Spotlight on Google: don’t be evil

Quick, answer this question: How many miles is the earth’s surface from the moon?

Time’s up. Did you get around 238,857 miles? More importantly, how did you get that answer? Chances are you Googled it.

Google. The noun that became a verb. Have a question? Google it. Can’t find directions? Google it. Need anything at all? Google it.

Rarely has a company held such a ubiquitous influence over society. Hitwise, which measures internet traffic, reported in July 2012 that Google accounted for 65.70 percent of all searches in the United States. Google’s contribution to the mobile world, Android, has nearly 52 percent of the market share for smartphones. (Apple is around 34 percent.) Gmail has around 425 million users as of June 2012. Google Books seeks to digitize all known books and magazines. In 2008, Google even invested in a DNA sequencing company.

The list goes on and on, and a quick read can make Google seem rather ominous, like an empire seeking a monopoly on all industries. After all, Google controls what information we receive, how we receive it, and how we share it, a daunting idea that would horrify the Orwells of the world.

Yet, based on much of our CultureQ research, Millennials view Google as just the opposite. Overwhelmingly, Google is seen as a socially conscious, responsible, helpful company. How did this come to be? The oft-quoted motto of Google is “Don’t be evil.” Perhaps it’s just that simple.

The pre-internet age of industry operated under the idea that companies could create destinations for users, to “control” consumers, in a sense. Unlike those old-media companies, Google goes to the people. Every time we click on or link to something, we make Google smarter. Google learns about what we want and adjusts itself to our needs, making it, as one research participant said, “productive, industrious, easy.” In a sense, Google treats consumers as individuals instead of as a mass. The internet age is a vast world full of niches, specific interests, and localities. Instead of lumping users into one large group called “consumer,” Google respects the individual. For Millennials, who believe in defining technology and not the other way around, this individuality is key.

Along that train of thought, a number of Millennial research participants noted the way Google treats its employees. One expressed the belief that Google’s treatment of employees “has become infectious,” and that “other industry leaders have adopted these techniques to attract top talent [as well.]” Regardless of whether this is factual, simply the idea that Google could have this reputation is remarkable; Google has become known for treating both employees and consumers as real human beings, not just tools, a powerful reputation for present-day companies.

Another exceedingly important component of Google is simply its ability to provide knowledge. Google is young, just 14 years old (It celebrated its most recent birthday less than a month ago on Sept. 4.), yet it has made sense of the internet in a way that previous companies could not. The introduction of the World Wide Web brought a flood of information. The trashy, the biased, the lies–it was all bound up together with what we really wanted, and it was up to us to sift through it. Google’s ranking system offered a clean way out. If one site was referred to more than another, it was more relevant and would be ranked higher. Easy. Simple. Democratic. Simply put, Google once again put the power into the hands of the users.

As Google has expanded into other industries, it has kept this link throughout its products: The users control the experience. Giving power to the consumer is key to understanding just why Millennials love Google. Millennials feel like Google is theirs to use–a tool for bettering their own lives–a salient point in today’s social climate.

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