The Bipolar Ethical Nature of Google
Previously published on Jan 6, 2011
In January of 2010, Google announced it would no longer censor searches in China then soon ceased operations in the communist nation after a series of cyber attacks involving attempts to monitor the gmail accounts of Chinese activists, as well as the services of other companies was discovered to have originated from within China. When Google originally decided to enter the Chinese market, many began to question the technology firm's commitment to ethics. After all, by following Chinese law, Google was forced to limit the results of its search engine for Chinese users. Determining it could do more good by complying with Chinese law, Google entered the world's most populous country after facing this clear ethical conundrum.
Although only the third largest search engine within the "Chinternet," Google's reversal of its earlier decision has created a very interesting dynamic. Under most business models, analysts can only view this decision as a costs versus benefits issue that ensures Google maintains the integrity it needs to remain a viable competitor in a market steeped in privacy issues. Fortunately, Google is not like most companies, because its secondary mission is to do no evil. A normal business would have attempted to initially compromise with the Chinese government on the attack; however, this ethics oriented firm decided to take a bold, decisive move away from the traditional corporate response.
This alone is very interesting, because today we see far too many businesses and economists using threats of outsourcing and abandonment to bully nations into accepting a firm's behavior even if it is detrimental to the Nation, its People, and its communities. Even the United States, which was the largest producer in the world and is still the largest consumer, has allowed itself to be held hostage by firms engaging in harmful behavior. In this particular case, the world sees Google using this tactic to do "good." Certainly, Google could continue to make billions in China and capture a larger market share, yet it instead decided to promote ethics and responsible governance when it made this decision.
On the other hand, Google has also recently been in trouble for some extremely unethical behavior lately. In September, 2010, Google settled with the US Department of Justice over charges stemming from deals it made with other technology companies to limit their recruitment practices, thus Google undermined competition in the job market. In 2010, Google also became the focus of an anti-monopoly investigation conducted by the European Commission while the innovative firm has long had a tendency of ignoring patent and intellectual property laws that it feels hinder its ability to organize and disseminate information freely. Part of the problem is that Google's decision making process is both lacking in transparency, i.e. Google does not explain its sharply made decision, and has absolutely no respect for outside authorities.
Although I do greatly enjoy Google's various products and respect the company as an innovating force, a fairly responsible business entity, and an advocate for consumers, it is a very aggressive corporation. As Google controls an enormous share of the search engine market and the online ad market, i.e. Google controls the economics of the internet, not to mention its very forceful push to expand into various other markets, Google is actually quite monopolistic. In all reality, Google is probably the world's most benevolent monopoly, but it still needs healthy regulation and competition. When Microsoft first launched its Bing search engine, Google representatives looked at the development as very position. Clearly, Google accepts at least some business competition.
Unfortunately, governments have yet to effectively police internet oriented companies with healthy regulation and Google is no exception. Companies like Google eventually engage in unethical and immoral business practices, because the decision making processes of their business leaders fail to consider factors that hurt individuals who are not represented in the company. When Google dictates its policies to users, business partners, and governments, it opens itself up to such failures. Consequently, Google's ethical future will not be determined by grandiose gestures, such as the China fiasco; but rather, the greatest harm Google does will be a result of Google neglecting the interests and views of those at its mercy.