Google's unofficial slogan has always been simple: "Don't be evil."
Either way, Google and Alphabet set themselves up as paragons of ethical virtue -- and as targets for skepticism or ridicule. My Foolish colleagues occasionally take that position, outright wondering how such a naive claim could ever be serious, or pointing out that blatant power grabs should have been obvious years in advance (if you only took off those rose-tinted shades).
Hey, I get it. In this big, cruel world, it's almost impossible to imagine a company that's really just trying to make the world a better place for everyone, where doing good is better than doing well, and the financial rewards -- if any -- are simply byproducts of that "kinder and gentler" philosophy.
And hey, nobody's perfect. Google's track record is pretty clean, but I wouldn't eat my lunch out of its ashtrays. Business is business, and will always require a certain degree of sharp elbows. It's unavoidable.
Still, I believe that Google and its new corporate parent actually do strive to match these high ideals. Don't be evil when you can avoid it. Do the right thing, whenever possible. Always choose the lesser of two evils -- not the most profitable one. And if we do this, all else will follow. That's not even the point.
It's OK if you don't buy this spiel. It's not even required by shareholders, because it's very possible to make money without following some highfaluting code of honor. In fact, it's probably much easier, and Google must surely be playing a very different game behind locked doors. Every company does, right?
But I think that Alphabet and Google are walking the talk. Some of the things the company is doing simply don't make sense from any other point of view.
For example, Google started a research campus in Warsaw, Poland this week. No big deal -- everyone is capitalizing on the recovering Eastern European economies and their relatively cheap labor. So why not grab some cheap Polish brainpower while the getting is good?
But this is not a regular research central. Google isn't using it to refine the Polish version of its search services, or to improve speech recognition performance on the local brogue. Instead, it's designed to give local entrepreneurs the tools they need to get a head start in the global market.
The nearly 20,000 square feet of prime Warsaw office space is offered to local innovators at low or even zero rents. In the words of Google's PR department, Google will actively help these Polish entrepreneurs "to learn, connect, and build companies that will change the world."
There's that concept again -- "change the world," not "make more money."
Pointing back to Google's own humble beginnings in a Stanford garage, Google chairman Eric Schmidt said that boosting start-ups is part of the company's DNA. "Our hope is that Campus Warsaw will supercharge tech entrepreneurs, strengthen the start-up ecosystem and encourage even more innovation in Poland," Schmidt said.
Sure, this can't be a completely altruistic move. If one or more of these mentor projects take off in a big way, Alphabet will surely make a bid for the rising star -- and the close relationship will pave the way to a quick and easy buyout, as needed.
But many of these projects will surely fail, or only matter on a local level. And Google and Alphabet are OK with those failures, too. Money spent supporting them is not necessarily badly spent. The next generation of Warsaw's innovators might pick up the pieces, and get it right in the future.
Google has similar centers in London and Tel Aviv, as well. The "cheap labor" argument most certainly doesn't apply to King's Cross. This stuff really is all about fostering tech talent and bright ideas -- even if the payoff is far from certain.
Call it a crazy communist scam, call it a thin front for a more sinister plot, call it whatever you want. I get it, I see the reasoning... and I disagree.
I call it human, and smart, and likely to pay off in the long run.
Maybe not for Google or Alphabet themselves, mind you. But helping more small businesses take their ideas to the next level can only be good for the planet we live on. I'll agree that more, smarter, and richer communities can afford more Google-powered ad clicks, but that's about as cynical as I'm willing to go on this. I'm an Alphabet shareholder exactly because I agree with this zany focus on ethics and global development.
If anything, I'd just want more of these research centers in Tampa and Stockholm, in Nairobi and Havana, even in Juba or Pyongyang. That's a much better use of Alphabet's cash flows than those silly share buybacks, right?
Anders Bylund owns shares of Alphabet (A shares, because I like to vote). The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A and C shares). Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.