Time for Google to ditch its ‘Don’t Be Evil’ mantra?

Our office is on a two-lane one-way street. So to my surprise I saw a large white van (with his hazard lights on) going about 30mph the wrong way down the street. “That’s not very clever”, I thought.

But then I saw the logo on the side of his dangerously driven van, which read “Always Protecting People and Reducing Risks“. This unbelievable hypocrisy on the side of the van made the whole thing brilliantly ironic and more of a story.

This brings me onto Google.

Google really was once very cool

google officesWe used to hear about the uber-relaxed work ethic where employees were encouraged to work their own projects and ideas. Where office hours were relaxed, where offices were recognised by the proliferation of table football tables and free snack machines rather than filing cabinets, stiff suits and the prospect of a bollocking from your manager for being five minutes late.

One of the company commandments was even “You can be serious without a suit“. For us suit boys, it was like an office emancipation, we all wanted to burn our ties and run around in converse trainers.

In the early 2000s this ultra-relaxed office space and work ethic meant that everyone wanted to be Google or work for them. Young companies everywhere wanted to copy this set-up and dreamed of being able to afford for their employees having such playthings in a cool, creative yet productive office space.

Most importantly this office ethic was extolled to all that the company practiced. We users were hooked, we loved the search engine and we (like Apple users since) were proud to tell everyone that Google was by far the best search engine by a million miles.

We also knew that whatever Google did, was for the benefit of good, because everyone knows that Google’s unofficial moto and something it tells all its global staff is: “Don’t be Evil“. This moto was reportedly dropped a couple of years ago, but it’s most definitely still there.

This moto is proudly in its ten commandment like “Our Philosophy” where number 6 in the list states clearly “You can Make Money Without Doing Evil“.

Google products are Great…

Google products are the best on the market. Google Analytics and Webmaster tools for people in my industry isn’t just good, it’s groundbreaking and no-one has come close to offering a similar product so ubiquitously used. Google Maps is brilliant (unless you used to offer a competitor product). Google image search was pioneering. Google News makes life that much quicker and easier.

Which other company has given so much to the internet and helped evolve web development so rapidly in the past 10 years? Not Yahoo. Not Facebook. Without Google we’d still be in a much poorer place.

…but the love has gone

However this love affair for Google is waning, and in part this mantra is not helping the matter. Like a revolutionary who becomes King, Google may have forgotten the past and the reasons we all loved it so much. We all still enjoy using the products, but we probably preach about them much less, moan a little more, and the “Don’t be Evil” mantra seems to pop it’s head up frequently. Is it because of the current climate and in this day and age, any multi-billion dollar company that states proudly that it tells its staff “Don’t be Evil” is setting itself up for a fall?

Back to Basics

To me it’s similar to when the Conservative party released the “Back to Basics” soundbite under John Major. They put themselves on a plinth to bring back conservative family values to the nation. Of course they were going to trip themselves up when the press did a little bit of investigating into their MP’s private lives.

The press and industry spokesmen are on Google’s back more now, and why shouldn’t they be? Thousands of articles have been written about Google’s moral flaws. Everyone knows that “Don’t Be Evil” is about Google and the paradox they have got themselves into.

Google is blinkered, arrogant and are now viewed as an uncaring and especially non-listening mega-corp. Google is now rarely in the news for being cool, innovative or caring. Newspapers run whole pages about the luxuriousness of their newly furbished offices. Just imagine how we would take this if it were an investment bank sending out press releases and photos of this nature? People are not congratulating Google about their services but moaning about their prices. You can run an advertising campaign with the search engine, and spend thousands of pounds, without even getting so much as a phone call. How can this be?

Developers have set up their own Don’t be Evil Tool, highlighting the issues with Google’s once perfect search Engine results. The industry has had enough, but we are not going to stop using the products, maybe this is why (like the train companies) there are so many disgruntled customers.

Drop The Evil Mantra

Other recent products and court cases have put much of their pioneering work in the shade and left a bit of a bad taste in the mouth. Google states in its Ten Commandments that “It’s best to do one thing really really well“. Well tell that to the maps, fashion, images, mobile phone, browser, email, photography, operating systems, advertising, analytics, acquisitions and social network departments. Google really does want to take over.

Most recently Google has announced that they are to track users universally across all its services and share this data which comes into affect on March 1st. This has caused uproar and even created anti-Google advertising from some of its biggest competitors let alone some very big people in the industry stating that the Evil moto is bullshit. Other issues such as the over-marketing of Google Plus, issues with over personalisation, data capture and personal security of products have shown us how single-minded the company is.

There is no denying that Google made the internet what it is today, but no one ever said they should own it. This stance has led us all to think that maybe, just maybe Google is actually a bit evil.

Whether Google is Evil or not isn’t really the argument here, but like the van driver, it might make life easier if you didn’t tell us how good and caring you were all the time but actually proved it.