By Aaron Kesel
Google has removed the phrase “Don’t be evil” from its Code of Conduct; this comes as at least 4,000 employees have expressed outrage over the company’s decision to work with the Pentagon’s Project Maven and amid a leaked video called the “Selfish Ledger” exposing internal Google dialogue to create a dystopia run by the big social giant.
Google has removed multiple instances of its infamous “Don’t be evil” motto from its Code of Conduct, Gizmodo reported.
Wayback Machine’s April 21st, 2018 archive shows the three-word phrase still present in the opening paragrahps of an earlier Code of Conduct:
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 honorably, 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. 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. Trust and mutual respect among employees and users are the foundation of our success, and they are something we need to earn every day.
However, in May you will now notice the “Don’t be evil” phrases aren’t present in an entry on May 4th, 2018 Wayback archive of the Code of Conduct, which was last updated on April 5th, 2018.
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.
So please do read the Code and Google’s values, and follow both in spirit and letter, always bearing in mind that each of us has a personal responsibility to incorporate, and to encourage other Googlers to incorporate, the principles of the Code and values into our work. And if you have a question or ever think that one of your fellow Googlers or the company as a whole may be falling short of our commitment, don’t be silent. We want – and need – to hear from you.
Although the new Code removes the phrase from those paragraphs, there is still mention of it at the very end, where it states: “And remember… don’t be evil, and if you see something that you think isn’t right — speak up.”
In 2015, Google’s parent company Alphabet dropped the motto shortly after taking over as Google’s holding company, Time reported.
Employees of Alphabet and its subsidiaries and controlled affiliates (‘Alphabet’) should do the right thing — follow the law, act honorably, and treat co-workers with courtesy and respect.
The new revision to the Code of Conduct seems to almost mirror and echo Alphabet’s motto expressing that employees “should do the right thing” rather than “don’t be evil.” So it’s basically a dumbed-down version.
Last week dozens of employees resigned because of ethical concerns over the company’s work with the Defense Department that includes helping the military speed up analysis of drone footage by automatically classifying images of objects and people (Project Maven), Engadget reported.
Some of Google’s employees even claimed that the company has begun to lack transparency with its workers.
Some employees who resigned told Gizmodo that executives have become less transparent with their workforce about controversial business decisions, and seem less interested in listening to workers’ objections of those choices.
All 4,000 workers have demanded an end to the company’s participation in Maven in a petition that also calls for Google to avoid any future military work.
The Petition references the company’s former motto “Don’t be evil”:
We believe that Google should not be in the business of war. Therefore we ask that Project Maven be cancelled, and that Google draft, publicize and enforce a clear policy stating that neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology.
Google is implementing Project Maven, a customized AI surveillance engine that uses “Wide Area Motion Imagery” data captured by US Government drones to detect vehicles and other objects, track their motions, and provide results to the Department of Defense.
Recently, Googlers voiced concerns about Maven internally. Diane Greene responded, assuring them that the technology will not “operate or fly drones” and “will not be used to launch weapons.” While this eliminates a narrow set of direct applications, the technology is being built for the military, and once it’s delivered it could easily be used to assist in these tasks.
This plan will irreparably damage Google’s brand and its ability to compete for talent. Amid growing fears of biased and weaponized AI, Google is already struggling to keep the public’s trust. By entering into this contract, Google will join the ranks of companies like Palantir, Raytheon, and General Dynamics.
The argument that other firms, like Microsoft and Amazon, are also participating doesn’t make this any less risky for Google. Google’s unique history, its motto Don’t Be Evil, and its direct reach into the lives of billions of users set it apart. We cannot outsource the moral responsibility of our technologies to third parties.
Google’s stated values make this clear: Every one of our users is trusting us. Never jeopardize that. Ever. This contract puts Google’s reputation at risk and stands in direct opposition to our core values. Building this technology to assist the U.S. Government in military surveillance–and potentially lethal outcomes is is not acceptable,” the employees wrote.
The employees against Google’s use of helping warfare note their demands are simple.
Recognizing Google’s moral and ethical responsibility, and the threat to Google’s reputation, we request that you:
1. Cancel this project immediately
2. Draft, publicize, and enforce a clear policy stating that neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology.
Also happening last week, nearly a hundred academics in artificial intelligence, ethics, and computer science joined Google’s petitioners and released an open letter that called on Google to end its work on Project Maven and to support an international treaty prohibiting autonomous weapons systems.
A DoD statement from last July announced that Project Maven aimed to “deploy computer algorithms to war zones by year’s end.”
To make matters worse for Google, this all comes amid a new leaked 2016 video to The Verge entitled “The Selfish Ledger” from within Google X, which showcases the other big problem the company faces — questions about harvesting its users’ data.
With that leak, the company’s dystopian future it seeks to achieve is exposed. The 9-minute video goes on to describe how Google could keep a ledger of all human behavior and then use it to manipulate your decisions and those of future generations. All with the ultimate goal of pushing the company’s values, offering services and products, and basically dictating the behavior of entire populations.
The video, although dismissed as just a concept “meant to provoke discussion,” offers a rare glimpse into the types of conversations and the views the company might be having, as well as aligning with many of Google’s existing products that use AI; for example, suggesting routes in Google Maps, organizing albums in Google Photos, and even composing automated emails in Gmail.
“We understand if this is disturbing — it is designed to be. This is a thought-experiment by the Design team from years ago that uses a technique known as ‘speculative design’ to explore uncomfortable ideas and concepts in order to provoke discussion and debate. It’s not related to any current or future products,” a former spokesperson speaking to The Verge confirmed.
This newly leaked video and ongoing support for Project Maven certainly might explain why Google has sought to remove the numerous mentions of “Don’t be evil.” As the company has shifted its values over the years, Google now seeks to distance itself from the old motto and will now begin to slowly phase it out.
Image credit: The Anti-Media