Recently I have been thinking about how most tech companies, especially with a monopoly around a technology or communication channel just simply become evil by allowing themselves to be a platform for those that have more money or power rather than the utopian vision that many of us had of the internet as a level playing field, freedom of communication and thought.
My definition of evil is loosely based on any type of action or inaction by a company to right a wrong, to fix their internal policies or way of conducting business so that it does not benefit one user over another or one partner over another.
But it’s not always clear cut, is it? What is true at one point in time, maybe false later on. What we deem correct today, may be incorrect later. Sometimes it is very clear that it is a conflict of interests or a business decision behind an action that is clearly evil.
Looking at some of the history of big tech companies who has become evil, why and how? This was very interesting to me because I know that companies, take shape on their own and assume policies that attempt to deal with the masses rather than the individual for the sake of fast processing. In doing so, processes and automation trump logic or emotion and they are not always correct.
Sometimes, evil is done to protect itself. Many decisions are made to protect shareholders rather than employees or customers. Where is the line drawn and what incentive would investors have to invest if the company did not protect their interests?
For these reasons and others we perceive companies as being evil if we feel that they abuse their power. Microsoft has been on the receiving end of this perception for so many years. Before Microsoft it was IBM. Now it is Google and Facebook. Is it perception or is it just because they were successful?
“Don’t Be Evil”
In the early years of Google, one of their engineers used the phrase “Don’t Be Evil” which later was included in Google’s IPO letter of to employees from the founders. It basically meant that it prohibited conflicts of interest, objectivity and an absence of bias. It meant other things which have been long forgotten. Some have stated that tracking of users across web sites, targetting ads based on the fact that their search engine is the most widely used in the world and the fact that many of us are not experts enough to understand the implications of using one technology over another.
Would you say that Google is evil? I do not believe that Google is Evil. It is after all a choice. You can use their service or not. Their service is of higher quality but by no means the only one. However if Google Search was the ONLY search engine around the world maybe you would think different.
But even if that was the case, so what? They collect data and show you ads. Use an ad-blocker. Don’t click on the ads. Ignore it. It is not a big deal. However, if they gave or sold your profile data to other companies including what items you buy when are you off on your vacation, what alarm system you have in your home, what car you have and where all your friends are maybe then you would think it is Evil.
here lies one of the differences between Evil in the ’90s. Microsoft could not be this evil. They simply couldn’t as they didn’t have the data. But they could do some nasty things to other businesses. Today’s modern version of Microsoft is… Apple.
The Apple App Store
The app store became home to hundreds of thousands of apps, some totally useless others that benefit our lives so much so that have created new markets. One of those is the ability to protect children from using those devices for the wrong thing, limit their time, and even monitor what our children read and see. There are over 10 major software makers building software that enable parents to even shut down the device remotely.
For years, this market evolved nicely and some companies actually made a living out of this until of course, Apple released Screen Time and then this happened. Their attempt at keeping kids from using the iPhone. Now we know that Screen Time, as the name implies, simply tells you how much time you spend on each activity while these other more advanced apps were able to view user location, app use, email accounts, camera permissions, and browsing history. As a parent, in an attempt to educate and be aware of what we need to look out for, I actually appreciate some of these features.
Apple, in its generosity, gave 30 days for developers to modify their apps or risk removal from the app store. In adding insult to injury, they did not detail (as those of us that have tried to publish an app on the app store and it gets rejected) what the issue or how to fix it.
As such, 30 days later, their entire competition was out of business. The only company that can track user location, app use, email accounts, camera permissions, and browsing history is Apple. And to ensure that this generation of kids will purchase the iPhone XX all the way through iPhone XXX, they make sure not to restrict any screen time. As the tobacco and alcohol industry can attest, addiction can be a powerful factor in profitability and price share.
But what about Wikipedia?
If you recall the title of this blog is that I state Wikipedia is Evil. I am sure you have used Wikipedia once in a while. It is an encyclopedia that is “open to anyone to contribute” if they follow some rules. Every year they run a donation campaign asking you for money and every year I feel that I should contribute and after researching and having such an unclear vision of what I am donating money to, exactly, I decide not to. When doing my research, at the top of the search results are Wikipedia articles which are hardly unbiased but if you dig deeper you find articles such as these which start throwing doubts as to what Wikipedia really is, what it stands for and how it is financially structured.
But just because their financials are not clear, they seem to provide a service to the internet community. There are a lot of interesting topics which Wikipedia provides insight into, topics that can be contributed by several people but unfortunately rarely are, giving space for biased information.
And yet I state that Wikipedia is Evil not because of the flaws of what is actually a great concept and that for the most part, it works. It is because it is selective as to what pages are published or not based on rules that are highly subjective and that can be ignored by the guardians of Wikipedia, the moderators that approve or not the articles (if everyone can contribute one would ask how someone or some people can have this capability over others but that is for another day – read more here.
Wikipedia is Evil because it is present in every major search engine as the top result for any type of search. This includes commercial products which are fall in a gray area of a decision based on their policies, specifically this one:
Advertising, marketing or public relations. Information about companies and products must be written in an objective and unbiased style, free of puffery. All article topics must be verifiable with independent, third-party sources, so articles about very small garage bands or local companies are typically unacceptable. Wikipedia articles about a company or organization are not an extension of their website or other social media marketing efforts. External links to commercial organizations are acceptable if they identify notable organizations which are the topic of the article. Wikipedia neither endorses organizations nor runs affiliate programs. See also Wikipedia: Notability (organizations and companies) for guidelines on corporate notability. Those promoting causes or events, or issuing public service announcements, even if noncommercial, should use a forum other than Wikipedia to do so. Contributors must disclose any payments they receive for editing Wikipedia. See also Wikipedia: Conflict of interest.
The key word in all of the above is “notable”. Notable is a highly subjective word much like the baseball World Series include 2 countries of the potential 195, notability can mean anything. One would not argue that everyone would expect to see an Apple page in Wikipedia. The company is widely known, it has had a major impact in our lives. Would Microsoft be given the chance to be on Wikipedia if it was just starting out in someone’s garage? Probably not.
Now, Microsoft’s page does describe its history and in doing so it also has several links to ALL of their products. In fact, any search by a brand on most search engines will return Wikipedia’s page as the primary source of information. It is actually a recurring feedback loop between search engines (Google mainly) and Wikipedia. The more Google displays it, the more clicks Wikipedia gets, the higher Google’s SEO engine ranks it, the more it will display it.
More on this in this blog: https://econsultancy.com/why-wikipedia-is-top-on-google-the-seo-truth-no-one-wants-to-hear/
However recently it goes above just “displaying” Wikipedia pages in the results. It actually shows sidebars with it which even trumps paid ads. And now we are reaching the Evil part.
- Wikipedia is the number one SEO traffic generator so if you are not on Wikipedia, you are not anywhere on the internet.
- If you are a small company, irrespective of how long you have been around or how notorious you are in your country, region or market, if the “moderators” do not agree, you are not published.
- Recent changes to Wikipedia suggest that it will be even harder to get published there if you are a commercial company, but no effort will be made to remove existing companies (aka the competition) from its directory.
Mostly, the Evil part comes from the fact they the Wikipedia organization and all its moderators are refusing to accept that they are a highly paid and important commercial channel on the internet and have been brainwashed via procedures and regulations that create a bureaucratic black hole by which they can arbitrarily decide what the internet is exposed to or not.
At least Facebook knew they were selling our personal data to companies and were upfront about it. Wikipedia is still in denial for its wrongdoings in creating an unfair, unbalanced and highly corrupt web.