Moral Cowardice: Google Senior Executives

By | December 21, 2018

[December 21, 2018]  There’s an adage that says that a person with the greatest regrets in life is one who fails to make a commitment when they had the chance.  By that measure, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, should be proud of his accomplishments, but in his case, that is not the case.  Pichai and many of Google’s senior executives are looked upon as moral cowards by just about everybody; something they are regretting right about now.

“New technology is not good or evil in and of itself.  It’s all about how people choose to use it.” – David Wong, the pen name of Jason Pargin, American humor writer

Google had a rough year, one rife with high-profile controversies.  Last week, Sundar Pichai testified before the U.S. Congress in a well-rehearsed effort that came off as a missed opportunity for him to explain how the company is improving its many platforms.  Some of these issues are the protection of its users’ privacy, the secretive Project Dragonfly censorship with China, first assisting U.S. intelligence agencies and then stopping it, its diversity-at-all-costs philosophy, restricting politically conservative speech, the radicalization on-line in its video platform YouTube, censorship of employees, and the list goes on and on.

Some have described Google’s CEO as milquetoast; timid to a company known for its boldness, innovativeness, and openness.  Now he is also being called a coward in the face of these controversies that he had his hand in pushing.  But, people now ask whether he and other Google senior leaders are moral cowards of their time or are they just like any other executive looking to make a buck off the backs of workers?

Being a senior leader is a tough job.  It requires both extensive and relevant experience as well as a refined level of leadership training.  Compared to most CEOs, Pichai lacks the experience it will take for him to steer Google around the minefields in a sea of unknowns, expanding problems for IT/media companies, and evolving ethical standards.  He is a very smart man and is known for his tough stances.

Unfortunately, for many senior executives who have found themselves and their companies in the kind of scenarios we have with Google, these men and women simply were neither sufficiently flexible nor ethical enough to do the right thing by their company, their employees, or the country.

For this reason, Google CEO Sundar Pichai and his senior-most executives have been called out for their lack of morally-centered decisions.  It’s not the technology that is good or evil but how Google has decided to use it.  For future generations who grow up with true leaders at the helm, they will be able to look back on Google’s senior leadership and learn the many lessons presented by the state of affairs Google has found itself.

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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

22 thoughts on “Moral Cowardice: Google Senior Executives

  1. Tracey Brockman

    I hope that it is not too late for Google to push back against the global digital trends undermining human rights.

  2. Fred Weber

    The apparent secrecy surrounding the Dragonfly project suggests that Google leadership understands the sensitivity of bringing search services back to China on the Chinese government’s terms.

  3. Greg Heyman

    The Chinese government has never quite gotten over the rebuke leveled against it by an uppity Western ICT company, which in retrospect clearly discredited the government on the world stage. I love them, so see Western ICT here:

    1. Andrew Dooley

      We can’t say Google’s change of heart is surprising. Its decision is fully reflective of the broader forces at work in the digital environment: the entrenchment of digital authoritarianism, among both democratic and non-democratic countries, and the rollback of human rights.

  4. Nick Lighthouse

    We’re painting with too big of a brush to call them all moral cowards when it appears only the CEO and a handfull of senior execs are the real cowards. Like Big Al noted below, let us give credit to those who stood up to a company that is losing its core values.

  5. Scotty Bush

    “Many of us accepted employment at Google with the company’s values in mind, including its previous position on Chinese censorship and surveillance, and an understanding that Google was a company willing to place its values above its profits,” an open letter signed by Google employees published Tuesday on Medium says. “After a year of disappointments including Project Maven, Dragonfly, and Google’s support for abusers, we no longer believe this is the case.”

  6. Mike Baker

    Google is still researching Chinese web searches in an effort to launch a search engine that complies with the country’s censorship regime, although an official launch seems to have been indefinitely postponed. But in the face of widespread opposition within the company, Google executives shuttered one of the project’s most central data sources, making the ongoing work far more difficult.

    1. Bill Sanders, Jr.

      Looks like many of their senior executives did, in fact, have the moral courage to stand up to their CEO and others to put a stop to something that was clearly wrong.

  7. Maureen S. Sullivan

    Google identified 8 characteristics of their best ‘managers.”
    Here is the list and note that they don’t include moral courage:
    1. Be a good coach
    2. Empower your team and don’t micromanage
    3. Express interest in your team members success and well-being
    4. Be productive and results-oriented
    5. Be a good communicator and listen to your team
    6. Help your employees with career development
    7. Have a clear vision and strategy for the team
    8. Have technical skills so you can advise the team

    1. Danny Burkholder

      Len this may be true but the article explains why Google is failing technically and not morally. Those who live by the tech device will not necessarily die by the tech devide. Only thru moral failures can an organization fail completely.

  8. Janna Faulkner

    Google’s approach to social media is instructive in understanding almost everything it’s done over the last few years. Google, the tech company, seems unfocused, scattering resources in such a way that suggests a lack of leadership.

  9. Martin Shiell

    Concur with Lady Hawk. These tech giants are rolling in so much money that they believe they are beyond the reach of either the law or morality. They believe they are beyond reproach but the common person thinks otherwise.

    1. Dennis Mathes

      Project Dragonfly has drawn criticism from human rights groups and U.S. politicians since The Intercept first reported details about the internal effort this summer, and in August, thousands of Google employees signed a letter saying that it raised “urgent moral and ethical issues.” Google CEO Sundar Pichai responded by saying publicly that the company is “very early” in its plans but that its experiments found that it could “serve well over 99 percent” of search queries in China. Meanwhile, Alphabet Chairman John Hennessy said last week that doing business in China requires compromising “core values.”

    2. Big Al

      They aren’t all cowards. So let’s give credit where it’s due.

    3. Mr. T.J. Asper

      It is unclear how Google ever planned to reconcile Dragonfly with its own human rights and public policy commitments, or if it intends to formally weaken or abandon those commitments.

  10. Lady Hawk

    Spot on comment about Google but I believe that you would find FACEBOOK senior leaders much worse.

    1. Max Foster

      You are correct. Zuckerberg and his cronies at Facebook are selling our private info without our permission and leaking our data to unsavory people who would do us harm. They are worse than Google. Both however are very anti conservative speech. Of course, they think they know better than us.

    2. Anita

      Regardless of whether the project proceeds, Dragonfly is yet another clear warning that the ground has shifted for proponents of human rights in the digital age. A digitized world increasingly looks like a surveilled and censored world.

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