“Don’t be evil” was never part of Google’s mission statement, but the motto has been something of a guiding light for the company as it expanded from a tiny search engine into a $380 billion firm specializing in everything from robotics to AI to cars. In an unenlightening article typical of guarded tech CEOs published a few days ago in the Financial Times, Google boss Larry Page laid out a few of the challenges the company faces as it continues to grow. At one point, when asked whether Google needs a new mission statement, Page responds, “I think we do, probably… We’re still trying to work that out.”
The line was quickly seized upon, and the Guardian, Gizmodo U.K., and a few other publications picked up on FT‘s story with some variation of the headline: “Google has outgrown ‘Don’t be evil.'” It is certainly a juicy sentiment: Monolithic tech company plans on leaving behind its hokey do-gooder roots as it grows into a festering real-world version of Skynet. Or something.
But if you read through the FT story, it doesn’t take long to realize Page never actually refers to “don’t be evil” expressly. Here are the two passages in question. First:
It is a decade on from the first flush of idealism that accompanied its stock market listing, and all Google’s talk of “don’t be evil” and “making the world a better place” has come to sound somewhat quaint. Its power and wealth have stirred resentment and brought a backlash, in Europe in particular, where it is under investigation for how it wields its monopoly power in internet search.
Even Google’s famously far-reaching mission statement, to “organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”, is not big enough for what he now has in mind. The aim: to use the money that is spouting from its search advertising business to stake out positions in boom industries of the future, from biotech to robotics.
Asked whether this means Google needs a new mission statement, he says: “I think we do, probably.” As to what it should be: “We’re still trying to work that out.”
Clearly, Page is referring to Google’s official mission statement to organize the world’s information. Google is much more than a search engine, obviously, and how we define what Google is is, indeed, an important question worth considering.
But whether Google thinks Google is evil or not isn’t the issue, and to say Page said something he didn’t say is disingenuous to readers. (FWIW: It is a question that has been asked before. Many times.) Now, if you’re curious as to where “don’t be evil” actually comes into play today, you can try Google’s Code of Conduct policies.
Update 11/3/2014: Financial Times writer Richard Waters took to Twitter to further clarify Page’s remarks: