Lesson #1: Don’t Be Evil

“We have a mantra: don't be evil, which is to do the best things we know how for our users, for our customers, for everyone,” says Page. “So I think if we were known for that, it would be a wonderful thing.” From its search technology to its advertising to its own charitable foundation, Page and Brin have striven to create Google after the fashion of their own morals. The company refuses to place advertisements for hard liquor and donates 1% of its profits to charitable causes all in an effort to not “be evil”.

“It’s just a personal preference,” says Brin. “We don’t allow gun ads, and the gun lobby got upset about that. We don’t try to put our sense of ethics into the search results, but we do when it comes to advertising.” In 2002, British founder of the Body Shop Anita Roddick called actor John Malkovich a “vomitous worm” in her blog. She quickly found a text ad for her site yanked from Google. Roddick had violated Google’s policy of accepting ads for sites that are “anti-” anything. Brin offered to reinstate her ads in exchange for the removal of the Malkovich comment, but Roddick refused. Instead of giving in and accepting the revenues from Roddick’s ads, Brin stood by his principles and kept her ad off Google.

“Things that would normally be side issues for another company carry the weight of responsibility for us,” says Brin. “We have tried to define precisely what it means to be a force for good – always do the right, ethical thing. Ultimately, ‘Don’t be evil’ seems the easiest way to summarize it.”

Page agrees, arguing that Google’s success will come about as a result and not in spite of their desire to maintain high moral standards. “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,” he says. “This is an important aspect of our culture and is broadly shared within the company.”

In order to comply with their mantra, Page and Brin try to keep Google as democratic as possible. In its searches, Google ranks every web page by evaluating all of the sites that link back to it. Thus, Google’s page rankings are based on Internet users themselves and which sites they have deemed most relevant. No amount of money can buy a better page ranking. Page and Brin also make sure that all advertisements on Google are clearly identified as ads so as not to mislead Internet users. Advertising on Google is always clearly identified as a “Sponsored Link.”

Google gives a number of advertising grants to nonprofit organizations, allowing them to receive free advertising on Google. Brin also notes that another social good is simply providing a free communication tool to everyone around the world. “A schoolchild in Cambodia can have a Gmail account,” he says. “We want our products to have positive social effects.”

Overall, Page and Brin want Google to continue to be a company that they can be proud of, not only because of its financial success but also because of its positive contribution to society. “We believe that believe that ‘Don’t be evil’ is only half of it,” says Brin. “There’s a ‘Be good’ rule also.”

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