Григорий Громов (abcdefgh) wrote,
Григорий Громов

"Don't be evil" (c) Sergey Brin

 Ровно 5 лет тому назад в  журнале Wired  была опубликована прелюбыпытная статья  -- ее фрагмент приводится ниже --   которая   с тех пор не только   не утратила своей актуальности, как это часто бывает в дискуссиях по компьютерной  тематике,   но и более того, как раз наоборот...

Google vs. Evil

The world's biggest, best-loved search engine owes its success to supreme technology and a simple rule: Don't be evil. Now the geek icon is finding that moral compromise is just the cost of doing big business.

By Josh McHugh

Michael Grecco
Michael Grecco
In the early days, Google cofounders Sergey Brin (seated) and Larry Page did everything themselves.
Life used to be so much easier for Sergey Brin. In the autumn of 1998, he and Larry Page unleashed Google with a clear mission: Help computer users find exactly what they want on the Internet. Newbies flocked to the site, grateful for a simple search engine that was both powerful and intuitive. More sophisticated techies came to appreciate Google's computational elegance and its willingness to shun the "portal" model that crammed ecommerce down their throats. Within months, Google became one of the most popular sites on the Web - and not long after that, "Google" became a verb. Today, Internet users spend about 15 million hours a month on the site. Google.com logs more than 28 million visitors each month, nearly as many as Yahoo! and MSN. Nearly four out of five Internet searches happen on Google or on sites that license its technology.

Google owes its swelling popularity to deft algorithms that quickly divine what's useful on the Web. But there's more to it than that. At Google, purity matters. Over the years, Brin and Page have resisted pressure to run banners, opting instead for haiku-like text ads and unintrusive sponsored links. They've taken a stand against pop-ups and pop-unders and refused ads from sites they consider to be overly negative. All the while, they've stubbornly kept the Google homepage concise and pristine. On just a faint whisper of a marketing campaign, the company pulled in an estimated $70 million last year (a third from licensing fees and the rest from ads).

The Google strategy appeals to every engineer's sense of The Way It Should Be. Build the best entry in the science fair. Do not tart it up. Do not make it more clever than it needs to be.

But a funny thing is happening on the way to Internet adulthood - Google's awkward teen years. The company's growth spurt has spawned a host of daunting questions that no data-retrieval system can easily answer. Should Google play ball with repressive foreign governments? Refuse to link users to "hate" sites? Punish marketers who artificially inflate site rankings? Fight the Church of Scientology's attempts to silence critics? And what to do about the cache, Google's archive of previously indexed pages? In April, the German national railroad threatened legal action to remove an obsolete site containing sabotage instructions.

Most major companies refer to a detailed code of corporate conduct when considering such policy decisions. General Electric devotes 15 pages on its Web site to an integrity policy. Nortel's site has 34 pages of guidelines. Google's code of conduct can be boiled down to a mere three words: Don't be evil.

Very Star Wars. But what does it mean?

"Evil," says Google CEO Eric Schmidt, "is what Sergey says is evil."

Of the Google triumvirate, Schmidt makes sure the company stays on course financially and strategically; Page keeps busy in the R&D lab, cranking out new features; and the 29-year-old Brin, in his role as Google's conscience and head policymaker, spends his days gripping the moral tiller - and in so doing, imposes his worldview on everyone else.

That puts Brin at the flashpoint of most of the major Internet-related controversies. He knows his decisions have far-reaching consequences. He feels the pressure that attends Google's growing power. "I do get fairly stressed," Brin says. "I'd like to feel a little less scrutinized."

Michael Grecco
Michael Grecco
Today at Google, Page works on R&D. Brin (right) is the moral compass
Google has succeeded by adhering to one, pure principle: Do good by users. Now, for the first time in its history, Google is facing rifts between what's good for users and what's good for Google. And Sergey Brin is finding that purity just doesn't scale.


Don't be evil. Brin has had to refer back to those three words quite a bit over the past year. Governments, religious bodies, businesses, and individuals are all bearing down on the company, forcing Brin to make decisions that have an effect on the entire Internet. "Things that would normally be side issues for another company carry the weight of responsibility for us," Brin says.

In March, lawyers representing the Church of Scientology requested that Google stop linking to a Norwegian anti-Scientology site called Operation Clambake. The church claimed the site, xenu.net, displayed copyrighted Scientology content and that by providing links to the information, Google was in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Much to the dismay of many First Amendment fans, Google caved, removing the offending pages from its index.

In May, Anita Roddick, the outspoken British founder of the Body Shop, blasted Google in her blog for yanking a text ad for her site. Google's explanation: Roddick had called actor John Malkovich a "vomitous worm" in her blog, violating a Google policy against accepting ads for sites that are "anti-" anything. After Roddick protested, Google offered to reinstate the ad in exchange for a promise from Roddick that she would remove the Malkovich reference from the first page of her site. When she refused, Brin had a decision to make: Should he give in and accept Roddick's money, or stand by his principles? He chose his principles.

Three months later, Daniel Brandt, who runs google-watch.org, attacked PageRank, the algorithm at the heart of Google's vaunted system, accusing the company of being unfair and undemocratic. Brandt urged the FTC to investigate Google and regulate it as a public utility - as a company that, in effect, controls access to the Internet's natural resources. The mainstream press tended to dismiss Brandt as a webmaster spurned by a low Google ranking, but in the online forums and weblogs, many agreed with his assertion. As far as search engines go, Google has become the only game in town.

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  

(c) Wired, Issue 11.01 | January 2003


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