Google Gets Grief: 'Don't be evil' motto called into question over children's doodle contest

by Knowlton Thomas

The intentions of a company and the perception of the company's audience sometimes do not align parallel.

Google, with its famous "Don't be evil" corporate motto, has taken some criticism in its lifetime for, essentially, being evil. Google, of course, has adamantly maintained its intentions were pure, and some believe this while others don't.

Its latest gaffe came when the company opened an annual art contest called Doodle 4 Google in the U.S. Everything seemed pure and friendly, but Google asks for the last four digits of participating children's Social Security numbers.

The search engine giant claimed, very reasonably, that this was to avoid duplicate entries—but as was well observed, the company could be laying the bricks for a palace of juicy personal data.

Quoth the Globe and Mail:

In a commentary published this week on the Huffington Post website, Bob Bowdon asserted that Google conceivably could figure out all nine digits of the children's Social Security numbers and create a database that could turn into a gold mine of personal information.

“I don't think Google was being evil-minded here,” said Parry Aftab, a lawyer specializing in privacy in security. “But this is a classic example that large companies often make when the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing. I am sure this is a case of some employee having what seemed like a good idea without really thinking through all the implications.”

Google's contest is two months long, and recently axed the Social Security requirement midway through. Previous Doodle 4 Google contests didn't ask for Social Security numbers, but were also smaller in scale by having applications distributed exclusively through school administrators who would themselves prevent duplicate entries.

What do you think of Google: evil or not?

Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. As a first step to fulfilling that mission, Google's founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin developed a new approach to online search that took root in a Stanford University dorm room and quickly spread to information seekers around the globe. Google is now widely recognized as the world's... more

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Knowlton Thomas

Knowlton Thomas

Knowlton is the managing editor of Techvibes and author of Tempest Bound. Based in Vancouver, Knowlton has been published in national publications and has also appeared on television and radio. Previously he was an editor for New Westminster weekly The Other Press and served on its board of directors. When not working, Knowlton enjoys hiking, tennis, and martial arts. more

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