Google quietly dropped it’s informal “Don’t be evil” motto back in 2009, and since then seems to have become progressively more … well, evil.
The motto originated in a 2004 founders’ IPO (Initial Public Offering) letter from the company’s founders entitled “An Owner’s Manual” for Google’s Shareholders’:
Don’t be evil. We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served-as shareholders and in all other ways-by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains. This is an important aspect of our culture and is broadly shared within the company.
So how are they being evil?
In a US court case last August, Google admitted that users couldn’t expect privacy when sending messages via GMail. Then last November, they tweaked their terms and conditions thus: (my emphasis)
When you upload, or otherwise submit, store, send or receive content to or through our Services, you give Google (and those we work with)
The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones. This license continues even if you stop using our Services.
Those strictures were again tweaked a few weeks ago to add:
Our automated systems analyse your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customised search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection … This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored.
I know a number of people who keep everything on GMail. People like US tech commentator Robert X. Cringely who recently wrote:
Under the Gmail Terms of Service, Google can legally go through the 100,000+ messages sitting in my IN and SENT boxes … I have accessible right now online more than 1200 columns and stories totalling more than 1,000,000 words.
That data is now effectively Google’s, even if Cringely changes providers, because “This license continues even if you stop using our Services.”
All of which leads me to suspect Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt must have had an irony by-pass when he complained about the US government’s alleged spying on the company’s data. He told the Wall Street Journal:
It’s really outrageous that the National Security Agency was looking between the Google data centres … The steps that the organization was willing to do without good judgement to pursue its mission and potentially violate people’s privacy, it’s not OK.
That was last November. The same month his company gave themselves “a worldwide license” to everything in your account.