most people had that Google wasn't some purely magnanimous company that existed only to make their lives easier. Recently, it got much worse. First was Google's and Verizon's position on wireless internet. It basically amounts to "For all your hardwired devices, oh yeah, open internet. For all your wireless devices, well, Verizon (and Google) can do whatever they want."

Google defended itself well. Reading the company's response to the allegations you might be tempted to say it was all a misunderstanding. Like when Daredevil and Spiderman fight cause Spidey thought Ben Affleck said "mother" instead of "brother."

Soon all doubt was removed. Skyhook is suing Google because Google, allegedly used strong arm tactics to chase Skyhook off Motorola's mobile phones. This is the kind of thing people despise, if you've got a better product and beat the tar out of the competition that is fine and encouraged. When a company starts using corporate muscle to squash competition people start to worry.

This is where the disconnect comes in to play. At what point was Google actually not in it for the cash be it either now or deferred? When Google was doing the search-engine-only thing it was doing it to get popular enough for advertising to pay off. When Google did the e-mail thing it did not do it because it really wanted you to get free email but because the company knew it was a great way to advertise=evil.

The entire concept of "Don't be evil" was a response to Microsoft's tactics in the 90s. A better mantra would have been "don't be blatantly greedy to the consumer" because the consumer is what Google is ultimately selling. It is like treating your cows nicely so they give more milk. You don't develop a personal relationship with the cows, you don't give a damn about them or about their self actualization, you want what they produce. Google is no different.

Is this actually evil? It depends on your perspective. If you take the view that Google is just another for-profit company then it isn't inherently evil. We live in a capitalist country, in a world dominated by captilist companies. Companies leverage assets and come up with new business models all the time. Expecting Google not to use corporate clout to achieve a goal is like expecting the Indianapolis Colts to play with only 9 guys on offense to keep it fair. It is simply not going to happen.

On the other hand, if you see Google as something special, as a company out to "not be evil" as a company solely in existence to make the world a better place, then yes Google has truly lost its way. But it was predictable. Companies don't want to grow up and be big beneficial companies, companies want to grow up and impose their will. When google was all about "don't be evil" it was because being evil was detrimental to its emerging brand; a grown up Google is all about kicking ass.



The inspiration for the Google logo


*The difference isn't as subtle as you might think. The Yahoo! index was based solely on a submission to its list. Pages were not dynamically added with intervention. Google was an actual search of the web—bots that combed the web and allowed people to see what was actually out there instead of relying on a static index.




  • Nice write ups man! I am actually so grateful that Google came for I was totally devastated by Yahoo. Yeah, whatever happens to Yahoo right now then that’s good for them. I really love Google! ReputationAdvocate

    chesterfoster had this to say on Aug 25, 2011 Posts: 27
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