Google needs to get back to not doing ‘evil’

Cantillon: Revelations around inappropriate behaviour and data leaks erode trust in firm

Given the extraordinary revelations coming from Google in recent months, it seems as though it was perhaps a smart decision for it to drop the "Don't be evil" clause from its code of conduct earlier this year.

An unofficial motto for the tech giant since 2000, the phrase was subtly adjusted to “do the right thing” in 2015 when Google reorganised under Alphabet. However, between April and May of this year, the company quietly dumped the motto altogether bar one reference at the end of its code of conduct.

On Thursday, Google revealed it had fired 48 people for sexual harassment in the past two years, with 13 of these individuals having received no pay-off. In a joint memo, chief executive Sundar Pichai and VP of people operations Eileen Naughten said the company was taking "an increasingly hard line on inappropriate conduct by people in positions of authority".

This might be all fine if earlier in the day the New York Times hadn't published a shocking story alleging that Google had paid out $90 million (€79 million) to Andy Rubin, the man behind the mobile operating system Android, to leave the company in 2014 following sexual misconduct claims. Rubin for his part claimed the story contained "numerous inaccuracies" and "wild exaggerations".


Relationships and affairs

The newspaper also published details about a number of relationships and affairs between senior executive and subordinate employees, which could be seen to have been inappropriate.

The revelations come shortly after Google, which on Thursday announced third-quarter earnings of $33.7 billion, belatedly admitted to discovering a bug that allowed third-party app developers to access personal information of Google + users who had granted permission to the company for data sharing, but also of their friends, who maybe hadn’t.

The company chose not to disclose the data leak when it was discovered in March, only informing the public of it after the Wall Street Journal revealed all a few weeks ago.

Following this, plans to shut down Google+ were announced, which in fairness, is no big loss to anybody. But what is increasingly being lost is trust in a company that was once seen as one of the good guys.

Google may want to revisit its previous code of conduct to learn how to deal with its current problems.