Friday, January 13, 2012

"A Team of People Working on a Google Project"

Facing Another PR Disaster: Google Accused Of Fraudulently Undermining A Kenyan Startup

Click through on the link to read about the latest example of brazen misbehavior by Google. Predatory business practices by a company once founded on the pledge to "do no evil": nothing new there. There's a particular aspect to the story, though, that I find particularly irksome, speaking as a communications professional. Namely, Google's confession, which included the phrase: "We are mortified to learn that a team of people working on a Google project improperly used Mocality's data and misrepreseted our relationship with Mocality to encourage customers to create new websites."

Of course any intelligent reader understands who these "team of people" are -- they're Google employees. So why did Google not simply say, "We are mortified to learn that some of our employees" did these things? Because someone at Google thinks that they can partially cover their asses by phrasing the sentence in such a way as to suggest that maybe, possibly, these were people who wandered in off the streeet, and not employees on Google's payroll who were managed by Google managers on projects approved by Google executives.

This is an egregious example of something that is, unfortunately, widespread. If you screw up, don't admit it -- say instead that "mistakes were made." Use the passive voice wherever possible, and for God's sake turn all your verbs into nouns; you didn't crash that car, "a collision occurred." Maybe no one will notice that you don't appear within the grammar of your own confession. Maybe your deliberate vagueness will be so compelling that everyone will think you're innocent.

Except we're not that stupid. We read Google's weasely prose and know exactly what they're doing. So now, in addition to knowing that Google's Kenyan unit really needs some remedial work in business ethics, we also know that Google U.S.A. would prefer to play games than admit, in the spirit of honesty and integrity, that they made a mistake. We know what they've done in the past, and we know their hopes for the future: that next time, they won't get caught.

Good communications begin with honesty. If you approach the project with the intent to lie, to obscure, to avoid repercussions, no amount of word-smithing can save your ass.