Google quietly pulls ‘Don’t be evil’ phrase from its code of conduct

21 May 2018569 Views

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Google office in Kirkland, Washington. Image: rvolkan/Shutterstock

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‘Don’t be evil’ was long thought of as Google’s unofficial motto, but it no longer features in its code of conduct.

Google has had the phrase ‘Don’t be evil’ in its code of conduct since 2000, but Gizmodo recently (18 May) spotted it had removed the original language from the document.

Archives of the guide given to employees hosted by the Wayback Machine show that the phrase was removed some time in late April or the beginning of May.

A major element of company culture

In 2015, Google was reorganised under a new parent company, Alphabet, which created its own motto: ‘Do the right thing.’ Google had kept its original phrasing until recent weeks. The phrase was so commonly heard in the company, a version of it was even used as a Wi-Fi password on shuttles that Google uses to transport staff to Mountain View.

Changes to code of conduct

Here is an excerpt from the original code of conduct document: “‘Don’t be evil.’ Googlers generally apply those words to how we serve our users. But ‘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 honourably, and treating co-workers with courtesy and respect.

“The Google Code of Conduct is one of the ways we put ‘Don’t be evil’ into practice. It’s built around the recognition that 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.”

The updated version now reads: “The Google Code of Conduct is one of the ways we put Google’s values into practice. It’s built around the recognition that 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.

“We set the bar that high for practical as well as aspirational reasons. Our commitment to the highest standards helps us hire great people, build great products and attract loyal users. Respect for our users, for the opportunity, and for each other, are foundational to our success, and are something we need to support every day.”

One small reference remains

The final line of the document still contains one reference to the original motto: “And remember … don’t be evil, and if you see something that you think isn’t right – speak up!”

The change comes at a notable time in the company’s history. In recent months, staff have apparently resigned in protest at Google’s involvement in Project Maven, an AI endeavour from the US government that aims to improve the accuracy of drone strikes in foreign conflicts.

Google office in Kirkland, Washington. Image: rvolkan/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam is a writer covering all manner of business and tech subjects

editorial@siliconrepublic.com