Google has been throwing its weight around and pissing a lot of people off.
It allegedly leaned on Motorola not to use a competing location-detecting service from Skyhook. Then it turned around and dropped $12.5 billion on Motorola to get into the phone market, competing directly against partners like Samsung and LG.
It changes its search algorithms with no warning, sending certain businesses plunging in the rankings.
It charged into Facebook’s territory a couple months ago with Google+ and is playing hardball with tactics like taking a much smaller cut of in-game sales to draw developers to its platform.
It looks a lot like Microsoft in its heyday.
Every time Google makes one of these moves, it’s easy (and fun!) to point the finger at the motto which appeared in its IPO prospectus: “Don’t be evil.”
But as computer researcher and social activist Aaron Swartz points out, Google had a very specific definition of evil.
It had nothing to do with market tactics like stabbing former partners in the back or playing hardball with weaker competitors.
It was all about users.
Google gave three examples: it would only show relevant ads, would never show pop-ups or other annoying “tricky” ads, and would never sell search results.
In other words, it would never make a product worse for users just to make a quick buck.
So look back at Google’s actions from the last year and they’re mostly in line with this credo.
- Tightening the restrictions and source code releases on Android, and buying a hardware maker to create “reference” phones (free of the crapware that carriers install, for instance) makes Android better for users.
- Changing its search algorithm to get rid of crummy results makes Google search better for users.
- Adding a social network gives Google access to data that users are sharing with each other, which makes Google search better for users. Taking less money so developers will create games for it makes Google+ better for users.
Sometimes the line gets blurry, particularly with acquisitions — buying travel information provider ITA looked a lot like Google was trying to own a supplier of critical data to a competitor, Microsoft’s Bing. (Did Google really need to OWN it to provide better travel search results?)
But if avoiding evil means pleasing customers, that’s just smart business.
And that’s why Google is winning.
Google anti-spam engineer Matt Cutts also points out that there’s a big difference between “don’t be evil” and “do no evil.” When writers misquote Google as saying “do no evil,” they usually have a bone to pick.