Google in the garden of good and evil

If Google's stance means anything it means they won't give in to cynicism, that they will at least continue struggling with these questions, and seeking the greater good.

Linux DevilOne of the big trends of 2005, certainly one to watch for 2006, is Google's struggle with the question of evil. (That's the BSD Linux devil over there. Cute, huh?)

Don't do evil has been Google's unofficial mantra from its start. It's a major brand attribute. If Google is seen as no better (or different) than Yahoo and MSN in regard to good-and-evil, think our favorite Linux application can sustain its stratospheric price-earnings ratio?

Me, neither.

The last few months have seen a host of folks drop an "e" bomb on the big G (that stands for goodness). Activists called them a sell-out to China. Writers called them evil for copying library books and offering them for search.

The fact is that good and evil are absolutes. People disagree strongly on their meanings. What some call good others call evil, and vice versa, every day. Dropping the "e" bomb on Google is becoming a cottage industry.

This doesn't mean we (or Google) should throw up our hands. Those who do that, or encourage you to do so, are usually selling something, cynicism. If Google's stance means anything it means they won't give in to cynicism, that they will at least continue struggling with these questions, and seeking the greater good.

The more important point is that Google's struggles with good and evil mirror those everyone in open source faces, every day. Spreading knowledge is neither absolutely good or absolutely evil -- it depends on who is using it and for what. Osama bin Laden might use your open source code as easily as Nelson Mandela.

Evil, in the end, is a question we'll all have to continue struggling with.

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