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"Don't be evil" is not good enough

jwesorick profile image Jake Wesorick ・1 min read

Google's "Don't be evil" or "Do the right thing" are lazy and become meaningless because they are so vague. Google is at a point where it is doing things, like its work with China, that most of us would consider being evil. Many tech companies, like Facebook, have been caught doing things that have been deemed unethical after they have already been done. Government tries to enact laws but cannot keep up much less get out ahead of new technology and ways it can be used for evil.

I think there is a need for a non-profit that establishes a standard of ethics as voted on by its members. Essentially a Unicode Consortium for ethics. If we can work together to decide the next emojis and can work together to a baseline of ethical behavior. New ethics could be released along side new technologies. It would not be perfect but the current standard of develop first and ask questions later is not good enough.

Discussion (3)

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dmfay profile image
Dian Fay

Google quietly dropped "don't be evil" last year.

An industry ethics consortium sounds nice but that's about it. Not only would it effectively be an opt-in system, it wouldn't be able to do anything about violations. Establishing and enforcing consequences for unethical behavior are, whether we like it or not, properly the domain of government. The half-baked reactive measures we've been seeing are the result of government not taking the problem seriously, and extend beyond the merely technological to include questions of oligopolies and other natural consequences of deregulation, corporate lobbying and pressure at all levels of government, workers' rights, and social responsibility.

theelectricdave profile image
David S.

Everything changes once you begin the initial public offering.
You can outline what your goals, moral code is, etc.. but now that you are running a publicly traded company, and you have a set of incentives that, if followed, lead you down the path of becoming a big evil company, just like all the others.

Maybe this is an obscure analogy, but if you have ever played simcity, you know about how an incentive structure affects your behavior. In many early simcity games, there was very little in the way of 'quality of life for your citizens' type metrics. The metrics that existed were population size and how much money you made. Therefore, the game nudges people to creating large cities that make a lot of money, and disregarding all the other things.

Running a large publicly traded corporation is just like that.

I tend to not trust or purchase things from publically owned companies, except for their stock. Only their stock provides me with tangible value in the form of capital returns. The products the company sells are actually very low value products because their aim is to maximize profit above all.

Apple is a good example of a company delivering very low value products relative to their cost, and returning a portion of the difference to investors.

So the problem is what metrics mr. or mrs. CEO is now thinking about.... not whether a golden code of ethics is enshrined.

This is why i buy Tesla, Apple, Facebook, and Google stock, but drive a Toyota, have a fleet of old Dells, don't use social media, and only use google when duckduckgo isn't giving good search results ;)

vorsprung profile image

If you look at the book "Doughnut Economics" by Kate Raworth, she describes several "levels" of social responsibility a business can have

The levels are

  • Do nothing
  • Do what pays
  • Do your fair share
  • Do no harm
  • Be generous

So, "do no evil" is somewhere above "fair share" but below "do no harm"

Businesses should cut the crap where we have to wait for the billionaire founder to retire before he really starts giving it all away to make a legacy

If you are a growth hacking startup type you should read Raworth, for example