Google's Schmidt at World Economic Forum: 'We did an evil scale'

Google's Schmidt at World Economic Forum: 'We did an evil scale'

Summary: InfoWorld reporter Stacey Cowley writes: It took Google Inc. more than a year to make the decision that offering a censored version of its search services in China would be a lesser evil than boycotting business in the country altogether, according to Google Inc.

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InfoWorld reporter Stacey Cowley writes:

It took Google Inc. more than a year to make the decision that offering a censored version of its search services in China would be a lesser evil than boycotting business in the country altogether, according to Google Inc. Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Eric Schmidt...."We concluded that although we weren't wild about the restrictions, it was even worse to not try to serve those users at all," Schmidt said. "We actually did an evil scale and decided not to serve at all was worse evil," he said, referring to the company's famous "don't be evil" creed.

Over at Harvard's Berkman Center, Rebecca McKinnon doesn't necessarily agree in her write-up of Google's degrees of evil saying:

So it has happened. Google has caved in. It has agreed to actively censor a new Chinese-language search service that will be housed on computer servers inside the PRC....Obviously this contradicts its stated desire to make information freely available to everybody on the planet, and it contradicts its mission statement: "don't be evil."

Rebecca also has some pretty good lists of related links here, here, and here. Meanwhile, the OpenNet Initiative (affiliated with the The Berkman Center) has published an online tool that compares search results from google.com (US) and google.cn (China).

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35 comments
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  • Do "no" evil does not allow for shades of grey...

    If Adolph Hitler was running against Joeseph Stalin for President, would you vote for one or the other because they were the "lesser of two evils," or would you abstain from the voting?

    J.Ja
    Justin James
    • William James

      J. M. James is unlikely related to the great American philosopher William James, but one should recognize that all too often the most apt observation is that of Edmund Burke, ?All that's necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good men to do nothing.?

      More recently, there is Niemoller. The point is that [b]in[/b]action is also a moral choice, and often worse than any available actions.

      "Do no evil" is an admirable objective, but not always possible. I will not fault those who chose to light a single candle rather than curse the darkness.
      Yagotta B. Kidding
      • Thus, the problem

        The problem is, Google has essentially taken the Hypocratic Oath here.

        ""Do no evil" is an admirable objective, but not always possible. I will not fault those who chose to light a single candle rather than curse the darkness."

        This is the problem. My objection to Google is not what they did. My problem with Google is what they claim to do. Microsoft, Yahoo!, et al never claim to "do no evil". Google does.

        "More recently, there is Niemoller. The point is that inaction is also a moral choice, and often worse than any available actions."

        I agree that inaction is a moral choice, but I agree that it is often worse than any available actions. But refusing to accept a binary choice, and creating a third (or fourth, or whatever) option, and then choosing it is often a better course. Rejecting a fixed set of parameters is typically viewed as "inaction". To me, this is the basis for the Nietzschen ubermensch principle: the person who rejects the established acceptable principles that are socially acceptable, and creates or selects options which the normal person would not even consider.

        Take my example from above. Let's say that both of those wretched candidates were put forth by the two major parties, and the average voter were to say, "well, no third party candidate can win this, I'm just going to have to hold my nose and vote for one of them". Our theoretical lone wolf, however, recognizes the disaster of either one of these condidates winning, and takes a more "direct action" (think Pat Robertson's comments on Hugo Chavez). That would be quite inline with your Burke quote, yet far outside the realm of possibilities that normal people would consider. And as Nietzsche predicts, this person would most certainly be crushed by society, even though they did the right thing.


        "J. M. James is unlikely related to the great American philosopher William James"

        I just found this one ironic, because someone was asking my last night about William James, and I've never read any of his work, except for a brief excerpt some time ago...

        My point here, is that Google decided that they had a binary choice: to do business in China, according to the rules and laws of the Chinese government, or to not do business in China. Note that Google did not even consider creating any other options. Off of the top of my head, I can think of a number of things that Google could have done:

        * Taken advantage of their nearly global reach and humongous audience to publicise the problems with China. This can be done in a professional manner. For example, maybe add some text to the search page stating that "Google regrets that, due to Chinese government restrictions, Chinese citizens are prohibited from accessing Google.com." That would spark a lot of curiousity.

        * Announce in their periodic shareholder's meeting that while Google would love to do business in China, the regulations of the Chinese government would force Google to violate the "do no evil" clause of their mission statement.

        * Talk to politicians to have them bring the issue up in Congress. I would love to see a company lobby a politician to do something GOOD because it is hurting their profits, instead of always asking them to do something BAD to help profits!

        This is just an imperfect list off of the top of my head. I'm sure that the smart folks at Google could have come up with something. If Google is such a fearlessly innovative and Jedi Knight company, then this is what they would have done. Reality being what it is, they are not. The difference is, they are one of a handful of companies that claim to "do no evil" or anything else along those lines, and that is why people are angry with them.

        J.Ja
        Justin James
        • That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard

          Your post by far is no where near stupid. Just the comment you quoted.

          "well, no third party candidate can win this, I'm just going to have to hold my nose and vote for one of them"

          I know people vote like this and it's so stupid! I can't believe people think like this. I guess it's this whole concept of having to be on the winning side. But it's stupidity like this that works against everyone. Sure a 3rd candidate might not win but an increase in votes shows something. The winning candidate see there is support for that 3rd party. This may cause the winner to look at the issues the 3rd party is standing for. This may cause the winner to adopt some of those policies to garner more votes next election. It has a positive impact. Throughing you vote in for the the party you see as probably being the winner even though you support the another party is stupid and works against you.
          voska
          • Not really the stupidest thing

            Holding ones nose and voting the lesser of two evils is the only way to avoid the greater of two evils.

            The facts are that more often than not elections are hold your nose and vote for who offends you least. Which is the nature of politics. Let's face it anybody who runs for elected office probably shouldn't be allowed in public life but we don't have anybody else willing to put up with it at the moment.
            maldain
      • Inaction still much better than collaboration.

        ""Do no evil" is an admirable objective, but not always possible. I will not fault those who chose to light a single candle rather than curse the darkness."

        The problem is, the Communist party wanted a way to take advantage of the web (propaganda tool, business, etc) while retaining strict controll on what Chinese people say and learn. They had two choices, build and run their own solution, or have outside companies do it for them. Make no mistake, Google is doing exactly what the Party tells them to do (see the "local law" comments). As such, they are actively collaborating with the regime.

        Here is how it works:

        The party wants to spread the message that life in China is better than anywhere else; no discontent here. Google China spreads the message.

        The party kills 100 political prisoners (Democracy Advocates, gays, Christians, etc) and sells their body parts. Google China ensures noone learns the truth about this.

        The party (today) doesn't want it's citizens to know about the massacre at Tienanmen. Google China scrubs all search results to show that nothing bad ever happened there.

        Down the road party leadership changes and the new leaders want to discredit those who did the Tienanmen massacre to solidify their position. Google China changes the search results to show the massacre along with stories about how the former party members were criminals.

        How is Google China different than an outsourced Peoples Daily? The only difference I can see is the Communist party is saved the expense of running it's own propaganda arm.
        enduser_z
        • foot in the door

          or, as some point, after China becomes partially dependent on Google.China to spread the propaganda, the fine folks at Google say, "sorry, we're not covering for you this time. If you don't like it, we'll shut down the system."

          Then China has to explain why Google isn't there anymore. And that may take far more coverup than hiding 100 dead bodies in a country the size of China.
          pete1978
      • Retalliation by Inaction

        More recently, there is Niemoller. The point is that inaction is also a moral choice, and often worse than any available actions.

        That can be the biggest cop-out of the them all. That is about as bad as the criminal saying, "I did it because if I didn't, somebody else would have."

        Oh how I may list the ways where inaction served as an action. Most recent we celebrated MLK Jr. for his civil protests which was also fueled by [b]not[/b] buying goods in various boycotts. Then there was Rosa Parks, who became famous by [b]not[/b] moving to the back of the bus. Lest we not for get Gandhi who became famous by [b]not[/b] eating. Looks like sometimes there are places where inaction does supercede action.

        As for the election of Hitler and Stalin, I thought that was similar the recent election. I voted for Badnarik. So regardless of who won, I still have a clean conscience, because I didn't vote for the winner. I tried to do what I thought was right.
        nucrash
      • RE: Google's Schmidt at World Economic Forum: 'We did an evil scale'

        I guess it's this whole concept of having to be on the winning <a href="http://www.realthesiswriting.com/services/">example of a thesis statement</a> side. But it's stupidity like this that works against everyone. Sure a 3rd candidate might not win but an increase in votes shows something. The winning candidate see there is support for that 3rd party. This may cause the winner to look at the issues the 3rd party is standing for. This may cause <a href="http://www.realthesiswriting.com/thesis/writing.php">example of a thesis</a> the winner to adopt some of those policies to garner more votes next election. It has a positive impact.
        adamjones342
  • Boycotting is not evil

    Boyotting is an invaluable tool for maintaining our freedoms, and should [i]not[/i] be considered a evil.

    I am disappointed. To call a boycott evil is to demonize movements that have used boycotts to induce social reform. Many of those movements are highly respected and praised for what they have accomplished. Without boycotts, women would not be voting, and we'd be as segregated as ever.

    With this move, they show that they only care about ethics if it's got dollar signs (or in this case, yuan). The ethics of money are apparently somehow more important than social & political ethics.
    CobraA1
    • I absolutely agree.

      Schmidt said, "We did an evil-scale..." Give me a break!!! This is just word-play to justify their bad decision.
      dstinson_z
    • Agreed and so HERE is where we start...

      We stop using ANY Google based services or products.
      We stop using Google for any Internet searches.
      We do not click ANY Google sponsored ads (thus denying them their revenue base).
      We ask websites admins to stop using them and to remove Google or Adwords links on their sites.
      We stop visiting sites that continue to use Google services or place Google links on their web pages.

      As the click counts go down, so will revenues. Eventually it has got to start hurting and, if enough of us refuse to support them, it will hurt them 'big-time'! If there is no change in their arrogant behavior...the boycott continues.

      Hey, it's not as if there aren't OTHER search options out there!
      marbing@...
  • Google

    Google has finally proven how serious they are about competing with Microsoft. Very sad indeed.
    Anti_Zealot
  • You can't begin to rearrange the house

    if you don't get in the front door. You have to get in front of people to have any effect. If google had not made the deal, some other company with less ability to gradually initiate change would have.

    Google is not going to come right out and say, or even insinuate, that change is one of their ultimate goals. It might satisfy some of the denouncers, but it is also a dealbreaker.

    The diehard Bill Clinton supporters on this board had better sit this one out. Clinton compromised his values, promises and a lot more on many occasions when he decided the ends justified the means.
    jjon2121
  • So the new slogan is, "Do a little evil"?

    Hey, sounds more like the real world to me...
    No_Ax_to_Grind
    • about the real world . . .

      Just because something is often done in real world does not mean it is ethical or right . . .

      It's the bandwagon fallacy.
      CobraA1
  • By this logic, Google would have run the trains to Auschwitz.

    After all, riding in boxcars is better than having to walk, right?
    enduser_z
    • BEST Post EVER on ZDNet

      Are you reading, "Mike Cox" and "Loverock"? And the least funny of all, "Jeff deSpicoliBLE"?
      PMC-CON
    • Brilliant!

      Excelent analogy...
      John Zern
      • Are you kidding?????

        This analogy is ridiculous. I realize that it's a comparison of relative evils, but to compare the true evils of the holocaust against a questionable business choice?.... come on.... this is disparaging to the holocaust sufferers.
        dstinson_z