‘Silicon Valley’ Questions the Morality of Success

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‘Silicon Valley’ Questions the Morality of Success

The Pied Piper team has cut ethical corners in the past: In Season 2, it capitalized on a live-stream of a man dying to keep the company afloat, and in Season 3, it employed a click farm in Bangladesh to fool investors into believing Pied Piper had scores of users. But Richard excused these compromises as necessary evils, asserting that such moves were made to make Pied Piper a reality. Once the company triumphed, it could return to a clean moral slate.

Read: ‘Silicon Valley’ explores the darker side of the industry

If the earlier seasons of Silicon Valley satirized the absurdity of the tech bubble by examining how quickly a start-up can rise and fall (and rise again), the sixth season appears to be targeting morality in the industry. Richard faces a question real-life companies have had to tackle after reaching the top: Is it possible for a successful tech company to actually do good?

It’s a heavy question for a comedy to pose, but the premiere offered a few answers. Richard could follow the lead of Gavin Belson (Matt Ross), the CEO of the show’s Google proxy Hooli, and forget ethics entirely. In the episode, Gavin eschewed morals in favor of stroking his own ego. Instead of losing the Hooli name in the company’s sale to Amazon, he downsized, sacrificed entire divisions, and laid off scores of employees. So if Richard were to think like Gavin, he’d keep Colin on board and pivot to a new set of values to upkeep.

Or Richard could do nothing for now, as his brain trust—including Monica (Amanda Crew), Gilfoyle (Martin Starr), and Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani)—advised him. They pointed out that Colin’s large user base is too valuable and that he’s not using the data to sell ads, so his data mining is relatively harmless. But Richard dismissed their concerns; he’s not about to wait until Colin utilizes user data for more nefarious reasons before stepping in. “It goes against everything we stand for,” he said. “If we start collecting personal data just for the good stuff, next thing we know, we’re fucking Facebook.”

This being Silicon Valley, Richard then tried to sidestep the issue entirely by creating a third, especially foolish option. Rather than cutting out Colin or sitting idly by, he concocted a plan to have Colin taste his own medicine. Richard collected audio recorded off Colin’s headset—including snippets of Colin snorting coke, among other reckless acts—and categorized them by indiscretion. Colin, Richard assumed, would be forced to obey his order. But Colin didn’t bristle at the audio; he was impressed by Richard’s categorization and pitched the tool to investors to demonstrate how they could compile user data for more than just game-play improvement.

Richard had justified violating Colin’s privacy in the episode’s most hilariously upsetting scene. He’d approached Jared (Zach Woods) with the plan, knowing that Jared—usually the most ethically minded member of his inner circle—would probably talk him out of it and brainstorm another possible solution. At first, Jared did, advising Richard to remain “virtuous,” but then Jared reversed course. “Even if this is wrong,” he said, “I suppose you can argue that it’s wrong in the service of rightness.” Encouraged, Richard agreed: “It’s unethical in the defense of ethics, unjust in the quest for justice.”


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‘Silicon Valley’ Questions the Morality of Success

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