Although all businesses should try to address long-term and unperceived interests by developing a strong culture of ethics within its ranks, the founders of Google insisted ethics would be part of their core business model when they declared Google ” — shall do no evil — .” in their mission statement. In fact, the use of such a subjective term implies a moral obligation that goes beyond ethical concerns; after all, the struggle between good and evil can only be addressed through moral conviction. As such, it was quite disconcerting to learn in September of 2010 about the US Department of Justice lawsuit against Google and 5 other technology firms, which allegedly conspired to manipulate the jobs market by promising not to cold call each other’s employees.
By denying their employees certain opportunities to pursue better prospects in terms of financial opportunity and undermining Google’s future interests in obtaining quality recruits, such behavior is clearly against the industry’s and Google’s long-term interests, thus it is unethical . Truthfully, Google is actually quite generous with its employees, currently, yet undermining the jobs market allows Google to depress wages and benefits over a long period of time. Consequently, these practices will likely hurt non-Google firms far more, far sooner, but eventually Google will burn itself and its employees.
On the other hand, if we assume Google, which has settled and is generally an ethical firm, to be guilty, yet still moral, such a deal may have been seen from its executives’ perspectives as an attempt to help ease tensions between Google and other innovative technology firms. In other words, ensuring Google will not poach outside talent allows other firms to compete in the jobs market and encourages them to invest in expensive, innovative projects. While unhealthy competition in the jobs market and high turn-over rates can lead to unhealthy business practices like a failure to take on more broadly trained employees and offer training, limiting opportunities for employees is not something an ethical firm does. In terms of recruitment, an employee’s ethical responsibility to his or her current employer, assuming that employer treats its employees well, is to afford the employer an adequate amount of time to replace its employee and to protect any potentially sensitive knowledge.
Unfortunately, Google’s founders may have started and run their business with uncompromising integrity, but the business world is saturated by a culture of immediate satisfaction that thrives for high stakes, high gains with little tolerance for moral restraint. Consequently, Google is undoubtedly going to recruit businessmen and businesswomen who will make unethical decisions. Quite frank, the greatest harm done by most “bad” firms and individuals is not intentional, but rather, a result of wishful thinking, i.e. assumptions that should not have been made, or a lack of consideration. When a firm like Google does not weigh its interests against the interests of others and fails to choose a path that causes no harm, it cannot live up to its ethical and moral standards.
Given its track record for innovation, high profits, and capacity to offer most of its products for free, Google is both an extremely pervasive and invasive presence in the virtual world as well as a force to be reckoned with by far more powerful than most nation-states. This means when Google goes bad, it will do some serious evil to the world, so long as it remains unchallenged in terms of its influence. Firms of Google’s stature can only survive when credible competition exists, but comprehensive competition does not exist for Google.
Eventually, Google will likely assimilate enough individuals into its firm where a critical mass of short-sighted, profit driven managers will begin making decisions without considering the interests of those who might be seriously harm by Google’s actions and policies. In all, the only way Google can succeed in terms of its high ethical and moral standards is if it consistently chooses policies and practices that address more than just Google’s interests. Only if Google can operate without causing critical harm to individuals by developing a long-term mechanism to ensure it will always choose the ethical option will Google be able to live up to its directive in the future.