One of corporate world’s most memorable mottos is slowly getting phased out by a company that seems to be adapting to the changing times.
Google has quietly removed references to “Don’t be evil” from its code of conduct sometime between April and May, Gizmodo reports. Google’s code of conduct, which lays down how the company expects its employees to operate, now no longer seems to focus on “Don’t be evil,” but instead makes vague references that work at Google must be measured against the highest “ethical standard”.
This was an extract from Google’s code of conduct in late April:
“Don’t be evil.” Googlers generally apply those words to how we serve our users. But “Don’t be evil” is much more than that. Yes, it’s about providing our users unbiased access to information, focusing on their needs and giving them the best products and services that we can. But it’s also about doing the right thing more generally – following the law, acting honorably, and treating co-workers with courtesy and respect.
The Google Code of Conduct is one of the ways we put “Don’t be evil” into practice. It’s built around the recognition that everything we do in connection with our work at Google will be, and should be, measured against the highest possible standards of ethical business conduct.
But as of 4th May, the language had been changed to this:
The Google Code of Conduct is one of the ways we put Google’s values into practice. It’s built around the recognition that everything we do in connection with our work at Google will be, and should be, measured against the highest possible standards of ethical business conduct. We set the bar that high for practical as well as aspirational reasons: Our commitment to the highest standards helps us hire great people, build great products, and attract loyal users. Respect for our users, for the opportunity, and for each other are foundational to our success, and are something we need to support every day.
While the phrase “don’t be evil” still does find place in the last line — “And remember… don’t be evil, and if you see something that you think isn’t right – speak up!” — says Google’s code of conduct, the change of language in the preceding paragraphs is a significant departure from a motto that was once seen as the cornerstone of Google’s corporate policy. Google and Don’t be evil went back a long way — the phrase was first suggested either by Google employee Paul Buchheit at a meeting about corporate values that took place in 2000 or 2001, or by another account, by Google engineer Amit Patel all the way back in 1999. Buchheit, who’d also created Gmail, had said he “wanted something that, once you put it in there, would be hard to take out”, adding that the slogan was “also a bit of a jab at a lot of the other companies, especially our competitors, who at the time, in our opinion, were kind of exploiting the users to some extent”.
While Google’s official corporate philosophy never contained the phrase, “Don’t be evil” had also been included in Google’s IPO prospectus in 2004. “Don’t be evil. We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served—as shareholders and in all other ways—by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains,” Google’s S-1 form had said.
But Don’t be evil had often been used as a jab against Google itself. In 2012, Gizmodo had published an article titled “Google’s Broken Promise: The End of ‘Don’t Be Evil” after Google had begun tracking users across all its services through the introduction of Google Plus accounts. In 2013, a British MP had told the head of Google UK “I think that you do evil,” after the company had been evading tax in the UK.
In recent years, further news reports had begun surfacing over Google’s policies which certainly appeared to be somewhat evil. Last October, a Bengaluru bench of the Income-Tax Appellate Tribunal said that Google had evaded Rs. 1457 crore of taxes in India by illegally routing its revenues through Ireland. This year, India’s Competition Commission had fined Google Rs. 136 crore for illegally promoting its own services such as Google Flights on its search results. Google had also been under the crosshairs in 2017 for firing engineer James Damore who’d simply stated academically-accepted facts over diversity issues. And just this month, a dozen Google employees had quit after the company had ignored their requests and continued to use its technology to help the US government develop drones to be used in war.
It’s perhaps fitting that Google’s decided to remove references to Don’t be evil — Google’s now a large multinational corporation, and a motto from its early days of a being a starry-eyed, virtuous startup doesn’t quite fit into what the company seems to practice any more.