Eric Schmidt: Google's 'Don't Be Evil' motto was "the stupidest rule ever"

Google's Executive Chairman, Eric Schmidt, has revealed his opinion on Google's famous 'Don't Be Evil' motto in an interview on NPR, stating that when he arrived at the company it was "the stupidest rule ever" as "there's no book about evil except maybe, you know, the Bible or something". The motto, invented by co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin (according to Schmidt), was intended to keep Google as an ethical company, although it often caused issues.

Well, it was invented by Larry and Sergey. And the idea was that we don't quite know what evil is, but if we have a rule that says don't be evil, then employees can say, I think that's evil. Now, when I showed up, I thought this was the stupidest rule ever, because there's no book about evil except maybe, you know, the Bible or something.

So what happens is, I'm sitting in this meeting, and we're having this debate about an advertising product. And one of the engineers pounds his fists on the table and says, that's evil. And then the whole conversation stops, everyone goes into conniptions, and eventually we stopped the project. So it did work.

Schmidt was also quizzed on whether it was possible to "flick a switch" and have a screen at their Mountain View headquarters read someone's emails, and while Schmidt admitted it was technically possible, if he ever did that, he said "I would lose my job, be fired, and be sued to death". He also joked that while he doesn't have Google hardwired in his brain, he does have a browser up there: "I'm running Chrome, you know".

Despite Schimdt's eventually warming to the idea of 'Don't Be Evil', Google has often been criticized for their unofficial motto, including by Microsoft in their infamous 'Scroogled' campaign that saw Gmail's privacy and advertisement policy slammed publicly. As NPR host Peter Sagal jokingly alluded to, not being evil will "never work in American business".

Source: NPR

Editor's Note: The article has been updated to show the full quote, which was originally shortened for length reasons but adversely affected the context.

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Sorry Neowin, this is a terrible out-of-context news article.

"Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me" is a weekly radio news quiz show, and this past week's celebrity contestant was indeed Schmidt. During the Q&A and quiz, he was regularly mocked for being a Google-ite yet not knowing the answers -- even AFTER being allowed to use the Google search engine!!!

The best line, of course, was when Peter Sagal asked a question and Schmidt didn't know the answer. Peter responded with, "Meanwhile, we got Bill Gates on the other line. He used Bing, and he got it."

Love the comments here. Paranoia at its best. Good reading.

Am I scared of Google? No. Am I also not scared of MS. I keep my personal data private and there is nothing online that I need worry about. Google is just like any other small company starting out. They play nice at first, and then later on that changes. I remember when Apple played nice as well and their success got to their heads.

Want to protect your data? YOU take steps to do so. Dont rely on any service to do so.

Maybe he wouldn't do that, but he certainly loves to help any alphabet law enforcement or government agency read your stuff without much effort. If you think for one second any of your data anywhere is private without your own encryption, you're a fool. Believing they now require warrants for anything other than the lowest level LE is also a joke. I can live with it all, just despise the lying to everyone about it.

Looked at the source, and you completely twisted the meaning of his words. Here's the full excerpt:

SCHMIDT: Well, it was invented by Larry and Sergey. And the idea was that we don't quite know what evil is, but if we have a rule that says don't be evil, then employees can say, I think that's evil. Now, when I showed up, I thought this was the stupidest rule ever, because there's no book about evil except maybe, you know, the Bible or something.

So what happens is, I'm sitting in this meeting, and we're having this debate about an advertising product. And one of the engineers pounds his fists on the table and says, that's evil. And then the whole conversation stops, everyone goes into conniptions, and eventually we stopped the project. So it did work.

He's saying that when he first started at Google he thought (past tense) it was a stupid rule to have, but after seeing how it worked in action, he changed his mind. Completely the opposite of the impression your story gives.

Please try using your brain before posting news stories.

Agreed, I'm seeing clickbait stories like this appear everywhere based on that one statement he said that, if given context, was in the beginning of his work with Google several years ago.

And if you think about it, in business sense "don't be evil" is a stupid rule. There is no metric to base it on. But after seeing it in action, he warmed up to the idea.

Google slowly starting to show its true colors? So entire Microsoft campaign is not false after all! Day by day I'm getting scared of google and its policies. I see it this way.... Eric says something publicly, then google checks the reacition of people, then after few months google actuly changes its policy!

No, Eric said this happened years ago if you look at the context. Neowin is just garnering clickbait like all the other websites mentioning this interview.

Nothing really special since any ISP can do basically the same thing for its own traffic and users (save they would need to decrypt the traffic more than likely which of course would be illegal considering the DMCA itself).

You consent to such terms of service when you agree to become a member of anything Google provides, which again is basically the same as the terms of service with any ISP or content/service provider out there.

Google gets a bad rep, maybe they deserve it, maybe they don't, time will tell I suppose. Personally, I don't care and haven't for a long time because I know there's no such thing as privacy anymore, hasn't been for over well over a decade now (and no, 9/11/2001 had nothing to do with it, that just "greased the wheels" in most respects).

Schmidt admits that google can flick a proverbial switch that allows them to view everything they know about any internet user in the world. Talk about power.

That's the downside with the whole cloud thing, unless encryption is done on the client and the server only stores encrypted content then there's no technical reason why anybody at the company can't look at your data.

People use Dropbox and Skydrive knowing that employees at the company can view the data, the only thing stopping them is internal regulations (And hopefully the law).

FloatingFatMan said,
I like the way you ignore the rest of the quote. /s

It's not that he wouldn't do this, but that it is possible. How many laws are on the books that are draconian in nature, yet there were promises of "we wouldn't do that", yet a succeeding government might not have such qualms?

mrbester said,

It's not that he wouldn't do this, but that it is possible. How many laws are on the books that are draconian in nature, yet there were promises of "we wouldn't do that", yet a succeeding government might not have such qualms?

If you're going to live in fear of all the things that -could- happen, you might as well not bother living at all.

FloatingFatMan said,

If you're going to live in fear of all the things that -could- happen, you might as well not bother living at all.

It's not that in the slightest. If you unnecessarily introduce ways legislation can be used to oppress then they *will* be. Take monitoring every link you visit. Yes, there is restriction at the moment on how that can be accessed, but nothing stops those restrictions from being removed, which is what the government is currently going for.

mrbester said,

It's not that in the slightest. If you unnecessarily introduce ways legislation can be used to oppress then they *will* be. Take monitoring every link you visit. Yes, there is restriction at the moment on how that can be accessed, but nothing stops those restrictions from being removed, which is what the government is currently going for.

That's nothing but a complete load of FUD.

Young Larry Page and Sergey Brin were naive and idealistic until they grew up and learn the cold hard fact of being nice guys. And so they were corrupted by the Dark Lord Schmidt.

Shame that ever since Schmdt took over as CEO the "Don't be evil" motto has been thrown out the window. Now all that matters is money. "Greed is good" is Schmidt's motto.

Shame he's destroying all that made google great, and all that will be left is another shadow of its former glory.