Rivalry keeps Google from evil: Doctorow

Competition keeps Google doing good because there’s a perceived advantage to it, argues author and activist Cory Doctorow. By Craig Wilson.

Cory Doctorow - image by Katsoulis Photography (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Cory Doctorow – image by Katsoulis Photography (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Writer and activist Cory Doctorow says competition keeps Google behaving ethically because it believes there are benefits to be had. However, as it moves into sectors where it faces fewer rivals this may not always be the case.

“In the areas where Google actively competes, its ‘don’t be evil’ motto really seems to come to the fore,” says Doctorow, who was in Johannesburg this week to speak at an Internet Service Providers’ Association conference.

“It actually seems to be a quality metric. They believe they can attract customers, independent software vendors, resellers and an ecosystem around them by not being evil,” he says. “Where they operate in narrower, less competitive markets — like where they’ve become an Internet service provider, for example — they abandon those commitments.”

Google has begun offering fibre-optic connections, and thus is acting as an ISP, in parts of the US.

“Now that they’re a fibre ISP, they’ve come out against ‘Net neutrality. There are rules that require them to allow customers to run servers at the terminus of their fibre, but they want to be able to sell a business package and an individual package and they fear that if anyone’s allowed to run a server they won’t be able to do that tiering,” Doctorow says.

“And so they’ve petitioned the FCC [Federal Communications Commission] for a relaxation to the rules governing network neutrality so they can discriminate against customers based on what kind of applications they’re running.

“Meanwhile, where the ISPs have tried to actually charge customers extra money to access Google services, Google has been one of the great advocates for network neutrality and has filed comments with the FCC arguing very strongly for network neutrality.”

Doctorow says this is not an isolated case.

“In the same way, when Google became a partner with Verizon in offering a mobile service, they advocated against network neutrality in mobile services. They said Verizon should be able to give preferential service to Google applications at the expense of competing applications.

“You can see that competitive pressure — although it’s not the entire story — really does make companies compete more on user friendliness and on supplying a good deal.”

The worry, perhaps, is that companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter have to juggle various agendas: those of their shareholders, those of their users and those of governments.

“I specifically worry that because Google and Facebook and other companies have bought into the idea that lurking in these enormous data sets are the correlations that will allow them to root out causal connections between some stimulus and some action on your part — ‘if we show these things in this order, you’ll buy this’ — and that that will be so valuable to them that they’re retaining everything.

“I don’t actually believe those correlations are there; I think that we are much more complex than the big data advocates would have us believe. But a consequence of storing all that data is you invite government’s to pass laws giving them access to it. There I think we have a real concern.”  — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media

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  • Greg Mahlknecht

    So to summarize: where they can’t get away with it, they tout how ethical they are as a selling point. Where they can’t, they screw everyone over as much as they can get away with.

    Nothing to see here, folks, Google’s just like every other big corporate now, and has been for years. Certainly not news to anyone that follows the industry.

  • mike mace

    Google + NSA = evil

  • Krotch ScroteGuzzle

    “We are 100% for Net Neutrality(*)” – Google

    * except in cases where it affects our profits

  • http://www.ninzo.com/ Bob Dinitto

    We’ve now discovered Google is harvesting (stealing?) Wi-Fi passwords via Android. So please define the word “evil” because the common definition leaves Doctorow’s theory disjointed from observable reality.

  • voxnulla

    “Don’t do evil” is a moral, not ethics. “Should we do evil or not?” That is ethics from which perhaps a moral like “No, we should not” could be derived, that is ethical.

    I do not see Google behaving ethically at all. They have their mantra “don’t do evil” up upon the wall as dogma without questioning it’s content or merit. In essence good and evil are redefined by Google to fit their slogan. This is unethical and it’s basically dogma.

    Sometimes perhaps Google operates within a framework of morals that are seemingly in-line with common morals and values, but this is purely because Google is opportunistic in these matters. Ethics never come in to it at all.

    Some harm that could come from implying Google is behaving ethically is that they actually make an effort in defining their morals and values. If this is the case, then in many cases they are malevolently not adhering to their mantra. This places the blame where it does not belong, namely wilful malevolence and not the complacency, unwillingness, ignorance and laziness when it comes to real ethics.

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