I always found it amusing that the world has bestowed such unquestioning reverence on Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) . Don't get me wrong. I think Google's products are first-rate, with mapping, mail, and search that are light years better than those offered by competitors like Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO ) or InterActiveCorp's (Nasdaq: IACI ) Ask Jeeves. Furthermore, the company has done a really impressive job making money.
But that whole line about doing no "evil"? I never understood why anyone would buy it. Who believes that the entities out there in the world that are actually doing ill believe (or even suspect) that they're misbehaving at all? This is an old lesson. In the metaphysical world, as well as the public markets, the road to H-E-double toothpicks is paved with good intentions.
In other words, evil is as evil does -- not as evil thinks it is doing. And although I believe Google is a long way off from meeting any substantial satanic standard, recent events prove beyond a doubt that the firm is not run by a bunch of meek, hand-folding altar boys.
For proof, look no further than CEO Eric Schmidt's Putin-esque blacklist of CNET Networks (Nasdaq: CNET ) last week. Upset that the firm would dare publicize (some pretty benign) personal information about him -- reportedly gleaned by using Google's own search engine -- Google informed the CNET news wing that it would be punishing it with a one-year press freeze.
In other words, feel free to use our technology on other people, but don't you dare use it on us. But there's more here than the simple irony of the world's premier data aggregator working hard to present less data to one of the world's premier technology news services.
In another interesting case of corporate hubris, Google recently hired away Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) exec Kai-Fu Lee and is now trying to weasel its way out of some pretty clear-looking non-compete clauses. In fact, documents reported on by CNET make it obvious that Google anticipated the legal situation, promising Lee a paid leave of absence if the courts kept him from working at his duties -- as they already have.
To be realistic, this kind of thing happens all the time in the corporate world. As companies get large, rich, and powerful, the people running them feel like they're above the restrictions that afflict the rest of us plebs. With enough money, lawyers, and lobbyists, you can pretty much make your own rules.
On the other hand, the public's distaste for this brand of arrogant, no-holds-barred capitalism is exactly the nonconformist vibe that Google has tried to exploit with its famous "do no evil" claim. That's why it's so interesting to see the company flouting the spirit of its law, if not the letter, so soon.
So Google is not so different from the rest of the hard-core corporations out there. That's not necessarily a bad thing. But shareholders need to hope that its trajectory -- coupled with a potential sense of betrayal -- won't carry the company into the sorts of litigious public backlash that have stunted Microsoft for the past half decade.
For related Foolishness:
- Foreign backlash against Google's increasing power is another business risk.
- Google has long been a scandal incubator. That's proof of its power.
- The French have tried to fry Google.
Seth Jayson loves to ponder the deeper ironies of the stock market, but at the time of publication, he had no positions in any company mentioned here. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here. Fool rules are here.