Can you hear the laugh out loud humor arising out of a Googles ethical slogan of “do no evil”? One can imagine really baaaad quips like the one about the new Google Desktop error message: “Oops the program has apparently bombed again … the devil made me do it”. But think again. By going up against the US DOJ-Department of Justice in the dispute over access to private data and search functions ,unlike Microsoft Yahoo and others, Google is out to defend its mantle of “do no evil” and “we will protect the private data your use of Google services generates against misuse or misappropriation by big government and big business”. And well … Gogle really must do so.
These days ranking right up with concern for security is also worries about privacy. This of course has long been a boiling pot particularly when personal computers became popular and therefore John Q. Public began to appreciate some of the privacy considerations engendered by pervasive computing. And so boiler plate privacy statements got attached to the baffle-gab of software license agreements. The vows were renewed with the rise of the Internet as companies tried to woo online consumers and to use fill-in-the-blanks forms in exchange for some freebie beads to get a bead on potential customers. And of course a whole lowlife and underworld of adware, rootkit and keystroke cllectors have apparently gone over to the Dark Side. So a new set of Privacy statements, promises and other oaths have been made to ensure that private data and user lists would never be mis-appropriated. But of course, I as well as millions of others learned better when things like my Bell Sympatico email address started to appear routinely on junk mail and spam elicitations for services above and below the belt.
As we have discussed elswhere, Google is going to have a hard time walking the ethical line of “do no evil”. Its huge massive computing and Internet distribution factory is right now better than anything any government can do and has only a few false pretenders among the likes of eBay, Microsoft and Yahoo. Therefore Google still possesses a nearly unique ability to deliver a whole range of massive Internet-based, targetted advertising and information services. But this InfoFactory depends on Googles ability to collect massive amounts of IP and private data, and then to walk the ethical line righteously while “monetizing” those assets. In this light, the motto “Do No Evil” starts to look essential.
But there is also a Moral Malaise gripping the world. Since the Industrial Revolution, Progress has been our most important product. Nobody gets in the way of Progress. Electricity, telephone, automobile, radio, airlines, television, oral contraceptives, digital computers, nuclear power, genetic code identification, the WorldWideWeb, and soon nanotechnology, gene therapy, mood-adjusting drug treatments, stem-cell breakthroughs are among some of the technology instrumentations awaiting fullaccession to Progress.
Essentially the developed world and then their populations get to vote by consumption. This buying-into-it-based weighing of benefits and costs has been made – and Progress has been good. But not quite unadorned good. Progress has helped fuel two World Wars with an intervening Great Depression and a following Cold War. And now there is what Francis Fukuyama calls the Great Disruption – a world wide social crisis in all the developed economies as divorce rates reach near 50%, unwed mothers top 30%, distribution of wealth reverses itself in the early 1980s and has steadily gotten more inequitable as the middle class dwindles leaving the ultra-rich richer and the poor ever larger. And this is just the tip of the social unrest – developed countries are seeing such baseline norms as infant deaths increase, birth rates decline faster than death rates, crime rates take huge roller coaster rides, and personal plus national indebtedness rise inexorably.
The rise of both the Christian Moral Majority in developed country politics and Islam Fundamentalists has its roots in this Great Moral Disruption. These religious groups are taking exception not only to some of what has ben called Progress; but also some of the methods by which technologies and ideas get elevated to the status of Progress. This unease and malaise has other fundamental roots. Governments and large organizations seem unable to take on the Wicked Problems:
>Unbridled population growth adding ever more consumers to a fast dwindling reserve base in oil, gas, and other instrumental resources.
>Sporadic outbreaks of Holocausts and Ethnic cleansings like the 2M or more killed in Cambodia or nearly 1M in Rwanda and how many to be in Darfur?
>Continued raiding of the Commons such as Air Pollution, WaterSource damage and local overconsumption, devastation of fish, wildlife and forests.
>Continued massively inequitable access to medicine and health care in both developed and under-developed countries.
>How to efectively handle massive yet illegal immigration – as cheap transportation and porous borders make social, economic and cultural problems worldwide.
So to be visibly endeavoring to “Do No Evil” cannot fail to garner Google-with-the-$100B ambitions some modicum of favor among the Moral Majorities.
Finally, the big convincing argument is that your number one competitor on the desktop and declared to be on Web-massively-deliverables is Microsoft. Now Microsoft is variously known as The Borg, the Pariah Partner, and the Prince of Machiavellian Machinations among other printable epithets. Also Bill Saint Gates has his foundation and PR working-millions-of-dollars-massively-overtime to reverse these perceptions. But in the long run it is what Microsoft does in its markets that will really count. So far “Do No Evil” appears to be a very positive differentiator, at least among developers. It may have greater resonance in the broader IT marketplace.