Don’t be Evil
Google is siding with the Empire, and it’s a culture war internally.
What happens when you are a technology company with revenues based on advertising at the forefront of the internet and artificial intelligence?
With big power comes big responsibility.
The problem is, the culture wars internally at Google show how Silicon Valley is failing in taking this responsibility seriously.
Don’t be Evil
It turns out for advertising leaders like Google and Facebook, it’s nearly impossible not to be and do, evil.
Sometimes I see articles on the interwebs that I could swear were inspired by our publication of FutureSin. Google has been struggling with internal and external criticism over the past several years on a variety of issues, from lacking diversity in its workforce to its work in China.
So there are a lot of issues that need to be addressed. Equality, AI regulation, anti-trust violation and spying on the voice records of users (among so many others).
While the official corporate philosophy of Google does not contain the words “Don’t be evil”, they were included in the prospectus (on Form S-1) of Google’s 2004 IPO. Nearly 20 years later, how far we’ve come on the Internet and how it has become an algorithmic net of great manipulation and evil.
From helping the military with killer drones to helping China with a censorship search product, Google is treading on dangerous ground.
Google also fails in how it handles equality with women and diversity in tech. Remember, former Android head Andy Rubin, who left Google in 2014 with a $90 million exit package after being accused of coercing a coworker to perform oral sex.
Then there are the Left vs. Right, divide at Google politically. Then there are whistleblowers who actually care about doing the right thing, and the hunt to find and weed them out. Politics and culture aside, who regulates the ethics of the most powerful companies in the world? Can we trust human leaders anymore in the age of artificial intelligence?
It feels like in 2019, we are at a tipping point of ethics on the internet and ethics in relation to how AI matures. Alphabet is at the heart of that. It should be under the microscope. Its employees need to speak up about these issues. The temporary contract employee problem at Google needs to be debated.
When leadership doesn’t listen to its own employees, things escalate. Remember, in June 2018, its big government contract for Project Maven was scrapped (Business Insider) when company executives gave in to internal criticism. Then, in November, employees walked out in protest over allegations of sexual misconduct leveled against top executives.
These are valid concerns. Alphabet has over 72,000 full-time staff all around the world. These people are smart, but are they ethical? That’s what we have to watch as Alphabet continues to evolve with DeepLearning and new spin-offs like Waymo and others.
This July, after employees pushed back against a censored version of Google Search being developed for China, the project was revealed to be canceled as well. I’ve written about Project Maven and Dragonfly many times, but rarely is a criticism of Silicon Valley taken seriously on ethical grounds.
Doesn’t the public deserve that the most powerful Silicon Valleys are held accountable? Is the consumer just a product at this point? Our data a shark frenzy of optimization of products like Search or Google Pixel phones or Google Maps? And it makes you wonder.
As humans and AI merge more as the 4th industrial revolution takes place, where do ethics go in such a transforming world where FAANG stocks edge the entire system of capitalism to a tipping point.
Don’t be Evil is long gone as a motto.
Is Google itself biased? Wired really dug into this recently. Companies like Google and Facebook don’t just need to be regulated, they need to be broken up into assets that can be held accountable as separate entities. YouTube’s inability to moderate itself is such an example. It’s becoming quite dangerous.
Google’s leadership cannot be trusted at this point. Amid ties with China and even Huawei in the smart speaker industry, this isn’t an acceptable risk in terms of National Security for the U.S. If Google sides with China, what does it mean for democracy? These are some of the really hard questions we need to be asking about Google.
Google in embracing ‘aberrant geniuses’, throws accountability out in the process.
Like other corporations, Google enforces strict policies requiring employees to keep company business confidential. But what happens when the company you work for is doing the wrong thing on a fundamental moral level? Would you speak up? Would you protest?
Silicon Valley has too much power, and it’s only going to get worse. Don’t Be Evil has become a self-prophecy for how the big get bigger.
You need these aberrant geniuses because they’re the ones that drive, in most cases, the product excellence, but what happens when the extremes become shady, like really shady?
Google’s workers really do take “Don’t Be Evil” to heart. C-suite meetings have been known to grind to a halt if someone asks, “Wait, is this evil?” But Google has been up to evil. In how it treats data, in how it favors the Left, in how it churns out AI products that will become dangerous in the years to come.
The best part of the Wired article summarizes it as such: Facebook is craven, Amazon is aggro, Apple is secretive, and Microsoft is staid, but Google genuinely wants to do good.
But in 2019, is that even still true today? That is the question.
Google is not good. Google doesn’t understand or manage its own internal culture and policy integrity very well. Google’s executives seem like impersonal agents not held accountable to the ethics and morals of the majority of its own employees! That’s not a good corporate culture to have guys!
Several conservative former Google employees are suing the company, accusing Google of censoring their political speech and firing them. The scandals at Google are adding up in a heap of chaos and poor morale internally.
Google finds itself and its culture deeply maladapted to a new set of political, social, and business imperatives. With a bunch of geniuses who don’t really get along, you have the internal culture set for a disaster. What we might wonder, is the next scandal just on the horizon?
The very company that invented the internet algorithm and perfected it has itself a la Damore, become an internal ideological echo chamber. This is what Silicon Valley does to us. It’s a pretty black mirror situation, it’s not a normal company at this point. The cost of this internal lack of unity will be high for Alphabet in the long run.
It’s clearly important for people in organizations to avoid unethical conduct because of the negative consequences that behavior can have for those within and without the companies. But what happens when management makes poor decisions in this regard? It poisons you internally until your employees rebel. That is I believe, what I think we are seeing gradually at Google.
Google is doing evil, and we’re not okay with it. Even Silicon Valley has to one day, be held accountable for its actions and conduct. Because the Internet impacts everyone. Because AI will impact everyone. Alphabet needs a reality check. It needs to be audited, it needs to be probed. Dammit.
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