By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Sometimes evil works

Leander Kahney offers an interesting case study in how one visionary has proved all the tech catch phrases about transparency and openness to be wrong.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs, Kahney writes in Wired, has transformed his company by designing closed systems, screaming at his employees, suing bloggers and even parking his Mercedes in a handicapped zone. The Macintosh, the iPod and the iPhone, Kahney notes, all live in entirely separate universes from the rest of technology. Yet people clamor for them because they’re willing to give up some interoperability for products that work better.

All of this, he observes, goes against the “don’t be evil” slogan coined by Google, which encapsulates the ethos of Silicon Valley. Evil combined with genius works, in other words.

That’s fine, but I’m still holding out for a Google phone.

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  1. Woodie

    Hear Hear!The thing that I find amazing is how Apple gets a pass on behavior that if Microsoft were doing it there would be such an outcry. Only recently (relatively speaking) has Apple made non-DRM tracks available for the iPod, and at every turn they attempt to create “Walled Gardens”. Proof positive that most people don’t care how it works, and what they may be giving up – so long as it works.

  2. Aaron Read

    You can do more evil if you do it legally! Brad Guigar proves it every weekday! 🙂

  3. Anonymous

    It all falls apart, of course, because they don’t actually work better. They just look like they work better. Perception is reality after all.

  4. paul

    I’m a Windows person and am always amused by the smugness of the Mac people. I suppose if you’re not technically savvy Apple stuff is easier to use right out of the box, but I like the fact that so many of the frustrations of Windows stuff can be customized around if you know what you’re doing, while you’re often stuck with the way things work (or don’t) in the Apple world with fewer opportunities to change them. I love my iPod, but I’m also often frustrated by elements of the interface that can’t be tinkered with — stupid, simple things like sorting podcasts in reverse chronological order, which doesn’t seem possible.

  5. Anonymous

    I guess I’ll speak of for us Apple heads. I find these complaints hard to take seriously.Apple found itself in a market completely, illegally dominated by Microsoft. They had to do something to carve out some niche for themselves, some reason to buy their (much better) products. And they did. I love my iMac. I love my iPod. I love iTunes.

  6. Rich

    Dan, Dan, Dan…Don’t tell me you’re actually buying the steaming “Don’t be evil” BS served up by old “Never met a authoritarian government we wouldn’t kowtow to in pursuit of profits” Google?

  7. Dan

    Both Microsoft and Apple are fairly representative of Silicon Valley in general — lots of *talk* about “don’t be evil,” overlaid onto pretty sharp business practices. What really interests me is how journalists keep on reporting the myth that Silicon Valley has created about itself — and Wired magazine is a perfect example of this — the myth that because many geeks are selfless and work for the common good, therefore companies that the geeks work for must also be selfless and work for the common good.Take the media coverage of Google. Too many journalists get distracted by the fact that Google spends lots of money on R&D and a snazzy corporate campus, and so they report on the technological advances while ignoring the real business story, which is that Google is selling advertising with no more respect for the public than any Madison Ave. ad firm. The real story about Google’s “Don’t be evil” slogan is that they ignore that slogan, especially in the area of their privacy policies — a story which Wired magazine and others generally ignore.You write: “That’s fine, but I’m still holding out for a Google phone.” It would be a sexy phone, but Google would reserve the right to keep recordings of all your conversations for 18-24 months, reserve the right to scan your conversations so that they could present targeted advertising to your phone, and refuse to make firm policies about not releasing your conversations to government agencies (or to anyone else, for that matter). Which is basically what happens with Gmail, if you read the fine print. In short, all their denials to the contrary, evil is built into the Silicon Valley business model.

  8. Dan Kennedy

    Rich: You need to research the differences in how Yahoo and Google did business in China. Nicholas Kristof has done some good work in this area. Bottom line: Google did very little that could be considered “evil.” Yahoo helped the Chinese government track down dissidents, who are now rotting in prison.

  9. Ron Newman

    By being built on a Unix platform, Apple can interoperate pretty well with other Unix-ish systems such as Linux.

  10. Rich

    Google did very little that could be considered “evil.” Talk about defining deviancy down!Fine. So Google isn’t as bad as Yahoo! (who, I will point out, hasn’t tried to snow the media with some BS “do no evil” slogan). But Google is perfectly happy to actively participate in censoring results at the behest of authoritarians.That’s hardly “do no evil.” Stop buying the hype, Dan.

  11. Dan Kennedy

    Rich: A lot of generalities, here. Care to make a specific claim about Google’s behavior in China? As for my not believing the hype, I will take credit for one of the toughest stories anyone has written about Google and privacy.

  12. R. Scott Buchanan

    The thing about not being evil is: most companies don’t start out evil. They turn evil when they realize they can commoditize something developed or gathered when they were being good, which some trusting fools (us) gave them thinking “well, hey, at least they’re not evil.” Google isn’t evil. Yet. I still don’t trust ’em (even as I use gmail as one of my primary email addresses).

  13. Aaron Read

    Google has the luxury of not “being evil” today because their stock price is through the roof.Put them through what Yahoo’s had to go through in the past 12 months and watch the evil start piling up like no tomorrow.THAT’S the key problem with Google. It’s less about any specific examples now, Dan (although some do exist…it’s more about practically nothing in their policies (or the overall business situation, given their dominance in their niche market) that will stop them…or even slow them down…from committing “evil” if the business plan suddenly calls for it.Can you imagine what would happen if Google announced today that Gmail was going to cost one dollar a month? Sure there’d be a lot of defections, but a ton of people who no doubt pony up; Gmail is like crack to a lot of folks.

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