What comes after Don’t Be Evil?


From a comment of mine in 2015 - We are in the crackdown on foreigners in China (for foreigners, one might read, Americans).  When access to the internet is largely blocked for me, even with a VPN, access for many of my German students is still good.  Perhaps spotty, perhaps needing a couple of different VPN to get around, but it works.


Google's problems in China began in 2010, when it began redirecting searches to its Hong Kong site to get around blocking on the mainland.  After some negotiations, and fits and starts on blocking of gmail, Google chose to leave China rather than submit to censorship.  Those were the old days.  To  be fair, Google was doing some light blocking of its own at that time, and the issue as reported was the hacking of the gmail accounts of activists within China, presumably by the government.

In 2012, Bloomberg published its story about the wealth of the family of Xi Jinping, and Bloomberg was blocked a few days later, still in force (although Bloomberg is trying to get back in as well).  A couple of months later, the New York Times published its story on the family wealth of Wen Jiabao, and was then permanently blocked.     The Times remains blocked in China, although some staffers remain.  Keith Bradsher reopened the Shanghai office in 2016.

Now, in 2018, Google (formerly, the Don’t Be Evil company – the tag line was formally dropped in 2015) seeks to reenter the market in China.  A comment from Time Magazine in 2015 seems prophetic with regard to seeking new investment …

“Don’t Be Evil” had attracted its share of criticism for being ambiguous and potentially hypocritical; Alphabet’s new code of conduct might be looking to attract a new investments beyond its core search and advertising businesses, according to CNET.

… but simply wrong on potentially hypocritical.  By kowtowing (in the real former sense of the word) to the rulers in China, Google cheapens its brand while at the same time emboldening autocratic government everywhere to adopt the Chinese internet model.  Well done, Google.  It refused to lie by dropping the old byline,  now no longer seeking to not be evil.

New Google Parent Company Drops 'Don't Be Evil' Motto.  Time Magazine, October 4, 2015.  End of "Don't Be Evil"


There has been plenty of comment online and in the business press about the Google move.  Google staffers have resigned over the blatant rejection of ethics in agreeing to be censored ... no, worse, to self-censor, in exchange for money from ads in China.  The article from Hackernoon cited below does a pretty good job of explaining the why - that the Google ad business was suffering as a result of no-ad software, and Google needed to generate more money.  Removal of the "don't be evil" motto was in 2015, the same year that Apple added an app to its phone that permitted ad blocking.  Ad blocking on YouTube further ate into Google revenues. From the Hackernoon piece -

Even those who weren’t blocking ads had trained themselves to ignore them entirely. Researchers dubbed this phenomenon “banner blindness”. The average banner ad was clicked on by a dismal 0.06% of viewers, and of those clicks, roughly 50% were accidental.

Daniel Colin James. This is How Google will Collapse.  April 24, 2017.    No ads, no revenue


The Foreign Policy article below, by Susan Nossel, neatly summarizes the benefit to Russia, Iran, Egypt - authoritarian governments everywhere - from cracking down on openness.  Google needs revenue.  A few tweaks to software, and markets open.  For the governments, wait a while, and business will come crawling back in search of profits.  Marx does seem to be right about the rope.

Suzanne Nossel.  Google Is Handing the Future of the Internet to China. Foreign Policy, September 11, 2018.  available online from Medium - Google's timely dropping of "Don't Be Evil"