We Have Met the Evil and It Is Not Google or Apple: It Is Us

Cross-posted on my Forbes blog, The New Persuaders.

So much talk about evil these days. Google is evil for promoting results from its Google+ social network on search results pages, and even for changing its privacy policy to make clear its services share data. Apple is evil for not coming down hard enough on harsh working conditions at its Chinese suppliers’ factories.

Well, maybe. But if they’re going to be honest, the many pundits piling on to today’s titans of tech need to look up from the screen and into the mirror. Google’s and even Apple’s businesses, warts and all, don’t exist without our explicit participation. As Pogo famously said, albeit in a different context: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Now, I’m still not so sure Google’s actions on either score rise to the level of evil by any reasonable meaning of the term. (In fact, the furor over Search plus Your World  makes me think of Pogo creator Walt Kelly’s second most famous line: “Don’t take life so serious, son. It ain’t nohow permanent.”) But it sure looks like Google’s at least edging closer to the evil line than its hifalutin ideals ever seemed to suggest.

For its part, Apple has taken considerable effort improve the factories that produce the gleaming iPhones and iPads we love. But if today’s New York Times story is correct, it’s clearly culpable in its seeming ambivalence about coming down hard on its suppliers exploiting workers.

Fact is, though, these companies get away with things we don’t like only because we let them. As powerful as Apple and Google seem, they both answer to customers and users. That would be us. And unlike politicians, they must answer to us every day–if we insist they do.

But we can’t do that just by bitching about them on blogs. You want Google to back off on personalized search and data-sharing? Opt for the plain results (click the Hide Personal Search button up there on the right), sign out of your Google account, or even delete it entirely. Or try Bing, or DuckDuckGo. Easier than blogging about it! And if enough of you do it, rest assured that Google’s data crunchers will notice, and if they’re as smart as they like to think, they’ll figure out how to change things.

You want Apple to fix its factory conditions? Don’t buy that next iPhone or iPad, and tell Apple why. If enough of you just say no, Apple will notice, and maybe start to use some of those unbelievable profits to change things.

Everything else is just talk. And there’s been quite enough of that already.

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