Google faces a day of reckoning as three former employees sue the tech behemoth for being evil. You see, there’s not exactly a law against it… but Google’s employee handbook famously concludes with the words, “Remember… don’t be evil, and if you see something that you think isn’t right – speak up!”
So that’s what Rebecca Rivers, Paul Duke, and Sophie Waldman believed they were doing. And they were abruptly fired.
According to the lawsuit, they were wrongfully terminated for protesting deals with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which was separating children from caregivers and putting people in cages at the Mexican border. The ex-Googlers weren’t the only ones objecting to those practices. Rosalynn Carter, Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, and Melania Trump – that is, all of the living First Ladies – formed a united front in opposition to CPB’s actions, despite their other political and personal differences.
The legal judgment may hinge on how evil is defined. It’s not a legal term of art, but, as the plaintiffs’ attorney explains, “Since Google's contract tells employees that they can be fired for failing to abide by the motto, ‘don't be evil,’ it must have meaning.” And violating the requirements of an employee handbook, the lawyer contends, amounts to a breach of contract.
The case will probably take a long time to be decided. How do you think it’s likely to go?
We thought we’d help the process along by preparing this interactive quiz to help us all come to our own conclusions on the fundamental issue: Is Google evil or not?
Each question features a real quotation that makes reference to either (1) the tech giant or (2) a villain from the He-Man and She-Ra universe. If you have trouble telling the difference, as do we, then you can feel fairly certain that Google has indeed breached its “Don’t Be Evil” contract.
Google or Supervillain? The Quiz
1Let’s warm up with a simple question. Which entity has been said to embody “the very essence of evil”?
The correct answer is A.Skeletor’s original designer, Mark Taylor, invented the character for precisely this purpose – to epitomize evil. But you could just as easily apply the same description to Google. For an ever-expanding list of reasons, check out The Google Timeline of Scandal and Strife:
2Here’s another question that ought to be easier than it is. Who displays an appalling lack of “candor, honesty, humility, and frankness”?
The correct answer is B.The quote is from a popular post on Dory, Google’s internal system that allows employees to post questions anonymously. At an annual meeting, employees wanted to know if company leaders would actually answer questions instead of acting “lawyer-like with canned phrases or platitudes.” In response, Pichai said that “trust and candor have to go both ways.” We’re not lawyers, but we think that means no.
3Here’s a tricky one. Which conflict has been described as “a bloodless battle for power and profit as violent as any the world has seen”?
The correct answer is B.It’s true that neither He-Man nor Skeletor sheds blood or ever truly dies, but this quotation was used to describe the impact of a business model pioneered by Google and increasingly adopted by other data-collecting companies. It comes from Shoshana Zuboff’s book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power.
4This question may be the toughest. Which investigation culminated in a scathing rebuke for conduct that was “evil, cruel, unjust”?
The correct answer is A.However, Member of Parliament Margaret Hodge, chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, said something pretty similar. Reprimanding Google for misclassifying UK transactions to evade sales taxes, the MPS said, “You are a company that says you ‘do no evil.’ And I think that you do do evil,” She described the tech behemoth’s behavior as “devious, calculated and, in my view, unethical.” Don’t feel badly if you chose the wrong answer. Many Google whistleblowers would be correct in saying, “The people hate us – and with good cause” – just as Adora goes on to tell Hordak in He-Man and She-Ra: The Secret of the Sword (1985).
5Let’s wrap up with one last question that should be easy. Who has been aptly described as “evil’s accomplice”?
The correct answer is B.At a U.S. House hearing in 2006, Human Rights Subcommittee Chairman Chris Smith chastised Big Tech, saying that “[c]ooperation with tyranny should not be embraced for the sake of profits.” He had a special message for the search giant: “It is hard not to draw the conclusion that Google has seriously compromised its ‘Don't Be Evil’ policy. It has become evil's accomplice.”
After leaving the Chinese market in 2010, Google secretly developed a new search app compliant with China’s Great Firewall, with plans to launch it in 2019. The new app would eventually be terminated, but only after public backlash. It seems that Google doesn’t have a problem with censoring speech in authoritarian countries – even though they object strenuously to blocking piracy sites in the USA and other democracies.
Use this chart to see how you did on the quiz. Remember that your score also gauges Google’s legal prospects as former employees sue for breach of their “Don’t Be Evil” contract.
Oh, no! Looks like you need to brush up on your He-Man and She-Ra lore. But don’t feel too down on yourself – Google and a monstrous villain like Skeletor or Hordak are so similar that one is easily mistaken for the other. Google may even be the greater evil!
Getting about 50% of questions right doesn’t exactly win you a gold medal – you might as well be guessing randomly. But when all is said and done, there really is no discernible difference between Google and evil incarnate.
Excellent work! You have a remarkably thorough knowledge of Big Tech, He-Man and She-Ra fandom, or both. Unfortunately, nothing can change Google’s reprehensible history.
Thank you for playing Google or Supervillain. We hope the quiz was informative and strengthened your resolve.
Now, get back out in the world and tell everyone that Big Tech needs to be held accountable!