“Don’t be evil” is synonymous with Google, it’s their corporate identity. But have you ever stopped and wondered why? Why does Google need to remind itself that it needs be good, and why it’s their slogan?

Google’s strategy is to sell advertising. To do that, it needs to collect user data in order to show relevant adverts so it’s customers will buy more ads. The nature of this strategy pushes Google towards being evil. It has to collect very personal and sensitive information about it’s users, and some of the best minds in technology are working at better ways to collect information and sell ads.

It still boggles my mind how many people don’t see Google’s motivations, and what they may or may not do with all the data Google is collecting about them. They see Google as a company that offers them lots of free software for nothing in return, and they are only too happy to use it. To them, “Don’t be evil” doesn’t have (or need) a paticular meaning.

But the users who are conscious of Google’s strategy, this is where the motto “Don’t be evil” really starts to make sense. If you are aware, then there is a constant tension between how many of Google’s great products you should use, and the amount of data you are willing to give to Google. What are they going to do with this data? Who are they going to sell it to? Do I even know what data they are collecting about me? “Don’t be evil” is designed to placates these questions, and to remove the tension from using their products. Google’s ongoing success with online services is evidence that “Don’t be evil” was a brilliant move.

But we have a choice, a choice to use products from companies with a strategy that doesn’t push them towards being evil, companies that don’t need “Don’t be evil” as their motto.

Vote with your data, don’t give it to Google.

Weiran Zhang

Hi, I'm Weiran Zhang. I work as a Senior Engineering Manager at Capital One. I have a passion for technology and building thriving software teams. This blog is where I write about things I find interesting. You can follow me on Mastodon.