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Q: This is an old question, but it always comes up: What do you think of the ‘Don’t be evil’ mantra as a corporate culture?
A: Who are we talking about?
A: Do they follow it? (Laughs.)
Q: What do you think of that?
A: I don’t have any comment. I’ll ask you. I mean, it’s one thing to have a mantra and it’s another thing to follow it. Dude, you’ve got to ask yourself that question.
Q: Are you saying that they don’t?
A: I didn’t say anything. No comment about it.
When it was first coined, Google’s informal corporate motto– “Don’t Be Evil”–seemed a grandly framed, albeit naively altruistic, directive for a nascent company. These days, it seems little more than an albatross around Google’s neck, an ironic bit of corporate branding cited with the company’s every perceived indiscretion. Which is what we’re seeing today, now that Privacy International has ranked Google’s privacy practices as the worst in the industry and accused the company of harboring an attitude about privacy that “at its most blatant is hostile, and at its most benign is ambivalent.”
Based on six months of research, the international watchdog group’s study of “comprehensive consumer surveillance and entrenched hostility to privacy” placed Google at the bottom of a list of 23 Internet companies. “We are aware that the decision to place Google at the bottom of the ranking is likely to be controversial, but throughout our research we have found numerous deficiencies and hostilities in Google’s approach to privacy that go well beyond those of other organizations,” Privacy International said in its report. “While a number of companies share some of these negative elements, none comes close to achieving status as an endemic threat to privacy.”
Suffice it to say that Google feels the group is mistaken in its assessment of the company’s commitment to consumer privacy. “We are disappointed with Privacy International’s report, which is based on numerous inaccuracies and misunderstandings about our services,” Nicole Wong, Google’s deputy general counsel, told the Associated Press. “It’s a shame that Privacy International decided to publish its report before we had an opportunity to discuss our privacy practices with them.”
Interesting. Privacy International claims Google was unresponsive to its requests for comment. It has also accused Google of unfairly questioning the objectivity of the report by outing one of its members as a Microsoft employee. Thing is, Google does appear to have a point. As Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land points out, Privacy International’s report is based on quite a bit of secondhand information there. “Overall, looking at just the performance of the best companies PI found shows that Google measures up well–and thus ranking it the worse simply doesn’t seem fair,” he writes. “But the bigger issue is that the report itself doesn’t appear to be as comprehensive or fully researched as it is billed. Frankly, about the only thing saving Privacy International from many more companies or services being upset over this report is that they singled out Google as the worst. That’s almost guaranteed to make players like Microsoft and Yahoo shut their mouths and point at this silently as vindication they aren’t so bad.”