Is Google Evil?
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Almost since its inception, Google's founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin have believed in its IPO prospectus statement of Don't Be Evil.
That was billions of dollars ago. But questions of whether Google is in fact evil or not are still being asked. Brin and Page responded to the latest round during a press event at its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters today.
Brin was the first to answer a question about Google living up to its don't be evil policy.
"As people relate to Google on a broader variety of fronts, lots of people have different opinions on many different issues," Brin said. "Whether they are unhappy with Google search results for a particular question or some specific ad policy, if they disagree with that particular avenue they assume that Google is doing evil.
"In general, I think we're doing a very good job of staying true to our mission," Brin added. "But with increasing scrutiny there will always be people that disagree with one specific element or another and we won't always agree with everyone."
Another press question was about using personal information to fuel search ads. The issue has become a hot button recently, thanks to the launch of Microsoft's rival MSN adCenter, which utilizes user demographic information.
In Larry Page's view gathering the data is not the problem. "I think that simple kinds of information about people if there is value in it is not an issue for us or any other large Internet company to gather that data in a way that makes sense for users," he said.
Page argued that it's in the best interest of any "branded" company to respect users' personal information and that such companies have a tremendous incentive not to abuse personal information.
"We rely on the trust of our users in order for them to use services like Gmail or search. If we do something bad with that information as defined by our users - it would hurt us severely financially," he said.
"The good news is that any company that has a brand and has a lot of private information is very much financially aligned with its users in a sense to not abuse that information."
Non-branded companies are the ones that users should be wary of, in Page's view.
"I would worry more about companies that are on the Internet, advertising companies and other folks that don't have much of a user brand that are busy gathering tons of data about what everybody is doing," Page continued. "I think that is much more of a risk. You see that now in credit reporting and other areas."
Some might argue that Google is aiming to replace all desktop applications and replicate them as an online services. Page takes a slightly different view.
We don't think about it as a way to replace all the things that people are using, Page said. "We think about it as how do we make things that are better, such that everybody wants to use them."
Being big doesn't make Google evil either. Page argued that being big is what allows Google to do its job.
"What gives me a good feeling and a lot of the people that work here is that we really are accomplishing a lot in trying to make information more accessible to people and getting the right information out and really changing the world by doing that and at that scale," Page said.
"To do that we have to be pretty big."