Debate: Does Google Violate its “Don’t Be Evil” Motto?

If I were still in New York City, I’d be excited to attend a debate tomorrow on the proposition that “Google violates its ‘don’t be evil’ motto.” Debaters include Jeff Jarvis, Esther Dyson and Jim Harper (against the motion), and Harry Lewis, Randall Picker, and Siva Vaidhyanathan (for the motion).

I think most would agree that Google set itself up for such criticism and debate by selecting a simultaneously provocative and nebulous motto. And I suspect any such debate isn’t about a binary “evil” or “not-evil” distinction, but more about placing the search giant on a continuum of corporate social responsibility, with “complete altruism” on one side, and “utterly evil” on the other.

When one considers its complicity with Chinese censorship, its reluctance to include a direct link to its privacy policy on its homepage, its resistance to limiting the duration of its data retention or to even use a cookie with an expiration date, its continued opposition to shareholder anti-censorship and human rights proposals, its lack of foresight on how to protect privacy in public with Street View, and its general disregard for the need for its computer scientists and engineers to place values at the forefront of their design decisions, I’m forced to take the side of Lewis/Picker/Vaidyanathan, arguing that Google leans toward the evil side of the continuum.

Has Google done good for the world? Certainly. Can it — no, should it — do more? Absolutely.

UPDATE: The Times covers the debate here, and a transcript is here. Podcast is coming soon.

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