Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Google Quietly Drops Its 'Don't Be Evil' Motto

Posted by Tom Foremski - April 1, 2009

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Google [GOOG] has quietly dropped its "Don't be evil" motto as part of a broad strategy to refresh its image. This shift in its corporate PR includes focusing media attention on key executives such as the very photogenic Marissa Mayer, VP of Search Product and User Experience.

Ms Mayer is in the middle of global media tour, and recently appeared on The Charlie Rose Show and she is scheduled to be on Jay Leno's new show next week.

PR Week recently reported that Google has been interviewing several large PR firms to help it spruce up its image, which has become tarnished over the past year with senior executives defecting to Facebook, and allegations by Internet commerce companies that it has been abusing its dominant position in search marketing.

Google's "Don't be evil" motto was first revealed when the company filed for an IPO in 2004. It was part of a letter to investors that founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page published as part of the 350 page IPO document that detailed its business and its ambitions.

In a Letter from the Founders titled "An Owner's Manual" for Google's Shareholders" Mr Brin and Mr Page wrote:

. . .Google is not a conventional company. We do not intend to become one.

. . .Our goal is to develop services that significantly improve the lives of as many people as possible.

. . . Don't be evil. We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served-as shareholders and in all other ways-by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains. This is an important aspect of our culture and is broadly shared within the company.

However, as Google has grown larger over the past five years and now has a dominant position within massive online advertising and Internet commerce markets, the motto has become an easy target for its critics.

Signs of a possible change have been evident for a while. Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google has often complained in interviews with the press that the motto has been misunderstood.

Here is a quote from a news story by Reuters' Eric Auchard in June of 2008:

In an on-stage interview with writer Ken Auletta of the New Yorker magazine, Schmidt said "Don't be evil" is meant to provoke internal debate over what constitutes ethical corporate behavior, rather than representing an absolute moral position.

"We don't have an 'Evil meter' we can sort of apply -- you know -- what is good and what is evil," Schmidt said.

Google CEO talks of good, evil and monopoly fears | Reuters

David Krane, a senior spokesperson for Google, told SVW: "I never liked it. I always felt that it would come back to bite us in some way, that we would end up building concentration camps, or something even worse. The universe seems to love irony, why leave ourselves wide open?"

Mr Krane wouldn't say if the "don't be evil" motto will be replaced with something else. But maybe we can crowd-source a replacement.

Here is my suggestion for a new Google motto: "Brush your teeth between meals and try to get 8 hours of sleep."

If Google doesn't manage to live up to this goal, then no harm done, just a little drowsiness and personal hygiene issues. But if it messes up on "Don't be evil", that could harm a lot of people. Let's not tempt the fates.

What do you think Google's new motto should be?

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Please see:

don't be evil schmidt - Google Search

The Charlie Rose Show interview:



Who is Marissa Mayer? The journey of a millionaire Google

YouTube - Google- Marissa Mayer- laugh compilation

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