Corporations, Please Don’t Be Evil

Michael Roe

Google’s 2005 launch of “Google China” (google.cn) marked the beginning of the  iconic company’s display of international power and unique foreign policy, both of which have developed in light of recent Chinese controversies. Adopting the informal  motto “Don’t Be Evil,” Google has demonstrated a fresh and righteous identity for corporate government, as they take on global issues such as the Golden Shield Project, China’s “firewall” for internet censorship and surveillance.

China’s censorship may be Google’s most challenging foreign issue, threatening to transcend Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” code of ethics. Obviously, Google China has struggled since 2005 with the demands of the Chinese firewall, having to largely conform to the Golden Shield Project over censoring Internet results viewed through the medium of its search engine.

For example, Google China does not feature websites that include the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 and websites pledging independence for Tibet and Taiwan.

With Google China’s censorship violating their “Don’t Be Evil” ethics, Google CEO Eric Schmidt released a statement rationalizing Chinese censorship mentioning that the “Don’t Be Evil” motto needed to be replaced with an evil balancing system instead, allowing some evils for the greater good of the Chinese people.

Google’s mention of balancing between good and evil  evokes the image of vigilante justice typically associated comic book superheroes. Indeed, in recent events, when Chinese hackers accessed the gmail accounts of Chinese human rights dissidents, Google displayed a superhero’s sense of boldness in its arm wrestle with the Chinese government over censorship.

On Jan. 13 of this year, Google China announced plans to completely cease any form of censorship for search results on the Chinese website.  This allowed for completlely unregulated web browsing and searching over Google China: the main fear of the Golden Shield Project.
However, fearing interrogation, imprisonment and perhaps complete removal of Google’s offices within China, Google made compromises regarding its censorship policy.

Currently, Google China continues to operate, still censoring Internet results on gambling and pornography, while allowing only few political forms of censorship.
Although Google’s actions in China perhaps contradict their most fundamental motto, Google founder Sergey Brin feels optimistic about Google China’s future, managing to reduce web result censorship while working with  “the Chinese system.”

Google’s Chinese policy serves as a  model for corporate justice and responsibility, especially after the recent affirmation of a corporation’s right to unlimited campaign spending in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.  Essentially giving companies equal rights to free speech protected under the First Amendment, unlimited expenditures for political campaigns will amplify the voice of the corporation, a controversial concept of corporate personhood.

Are corporations entitled to the same rights as the living, breathing American individual? No. But disregarding the appropriateness in the Supreme Court’s late decision, it wouldn’t be a bad time for our nation’s most powerful corporations to adopt superhero slogans of their own. Since money is essentially now a voice in the political system, Google shall serve as a reminder of corporate responsibility. Since with great power comes a greater responsibility, I’ve decided to endorse Google’s “Don’t be Evil” on the 2012 Presidential ticket.