Legal Or Ethical? Google's Moral Quandary

It was a fairly rare outing for Eric Schmidt in the UK media when, earlier this week, he appeared on the BBC's in-depth news programme Newsnight to talk about his life as an author and take on some inevitable tough questions on Google, ending up with, you guessed it, Google and tax.

Journalist and presenter Emily Maitlis began to take Schmidt to task on the company culture, including public walkouts over poor treatment, which he claims showed the company was "transparent." This lead to the follow up question that it was rather odd to say the company was clear with its workers when many only found out it was developing a version of its search service for China when a newspaper report broke the news.

Schmidt, who is stepping down from Google's board in June, would not be drawn as to how good an idea it is for a company built around "don't do evil" to be considering developing a search engine that allowed for heavy, official censorship. 

To me, the big blow was landed with tax. Considering that this is a company that has always claimed to do the right thing and to be a breath of fresh air in the corporate world, it needs to look at its tax strategy.

The question was put to Schmidt that moving more than $22bn through a shell company in the tax haven of Bermuda is not conducive to the image of a company that is trying to do the right thing.

Schmidt, unfortunately, chose to give the old, tired answer that it fits in with the global rules on tax and has broken no laws. His answer went on to return the question of whether people really think the company will pay more tax than it really has to.

The point was also made that the company must be breaking rules to be fined more than 8 billion Euros by the EU for abusing its monopoly in search and for trying to strong arm its rivals via its Android operating system.

Yes, you guessed it -- Schmidt denied that the company had broken the law, and so pointed out he and Google did not agree with the rulings and the company was appealing. 

Which brings us to the point. Schmidt started the interview talking about how important ethics are in business and how companies need to tap into and share those core beliefs, hence the whole "do the right thing" motto. 

To have this motto and to claim to tap into customers' values is disingenuous when the conversation then moves into defending shifting $22bn through an offshore tax haven.

When your answers are about being legal but your corporate pitch is about being moral, it just underscores how disingenuous Google truly is.

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