Googley Philanthropy

December 13, 2019

We are treated to more Google executive PR speak in the ABC News story, “Google’s Do-Good Arm Tries to Make Up for Everything Else.” AP Reporter Angela Charlton cites a Paris interview with Google VP Jacqueline Fuller, where she announced some grant awards. The winning projects aspire to teach digital literacy to the poor, the elderly, immigrants, and rural users. Other emphases of Fuller’s division include working to keep children safe online and using AI to increase access to health care, build better emergency services, and boost access to job opportunities. Charlton writes:

“The philanthropic arm she runs, Google.org, is like the company’s conscience, spending $100 million a year on non-profit groups that use technology to try to counteract problems the tech world is accused of creating, abetting or exacerbating. ‘Across the world we want to make sure we’re a responsible citizen,’ she said. But can Google’s do-good arm make up for everything else? At least it’s trying, she argues.”

So, they want an A for effort? That would take more than a measly $100 million per year. Fuller insists the company is having vigorous internal “conversations” around the topics of their controversies, for whatever that is worth. Issues like privacy and the misuse of user data, algorithmic bias, the perpetuation of hate speech, employee sexual misconduct allegations, weapons development (Project Maven, in cooperation with the Pentagon), and potential human rights violations are not so easily counteracted. There may be hope for change, however, due to external pressure. The article reminds us:

“Public outrage has grown over Google’s use of consumer data and domination of the online search market, with governments stepping up scrutiny of the company. … Former Google design ethicist Tristan Harris argues technology is shortening our attention spans and pushing people toward more extreme views. He couldn’t get Google to tackle these problems when he was there, so he quit and is pushing for change through his Center for Human Technologies. He says companies like Google won’t change voluntarily but that the tech world has undergone a ‘sea change’ in awareness of problems it’s caused, thanks in part to pressure from a frustrated public.”

We shall see where that awareness leads.

Cynthia Murrell, December 13, 2019

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