Consider this: billionaires suck.
Income inequality is at an all time high. The world’s 80 richest people have as much wealth as the poorest 50 percent. By 2016, Oxfam International predicts the richest one percent of people will own more than every other human on the planet. Billionaires, however, are not a necessary part of our great economy. They are, in fact, a giant vacuum sucking wealth from those who create it, and hoarding it until there’s none left for the rest of us.
Yet despite their massive influence, or maybe because of it, billionaires remain cloaked in secrecy. Their decisions can change election outcomes or throw an entire country into financial panic, but their lives—personal habits, relationships with other powerful players, etc—remain largely hidden to the public. The policies that have afforded billionaires such vast wealth—generous tax breaks, loose regulations on corporations, free trade agreements—are, not surprisingly, influenced by billionaires. Yet we hardly ever talk about their part in that process.
It’s time this circle-jerk of policy creation and wealth hoarding was opened up to the masses. Over the course of the coming weeks will count down the 20 richest men and women in the world, and provide a small window into their lives. This is the Billionaire Shit List.
Who is he?
Sector he made his fortune?
How much is he worth?
$29.2 billion (540,470 times the median American income)
What is he known for?
Brin is the co-founder of Google and is viewed as the company’s prodigy. He now runs Google X, the super-secret technology hub that was established to create world-changing gizmos (like self-driving cars, Google Glass, and internet access in rural and remote areas).
Is he evil?
How evil is he?
Moderately evil. Brin actually seems like a relatively normal and level-headed guy with a strong philanthropic streak. He’s donated over $100 million to Parkinson’s disease research efforts. And aside from contributing to Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, he doesn’t seem too concerned with swaying the political landscape one way or the other. His life, however, demonstrates that you can, in fact, be a good guy and still do evil. It’s hard to make billions of dollars without being somewhat shady.
Since Google’s early days, its guiding corporate principal has been “Don’t Be Evil,” and, as co-founder Eric Schmidt explained in 2002, Brin is the one who decides what’s acceptable within the company: “Evil is what Sergey says is evil,” Schmidt said.
Here are some of the things Google has done with Brin’s as the company’s moral compass:
Google is one of the biggest tax dodgers in Silicon Valley. In 2012, the company paid a meager 2.6 percent in taxes on $5.8 billion in profits by funneling money through a variety of shell corporations in various foreign countries. The company dodged so many taxes in Britain that a new tax meant to dissuade multinational corporations attempting to skimp on taxes has been nicknamed the Google Tax. “You are a company that says you ‘do no evil, and I think that you do do evil,” one British politician said. In past instances, when Google got in hot water with regulators it resisted investigations at every turn.
Google has also kowtowed to those trying to censor citizens while claiming the company is committed to free expression and free speech. It worked out a deal with China to censor specific search results within national borders. The company backtracked on the deal after criticism, but now is trying to expand into the Chinese market again.
Google is not a search engine. The company Brin founded makes the vast majority of its money by eroding the privacy of billions of people, selling their data to corporations more evil than Google, and convincing everyone in the process that they should not have an expectation to privacy. Google has consistently understated the amount of data and misrepresented the kind of data it collects on its customers. Every word of every email sent through Gmail and every click made on a Chrome browser is watched by the company. “We don’t need you to type at all,” Schmidt once said. “We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about.”
It’d be one thing if Google was producing technology that learns about people and stopped there. But the company has begun using the vast amount of data it collects to help law enforcement and the military track citizens. Google provides information to the NSA and countless other agencies regularly; the company also works hand-in-hand with them to create more efficient information-gathering methods. Google’s technology has been used for everything from helping the U.S. invade Iraq to monitoring the citizens of Oakland. What’s more, Brin’s company now owns Boston Dynamics, an engineering and robotics firm that develops weaponized robots for the U.S. military.
The genius of Google is that while it accomplishes all of these evil things, Brin has convinced the world they’re a force for good. In The Atlantic, Ian Bogost writes that Google has used “Don’t Be Evil” to allow itself to become free from the moral compass that governs most humans. By turning morality into a slogan, the company can essentially call any project or decision moral. “Google doesn’t make immoral choices because moral choices are just choices made by Google,” Bogost writes. “Google’s acts are by their very nature righteous, a consequence of Google having done them. The company doesn’t need to exercise any moral judgement other than whatever it will have done. The biggest risk—the greatest evil—lies in failing to engineer an effective implementation of its own vision.”
As Brin heads up Google X, developing products that will enable the company to take over more and more of our world, it also enables the men who control Google to convince consumers and nonbelievers alike that their vision of a privacy-free, data-mined-and-sold world is equally good for us.
[Image via Getty]