Google has long had a ‘don’t be evil’ rule, but it seems this rule is no more. Now that it is going through a massive restructuring exercise and that it is becoming ‘Alphabet’, it seems that the rule will be dropped. The new code of conduct will also make other changes. For instance, there was a rule that allowed dogs to be taken into the office, while cats were banned. This has also been removed.
One of the reasons why this is pretty major news, is that the code of conduct’s opening creed has always been ‘Don’t be evil’. In fact, this came into force the minute Google was founded. Today, it is a central part of the company and the phrase itself is truly famous. Now, however, the opening creed will actually be an instruction. It has been replaced with an entire sentence.
Do the right thing — follow the law, act honorably, and treat each other with respect.
The announcement that Google would soon become an overarching company known as Alphabet came last August. Google itself will be a search engine company within Alphabet, which will have many other operations as well. Dynamics, for instance, a company in Boston that makes robot dogs will be included in Alphabet as well. The same is true for Nest, the company that makes smart homes and self driving cars. All of these elements will no longer be linked to Google, but instead will be under the umbrella of Alphabet.
Alphabet is mostly a collection of companies. The largest of which, of course, is Google. This newer Google is a bit slimmed down, with the companies that are pretty far afield of our main internet products contained in Alphabet instead. What do we mean by far afield? Good examples are our health efforts: Life Sciences (that works on the glucose-sensing contact lens), and Calico (focused on longevity).
The simple ‘don’t be evil rule’ was always very widely accepted and was very clear. When Google was nothing but a small search engine company, the rule was immediately adopted. It was in place to make sure that the company would be able to keep the data from its searches separate from the advertisements that actually pay for this data. The code of conduct contained a range of other things that focused on behaving properly, using some pretty strong language at times.
Everything we do in connection with our work at Google will be, and should be, measured against the highest possible standards of ethical business conduct.
However, as Google started to grow, people also started to become critical. Suggestions were made that Google was not actually upholding its own set of rules, including the most important ‘don’t be evil’ rule. Much of this is because of specific dilemmas. For instance, Google’s Boston Dynamics is looking into creating robots that could take the place of soldiers in wars, and this makes it much more difficult to be ethical and uphold the ‘don’t be evil’ rule.
Organizations worldwide, from DARPA, the US Army, Navy and Marine Corps to Sony Corporation turn to Boston Dynamics for advice and for help creating the most advanced robots on Earth.
When Google first stated that they would restructure, people immediately expected that the business elements that may struggle with ethics somewhat, would become separate companies. In so doing, Google could continue to be the force of good in the world, whereas Alphabet overall could be far more ambiguous in its operations.
Google itself, which is now a separate company within Alphabet, has not made many changes to its code of conduct. In fact, the ‘don’t be evil’ rule still stands, in the same position, of the new code of conduct.
“Don’t be evil” is much more than that. Yes, it’s about providing our users unbiased access to information, focusing on their needs and giving them the best products and services that we can. But it’s also about doing the right thing more generally – following the law, acting honorably and treating each other with respect.
The code goes on to describe the seven main pointers for Googlers. Each of these has sub-categories that employees must be aware of. The seven main points are ‘Serve Our Users’, ‘Respect Each Other’, ‘Avoid Conflicts of Interest’, ‘Preserve Confidentiality’, ‘Protect Google’s Assets’, ‘Ensure Financial Integrity and Responsibility’ and ‘Obey the Law’.
Looking at the instructions from Alphabet, however, the picture becomes very different. In fact, the code of conduct is very different to that of Google, which was, after all, the founding company. A variety of pieces of advice have been dropped from the code of conduct, including how much alcohol someone should be able to drink at work. In the old code of conduct, employees were told that they could have some, but they had to keep it in moderation. The new code does not mention alcohol consumption at all. Similarly, the old code stated that dogs were allowed to be brought into the office, but cats should remain at home. This pet rule has also been dropped entirely from the Alphabet code of conduct.
In its new code of conduct, Alphabet makes it clear that each element within Alphabet can set up their own code of conduct.
If you are employed by a subsidiary or controlled affiliate of Alphabet, please comply with your employer’s code of conduct. If your employer doesn’t have its own code of conduct, if you have a question or concern about this Code or believe that someone may be violating it, or if you want to remain anonymous, you can make a report of a suspected violation or concern through our Helpline.
Also, rather than having seven elements, like the original Google code, the Alphabet code has just three. They are ‘Avoid Conflicts of Interest’, ‘Ensure Financial Integrity and Responsibility’ and ‘Obey the Law’. As such, there are a lot of similarities between Alphabet and Google, but it seems as if Alphabet is less consumer and employee focused and more focused on sticking to the rules before anything else.