Sunday, May 07, 2006

Today's Internet Companies are becoming more like Countries

Since Internet companies today become more and more social and by that more entrenched in our society, it's becoming more significant what values a company does stand for. Some may now think for example of Google's infamous "don't be evil" motto. However, the problem with it's motto is actually how one does define evil! In principle there are two models when approaching values: Universalism and Relativism. Universalism says all values are the same everywhere and Relativism says they are relative to the cultural context. With Yahoo and Google being currently under public strutiny regarding their behavior in China because they helped to identify a human rights activist (Yahoo) or because they filter search results in accordance with the Chinese government (Google) it becomes clear that these companies have a relativistic stand on values. This is the case with most internationally active companies as it's the one that goes perfectly well with making profits in foreign countries. Nevertheless, even traditional multinational companies today ask themselves about Corporate Social Responsibility, and even though CSR usually is just hot air, the need to stand for a certain sets of values becomes the more necessary the more a company is becoming a part of everyday life.

A country, and many of you will agree, is not a company. Even though it's structure is similar for one. A country usually has people, it has a culture, it has a law, and a language. And, as most countries, it has signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and thereby officially acknowledging that it stands for a Universal set of values (although some countries don't stick to it). A traditional company needs employees and profits to survive. Today's Internet companies also need users, because users/people are the commodity of the Internet age. However, broadening the definition of what a company needs also means to include culture and some aspects of law into the company. And then at this point it becomes obvious that sticking to a relativistic set of values is not enough any more. And I believe that today's Internet companies will have to make a commitment to a Universal set of values in the future.

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