Google: Ethical or Evil?

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  • Topic: Google services, Google, Privacy
  • Pages : 10 (3432 words )
  • Download(s) : 162
  • Published : July 21, 2008
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Google is a company that was conceptualized in a dorm room by two Stanford University college students in 1996 (Arnold, 2005, p. 1) and has morphed into one of the greatest technological powerhouses in operation today. What began as merely a means to analyze and categorize Web sites according to their relevance has developed into a vast library of widely utilized resources, including email servicing, calendaring, instant messaging and photo editing, just to reference a few. Recent statistics collected by SearchEngineWatch.com reflects that of the 10 billion searches performed within the United States during the month of February, 2008, an impressive 5.9 billion of them were executed by Google (Burns, 2008). Rated as Fortune Magazine’s top American company to work for in both 2007 (“100 Best”, 2007)and 2008 (“100 Best”, 2008), Google obviously has curbed the market on fair and friendly treatment of its employees. But how does it measure up when one considers the ethics in relation to its business practices? The purpose of this paper is to identify and evaluate the ethical concerns specific to privacy faced by this herculean computing company and to determine the effectiveness of their treatment of these issues.

Google opens their corporate code of ethics with a simple sentence - “Don’t be evil” (Google Code of Conduct, ¶1). This statement is consistent with the theory of virtue ethics, placing emphasis on the importance of developing to the highest potential. They may not necessarily be considered evil, but Google does engage in practices that are certainly vague and could be considered disreputable. Google’s questionable corporate policies in relation to privacy have long been a subject of contention amongst consumer privacy groups and computing organizations.

Google’s privacy policy relies strongly on the impression that everything they do is for the sole purpose of improving service. Multiple references are made to their goal of improved service throughout the policy, including statements such as “we use this information to improve the quality of our search technology”, “we use cookies to improve the quality of our service”, and “in order to provide our full range of services” (Google Privacy Policy, ¶6). While these statements may technically be true, one must also consider that these practices are followed in an effort to better the company and not solely for the improvement of service to their users as is often implied. The policy also addresses the possibility of future changes, stating that all amendments to the policy will be immediately reflected in the on-line documentation and that if changes made are “significant” they will provide “a more prominent notice” (Google Privacy Policy, ¶29). The determination of what constitutes a “significant” change is left to Google to determine, requiring existing users to routinely verify the terms of the policy to ensure that no changes have been established that might impose on their assumed privacy rights.

The terms of service statement provided by Google that relates to all of its provided products is concerning. It reads “by submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through the Services” (Google Terms of Service, Section 11.1). A user’s agreement to this statement gives Google full rights to use the content posted through their services in any way that they see fit. Considering the fact that this single document is in essence a blanket statement that applies to every service operated by Google, the effects of this statement are enormous. Essentially, Google is given open license to use any video posted on YouTube, any comments written on Blogger, and any photographs uploaded to Picasa, all entities...
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