Arguably, the two business metrics that capture most public attention in the post-2008 media climate are the value of fines levied for bad behaviour, and the bonuses paid to top executives.
The cathartic element in seeing a big company charged for wrongdoing, and the commensurate outrage of sums on a similar scale being offered to individuals as a reward for business conducted during the same period, are always bound to resonate in a climate where people feel they have been impoverished by greed on an epic scale.
So how has the world reacted to fine and bonus figures released by Google, as the web giant reported $15 million in bonuses paid to four executives, and $7m in fines to 38 US states over invasion of privacy through Google Street View?
Understandably, commentators have been quick to jump on the latter. A $7m fine is hilariously small for a company with a market cap of $274bn and latest annual profits of $2.89bn: a typo in the first draft of this article had the fine set at $7, which it might as well have been, for all the difference it makes.
The fine is far more interesting in terms of reputation than financial impact, especially when associated clauses are considered. As well as binning the contested Street View data, Google has been required to run a ten year employee training program on privacy, and launch a public service advertising campaign on securing wireless networks.
If Microsoft had been considering canning its “Scroogled” smear campaign on Google’s privacy attitudes, as some speculated earlier this month, it is likely to have reconsidered in light of the Street View fines.
But even though Google’s bonuses more than double what it has been fined, I am yet to find any censure online for the $15m payout offered to bosses. After all, even though the smallest bonus – chief business officer Nikesh Arora’s $2.8m – is dream money for most of us disgruntled mortals, it hardly seems berserk against the backdrop of such gargantuan revenues and profits.
This is certainly not news when compared with RBS, a company with a market cap of $33bn compared to Google’s $274, handing over more than $600m in payouts to executives at the same time as being fined $400m over the LIBOR scandal - in itself arguably a drop in the ocean.
If anything, the fact that Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are not to receive bonuses at all seems positively saintly, and goes some way to negating any reputational damage over the Street View incident.
The reason for this, however, is that both men are already worth over $20bn, making even RBS executives look like the rest of us by comparison. With figures like that floating around, I’m surprised anyone reported on Google’s bonus payments and snooping fines at all.