A Cute Motto Can’t Make Up For Evil Actions

Posted Sunday, February 19th, 2012 at 2:53 pm

I recognize that Google’s motto is not (the oft-misquoted) “Do no evil”. It’s the much easier-to-achieve mandate of “Don’t be evil”. But even that very low bar is one Google doesn’t seem to be hitting any more, and they don’t seem interested in trying to.

The latest “Google being evil” story, where it turns out they’ve been tricking Safari browsers into allowing tracking that they’re supposed to block, is by no means the only recent example. It’s just the one that’s gotten the most press — and a great place to start.

Part of the commotion is that the particular way that Google circumvented Safari’s privacy settings wound up completely undoing Safari’s privacy where Doubleclick was concerned. That’s the part Google didn’t really intend to do. But what they did intend to do was explicitly bypass Safari’s privacy settings, at least where their own +1 button was concerned. They wrote special-case code, served only to Safari browsers, which was designed to trick the browser into believing that the user was interacting with the +1 button — even though the user was doing no such thing.

This isn’t just something corporations do. Humans are complicit in it. Somewhere along the way, there was a Google engineer who was asked to write this code. He or she should have said, “Hey, doesn’t this sound kind of… well, evil?” Somewhere along the way, there was a Google product manager who was asked — or who independently decided — that tricking the browser and violating its privacy settings would be a good thing. Again, he or she should have said: “Wait a second, this is evil. We shouldn’t be doing this.

But this is not the only evil thing Google’s done in the past few months.

There’s also the way they helped sponsor this year’s CPAC, which gave prominent slots to white-power advocates and hate groups. And then there’s the recent privacy change, and their ridiculous cop-out on #NymWars, which disproportionately affects people whose voices are already too marginalized… and all that is on top of the stuff I posted about a year and a half ago, giving a litany of pretty evil things Google had done.

Around the same time, I posted a blog entry asking why Apple was still considered a “good guy” by geeks. At this point, I feel that question is much more appropriately directed at Google.

Google is no longer the happy, friendly company it once was. It is not a company I can support any more. I’m deleting my Google+ account, and looking for alternatives to Google Contacts and Calendar (which I’m really mostly using because of my Android smartphone). If you’re a geek who works for Google? Leave. Stop being a party to their evil. I know it takes a few months to find a job in Bay Area tech circles, but with Google on your résumé, you can surely find something.

But do it now. The way Google is burning out its reputation capital, in a few years having Google on your résumé may start to look like Microsoft did ten years ago… and then like having SCO on your résumé.

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