Open Google’s code of conduct in 2000 and you’d be met with the opening sentence: ‘Don’t be evil’. It was a simple message which quickly became the tech firm’s unofficial motto. “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. We will live up to our ‘don’t be evil’ principle by keeping user trust…,” Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin wrote in the company’s 2004 prospectus as part of its S-1 filing to go public.
However, many people believe Google failed to keep its promise. “Back in the 2000s, Google in particular was the darling of Silicon Valley and Silicon Valley was a new wonder of the world,” says Morgan Ames, assistant adjunct professor in the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley and author of ‘The Charisma Machine’. “However, with the relentless push to grow and to make profit, it, along with many other big tech companies, threw caution – and ethics – to the wind. Scandal after scandal hit the news – and people got fed up. This spawned the beginning of the ‘tech-lash’.”