Google's ad contest has a touch of evil

By Peter Nowak, CBCNews.ca

We all know Google's motto is "don't be evil." We, the technology media, have been watching the company since it adopted that particular maxim in 2001 for signs that it was, well, being evil. Many believe it's only a matter of time before the company goes bad, since that's seemingly what all big corporations eventually do (or so Michael Moore tells us). Others would say Google has already dabbled in the black arts, what with its self-censorship in China in 2006, which the company explained as a little bit of evil to achieve a greater good. But the question remains: Will Google ever fully turn to the dark side and, together with Darth Microsoft, rule the galaxy? It may have officially done so, if a press release issued Wednesday is anything to go by.

In the new Google Online Marketing Challenge, teams of university students must find a business and create an online advertising strategy for it. They are given $200 U.S. to spend on Google's AdWords advertising to help formulate their strategy. The teams must then assess their results, which are used to further fine-tune their business' online marketing plans, then submit their plans for judging by an international panel of marketing academics. The prize: visiting Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., and meeting the team that created AdWords. Ooh, aah.

It has been said that all advertising is bad and therefore Google is too, but that's too simplistic an argument. The company's chief executive officer, Eric Schmidt, is on the record as saying that running a TV commercial for diapers in a household without a baby is largely a waste of time, but attaching diaper ads to someone who is using Google to search for baby clothing can actually be a good thing. He probably has a point there, in connecting consumers with information on how to solve their needs and wants can be productive and efficient for all involved.

Where the evil comes in is in how blatantly self-serving this contest from Google seems. Not only is the company trying to introduce - and thus hook - businesses on internet advertising, it is trying to hook them on its own system. And the worst part of it is Google appears to be using free, young labour to do the work for them. At the very least, the company could have sprung for a decent reward for the winner - how about a ride to the moon via the winner of its Lunar X Prize contest?