Eight Signs of Evil in High-Tech Companies

Eight Signs of Evil in High-Tech Companies

Microsoft has been branded as immoral for years, and Google famously pledged that it would never be evil. But as many have learned, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Here are eight signposts on the path to wickedness. How many of them does your own company exhibit?

We don't ask perfection of the companies we deal with. But we all like to believe that, at least on a philosophical level, our employers, suppliers and customers are inherently good. An occasional faux pas can be pardoned (we're all human beings, right?), but moral degeneracy is something else again. Evilness will not be tolerated.

Microsoft is no stranger to the evil moniker. (C'mon: It's the first company you thought of, wasn't it?) Microsoft has been called the Evil Empire, a "big bully" and "a killing machine without soul or conscience that only knows its own hunger and appetites," though some would argue it's softened its image of late. Oracle founder Larry Ellison reportedly said, "It's Microsoft versus mankind, with Microsoft having only a slight lead."

There are several useful indicators that a company may be leaning in a malevolent direction

But, of course, Oracle and Ellison aren't immune from the evil label -- just ask PeopleSoft devotees. (Ellison once famously said in an issue of CIO magazine that if he were an animal, he'd be a red-tailed hawk because they only kill to eat.) Or how about SCO and those it has fought against in the courtroom? At one time, IBM was considered evil (though many might argue it has redeemed itself. . . sort of).

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Google angelically promised that it would never be evil ("Don't Be Evil," to be exact). The jury, however, is still out on whether Google has been able to stick to its mantra or has become Evil 2.0.

There are several useful indicators that a company may be leaning in a malevolent direction. If you see your company doing any of these, beware: You might be working at an. . . evil company.

1. Arrogance Is Bliss

A wealth of arrogance does not necessarily mean your company is evil. It's simply a necessary pre-existing condition to becoming an evil enterprise.

One way in which corporate arrogance manifests itself is through the tried-and-true press release or corporate statement. The gestalt of pre-evil press releases is basically, "Hey! Look at what we're doing! Please notice us!" or "Will pimp myself and company for publicity." You'll know your company has made the switch to the dark side when the PR department has no problem issuing a release that has this cooperative feel to it: "How dare anyone inquire about our alleged stock-option backdating inquiring from the SEC! Back off, stupid infidels. We know what we're doing!"

This transformation does not happen overnight. It is bound to occur, in small increments, at most every growing company. But the evil company goes to great lengths to protect itself and to disregard outside noise. The best way to identify the relative evilness of a company is how defensively it responds to perceived threats, slights and legal actions -- such as its short and dismissive pronouncements to the world.

Here are two excerpts from high-tech companies that, while they may or may not be evil, exhibit this trait. The first release is nothing if not to the point and brief: "We are not going to enter into a public debate with Fred Anderson or his lawyer. Steve Jobs cooperated fully with Apple's independent investigation and with the government's investigation of stock option grants at Apple. The SEC investigated the matter thoroughly and its complaint speaks for itself, in terms of what it says, what it does not say, who it charges, and who it does not charge. We have complete confidence in the conclusions of Apple's independent investigation, and in Steve's integrity and his ability to lead Apple." That's all of it, and thanks for asking!

The next one comes courtesy of a 2001 Wired article that revealed that, according to the terms of use of Microsoft's Passport service, the company has the right to "use, modify, copy, distribute. . . or sell" your personal information. It turns out it was all a simple misunderstanding, said Microsoft's PR rep. (Cough, cough.)

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