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Google Philanthropy
February 23, 2006 8:09 AM   Subscribe

Don't Be Evil is Google's motto. But now they're putting their money (approx. $1.1 billion) where their mouth is. The man in charge of Google's new philanthropic arm is Dr. Larry Brilliant, a man of exceedingly humanitarian endeavors.
posted by Like the Reef (61 comments total)

 
His last name is Brilliant?
posted by TwelveTwo at 8:15 AM on February 23, 2006


Next up: Google Gigantor!
posted by TwelveTwo at 8:15 AM on February 23, 2006


Two FPP's about google's offerings in the same day. Is this a record, or the way things are set to be in the future.
posted by bap98189 at 8:18 AM on February 23, 2006


Maybe they're changing their motto to "Do a lot of good so nobody notices a little evil."
posted by bondcliff at 8:20 AM on February 23, 2006


Just like Bill Gates!
posted by sonofsamiam at 8:24 AM on February 23, 2006


Marshall Brain could lick Dr. Brillant any day of the week.
posted by Smart Dalek at 8:28 AM on February 23, 2006


Wow, Brilliant's a really cool guy. Helped wipe out smallpox, among lots of other stuff.
posted by octothorpe at 8:30 AM on February 23, 2006


Why, Smart Dalek? Are they dating?
posted by TwelveTwo at 8:32 AM on February 23, 2006


Man, with a name like Dr. Brilliant, he should fight crime.
(I do wonder how much his doctorate was prompted by his last name. It's harder to say Doctor Brilliant sarcastically than Larry Brilliant).
posted by klangklangston at 8:33 AM on February 23, 2006


Brilliant has said his first order of business is to go see Marshall (head of the Gates Foundation) who is his "long time friend".
posted by Like the Reef at 8:36 AM on February 23, 2006


I'm curious about these charities to "encourage entreupenuership." Am I right to be skeptical of what I see as a doomed system? What about charities that encourage sustainability? I realize that goes against the technophiles at Google, but I'm not really holding out a lot of hope in the salvation from technology, and charitable donations from high technology always (obviously) place their donations in this framework.
posted by iamck at 8:45 AM on February 23, 2006


There's a diffrence between "being good" and "not being evil". Bill Gates has done lots of good in the world, yet most people consider microsoft to be uber evil. I'm sure Hitler did some nice things every once in a while.
posted by delmoi at 8:49 AM on February 23, 2006



posted by driveler at 8:50 AM on February 23, 2006


I wonder which one of his ancestors changed his name to "Brilliant".
posted by delmoi at 8:50 AM on February 23, 2006


iamck, one way to think about it is this: What is more "sustainable"? Giving alms to people in poor countries, or helping them start and run their own businesses?

Supporting entrepreneurship has the potential to create self-sustaining sources of income in poor areas. Charity only lasts as long as rich countries are willing to pay.
posted by nyterrant at 8:52 AM on February 23, 2006


let's hope they donate heavily to people fighting censorship in China.
posted by quarsan at 8:56 AM on February 23, 2006


But are the trains running on time?
posted by blue_beetle at 8:58 AM on February 23, 2006


Bill Gates did things that were quasi-evil so that he could eventually do things that are unambiguously good. This choice of lifestyle meant he could eventually do far more things that were unambiguously good than anyone else.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Awesome at 9:01 AM on February 23, 2006


This is the kind of thing that drives certain free-market types nuts. What does this have to do with Google's actual business? Wouldn't everyone be better off if Google just didn't do the evil things that make the company feel compelled to create a philanthropic arm? And why is Google doing this with its own shares? Gates' philanthropy is coming from the man himself, not Microsoft.
posted by mullacc at 9:05 AM on February 23, 2006


I'm officially changing my name to Jerry Awesome.
posted by LordSludge at 9:14 AM on February 23, 2006


mullacc, would you rather have Google be the next Microsoft, just so Page and Brin could fund a giant philanthropy wth their own money?
posted by pmbuko at 9:15 AM on February 23, 2006


Google needs to stop complying with chinese government wishes and censoring their search results in China. Censoring search results for terms like democracy and Tiananmen.

Don't be evil, my ass.
posted by jennyjenny at 9:15 AM on February 23, 2006


Maybe they're changing their motto to "Do a lot of good so nobody notices a little evil."

Assuming this is in reference to the China thing, I still don't see where the evil lies. Google had limited choice in the matter, and I don't think them boycotting the Chinese market would be a morally superior thing to do. Further cutting off the Chinese people from the flow of information isn't going to strongarm their government ("Oh no! We'd better mend our ways or Google won't do business with us!") and it seems like engaging them and giving them access will do more for their cause. Can someone please explain why everyone thinks this is evil of Google? I still just don't get it.
posted by TunnelArmr at 9:20 AM on February 23, 2006


More Google corporate propoganda disguised as "news" as an FPP. I never cease to be amazed by this.
posted by ChasFile at 9:21 AM on February 23, 2006


One of these days we're going to find out Google has been running some child-exploitation ring where toddlers are forced to type out spam emails while simultaneously serving child molesters. Because it's just nuts that a company that seems this cool and committed to doing awesome doesn't have any skeletons in its closet.
posted by schroedinger at 9:27 AM on February 23, 2006


pmubko: This is worse than Microsoft. I don't really know if Google is heading done the path of becoming the "next Microsoft." But if they are, I'm not to thrilled about their efforts to compensate for their wickedness by funding a philanthropy. And why couldn't Page and Brin fund it separately from Google now? They're worth about $22 billion between the two of them and the total dedicate to the foundation was $1 billion in shares.
posted by mullacc at 9:29 AM on February 23, 2006


Wouldn't everyone be better off if Google just didn't do the evil things that make the company feel compelled to create a philanthropic arm?

That's a good question. Would you like to attempt an answer?
I would suggest the problem with Google's 'evil' acts is that Google are essentially limited in the scope of what they can achieve by refusing to act. They can take the moral high ground and refuse to submit to Chinese censorship (for example) but in doing so they know that some other agent will take the marketshare they would otherwise have claimed with little or no beneficial effect. In an ideal world that wouldn't happen but in a capitalistic framework committed to shareholder welfare then it does. Thus if they do the 'evil' but sacrifice the money through philanthropic projects aren't they actually maximising (or at least increasing) the overall good?

And why is Google doing this with its own shares?

Why not?
posted by biffa at 9:33 AM on February 23, 2006


Chas: Like it or not, everything Google does is 'news'.
posted by empath at 9:36 AM on February 23, 2006


I wonder which one of his ancestors changed his name to "Brilliant".

If he were of any sort of French ancestry, his name would just be the equivalent of "bright" (as in lights).
posted by mkultra at 9:37 AM on February 23, 2006


"We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served — as shareholders and in all other ways — by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains."
---from Google's IPO prospectus

it's fine for people to donate money to charity, and i'm sure page and brin aren't just rolling around in piles of money. but they really seem like they want to change the way corporations ought to behave. this could certainly all be a ruse, but in the end, as long as it helps people, does it really matter?

sure we hate evil corporate tactics, and there's certainly plenty of evidence to support that corporates are almost exclusively self-interested. that's why if nothing else, it's nice to get a warm fuzzy feeling from a company actually trying.
posted by Like the Reef at 9:42 AM on February 23, 2006


I knew a professor named "Brilliant." He was of Eastern European Jewish extraction and somewhere along the line they changed the name from something more obviously Jewish.
posted by lackutrol at 9:43 AM on February 23, 2006


This is the kind of thing that drives certain free-market types nuts. What does this have to do with Google's actual business?

They're not being dishonest. They said they would do this when they announced the IPO. If you buy google stock expecting them to maximize profits, you're a fool.
posted by empath at 9:44 AM on February 23, 2006


Perhaps google is funding it with it's own shares because over time that investment could be worth considerably more than the current market value of 1 billion ?
posted by iamabot at 9:48 AM on February 23, 2006


This is the kind of thing that drives certain free-market types nuts. What does this have to do with Google's actual business?

This has to do with the culture of the corporation, the perception of the organization in the marketplace and the totally wacky concept that the bottom line isn't the only thing important in the world.
posted by iamabot at 9:49 AM on February 23, 2006


biffa writes "Would you like to attempt an answer?"

No, it's a question raised in my mind by the news and I'm contemplating it internally, but I'm not going to litter the thread with my random, uneducated speculation. I'm sceptical because corporate philanthropy seems to me to be an attempt at moral compensation which is most likely to fail. Thanks for your insight, though, that's why I posted the question.

And regarding the question about Google using its own shares. This will diluted the current shareholders, so I wonder if this in the best interest of the shareholders (which is not necessarily the same question as whether or not it will increase the stock price)? Gates and others avoid this problem by engaging in philanthropic efforts with their personal holdings. Brin, Page and other execs certainly have the capital to make it happen and perhaps could still tap into Google talent.
posted by mullacc at 9:50 AM on February 23, 2006


I always get confused when people talk about "evil" Microsoft. What exactly has Microsoft done that is "evil"? Sure, they are really good at playing the same cut-throat business games everyone else does, and have put themselves at the top of the heap, but corporate warfare can never really amount to "evil", in my book. They compensate their employees well, they run on an open hardware platform (unlike some other Shining Knights of the Industry), Bill Gates gives truckloads of money away to righteous causes, and despite what the aristocrats say, they put out a fucking good product that enables a lot of people to get a lot of things done pretty damn effectively ... where's the "evil"?

Also, anyone who thinks that censored Google in China is more evil than no Google in China is just plain stupid. If you've ever had any experience with any kind of internet filtering, you know that it will never be 100% effective. I'm sure Google knows this, too. Information will spread, slowly perhaps at first, but it will get there.
posted by dvdgee at 9:53 AM on February 23, 2006


iamabot writes "Perhaps google is funding it with it's own shares because over time that investment could be worth considerably more than the current market value of 1 billion ?"

You missed the point of that question - Brin and Page could donate their own shares rather than Google donate new shares. Both may result in the value of the donation increasing with Google's market value, but the later would dilute the holdings of other shareholders.
posted by mullacc at 9:53 AM on February 23, 2006


I'd like to chime in that the best way to help poor communities seems to be to encourage entrepreneurship, especially by way of micro loans. It's very easy, living in the globalized world at the beginning of the 21st century to be skeptical of capitalism, however capitalism has the best track record that I'm aware of for creating economic growth, and that's what poor people need.

Anything else, as other people have said above, is just charity until the rich stop feeling inclined to give it.

Oh shit, I'm turning into my parents. Some one get me a black flag record, stat!
posted by illovich at 9:54 AM on February 23, 2006


The article says that Google is fulfilling a promise. I'm wondering if it was a promise that should've been made in the first place. I don't disagree with many of you that we would be much better off if corporations were less greedy and bottom-line oriented. But I wondering if this is best accomplished by limiting actions of corporations rather than hoping that they expand the scope of their mission.
posted by mullacc at 9:58 AM on February 23, 2006



Perhaps the foundation can fund vaccine and other types of shots needed in the various prisons within China. Sorry, but here is booster to make up for it.

I struggle with what they did towards China, it's business and China has the right to censor. Google can not play with them, and will be history within five years by doing so.

I am not sure who we are kidding. China, bad. USA good. Really. I have to wonder at times...
posted by fluffycreature at 10:09 AM on February 23, 2006


I always get confused when people talk about "evil" Microsoft. What exactly has Microsoft done that is "evil"? Sure, they are really good at playing the same cut-throat business games everyone else does, and have put themselves at the top of the heap, but corporate warfare can never really amount to "evil", in my book.

The problem is that their "business tactics" have caused -- if not harm -- real annoyance to end users. Why doesn't java ever work on web pages? Because Microsoft went out of it's way to mess it up and make it incompatible in their (very popular) web browser. Why is it hard to port games to other OS's? Because Microsoft created direct3d, rather then supporting Open GL and other open standards.

Etc, etc, etc. Microsoft has consistently made money by making choices that annoy the hell out of people. That's the problem, and that's why they are considered 'evil'. People are "stuck" with Microsoft, and Microsoft goes out of their way to keep them stuck, and that's annoying in principle, and annoying in practice.
posted by delmoi at 10:10 AM on February 23, 2006


PotEoA, I'm not prepared to give Gates a pass on that. His actions have not been "quasi-evil," they have been evil. His aid to Africa comes as the direct result of all the problems I've had with Windows that have, at times, had me screaming at the monitor, rooting around for mislaid product activation codes, have required me spending many hours coaching users with their computers, teaching them strategies for getting around Word's playful feature incompatibilities, and a wide range of other trials. These are not minor issues they produced through negiligence but on purpose, and I will not accept anyone's telling me that they should be forgiven for doing these things because it was in their best interests to do them! Just because they're a corporation with stockholders excuses nothing.

Some things cannot be easily forgiven, and it seems likely, with Windows Vista finally rolling out in a year or so, that Microsoft has not turned over a new leaf. So while some good may be done in the world through Gates' generosity, I'd still rather have the Microsoft yoke removed from the computer industry before I would be prepared to sing the man's praises.
posted by JHarris at 10:13 AM on February 23, 2006


Not to throw any water on a good paranoia fire, but it's always seemed to me that Sergey and Larry hit it BIG (bigger than anyone could ever have imagined) when they were really young and still pretty idealistic--still in grad school, IIRC.

I would imagine that actually realizing your ideals as young men, in a huge, global kind of way, would have a way of reinforcing and galvanizing one's idealism beyond the time when age and the realities of the world would dull it away.

Or maybe I'm just not cynical enough.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:15 AM on February 23, 2006


The motto is "don't be evil", not "try and balance things out."

Google will continue trying to sell itself as a "different" kind of company, even while it shows that it is just a normal company like so many others that will put aside principles in order to break into a new market.
posted by clevershark at 10:35 AM on February 23, 2006


From Google's IPO Filing:

MAKING THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE



We aspire to make Google an institution that makes the world a better place. With our products, Google connects people and information all around the world for free. We are adding other powerful services such as Gmail that provides an efficient one gigabyte Gmail account for free. By releasing services for free, we hope to help bridge the digital divide. AdWords connects users and advertisers efficiently, helping both. AdSense helps fund a huge variety of online web sites and enables authors who could not otherwise publish. Last year we created Google Grants—a growing program in which hundreds of non-profits addressing issues, including the environment, poverty and human rights, receive free advertising. And now, we are in the process of establishing the Google Foundation. We intend to contribute significant resources to the foundation, including employee time and approximately 1% of Google’s equity and profits in some form. We hope someday this institution may eclipse Google itself in terms of overall world impact by ambitiously applying innovation and significant resources to the largest of the world’s problems.


Presumably, anybody who bought shares in Google was fully aware that they would do this, and bought the stock anyway. Thus they are acting in the interests of the shareholders. If they weren't interested in a company who did this kind of thing, they wouldn't have bought the stock.
posted by empath at 10:46 AM on February 23, 2006


delmoi, JHarris... your sense of entitlement is staggering. Equating personal annoyances with "evil"? I guess perhaps we just have a different understanding of the word. Just because the old lady who works at the post office takes pride in beaureaucracy, deliberate ignorance, and being just plain difficult to deal with, doesn't make her evil. Annoying, yes. Evil, no.
posted by dvdgee at 11:07 AM on February 23, 2006


What we need is a third class of corporation, one that lets the company make a profit, but can put what they consider the good of the world ahead of the good of the stockholders, and allows the founders to retain tighter control of the company. It would be more risky to invest in, if the CEO decided to give 100% of the assets to the Red Cross all of a sudden, but there could be a few more restrictions and whatnot.

Profit can be a powerful motivator, but it's stupid, I think, to require profits be placed above everything else.

We need a third catagory between non-profit and for-profit. A private company can do this, however, and I see why the google founders resisted IPOing for such a long time.
posted by delmoi at 11:12 AM on February 23, 2006


I think the point mullacc is trying to make is that just because Google previously announced that they were going to get involved in charity work does not mean that their decision is necessarily a good one. There are a number of schools of thought on this issue. Some hard core economists believe that any corporate action that diverts resources away from enhancing shareholder wealth are bad. In fact, these people also believe that even if that action is charitable, society's long-term welfare is not helped. They believe that corporations can only help society by trying to maximize profits. I don't think I fully agree, but I think the debate is real. Maybe society would be better off if Google specialized into being the best company at what it does, and other groups specialized in being the best charities.

There is also a whole stream of research about corporate social responsibility.
posted by bove at 11:18 AM on February 23, 2006


delmoi, JHarris... your sense of entitlement is staggering. Equating personal annoyances with "evil"? I guess perhaps we just have a different understanding of the word. Just because the old lady who works at the post office takes pride in beaureaucracy, deliberate ignorance, and being just plain difficult to deal with, doesn't make her evil. Annoying, yes. Evil, no.

Before this whole war on terror BS my definition of "Evil" was an existential kind, I didn't believe any person could be evil at all. Only a satan-type being which, along with a god-type didn't exist.

Obviously, that's not how most people use the word, so what does it mean? I would say that a person who takes actions that require a willingness to make other people suffer, in order to benefit themselves. Is being annoyed the same as suffering? I don't know, but being annoyed for no reason then to benefit another person amplifies that annoyance greatly.

So under my definition I would say that Microsoft is "evil" or at least "mean". How would you define evil?
posted by delmoi at 11:19 AM on February 23, 2006


Maybe they're changing their motto to "Do a lot of good so nobody notices a little evil."

Assuming this is in reference to the China thing, I still don't see where the evil lies...
.... Can someone please explain why everyone thinks this is evil of Google? I still just don't get it.
posted by TunnelArmr at 12:20 PM EST on February 23 [!]



It's not in reference to anything. It's just me being a smart-ass.

FWIW, Google could open DeepFriedBabies.google.com and SlaveLaborDiamonds.google.com and I'd still think they were the bee's motherfuckin' knees, thanks to all the cool stuff they do. I don't think they're evil at all.
posted by bondcliff at 11:21 AM on February 23, 2006


There's an article in the most recent copy of Tikkun called "A Spiritual Dimension For Business," and it details the successes of a couple socially aware/active businesses, and waxes about Change and Progress and such in that vein. I don't remember that much of it offhand, but it was definitely interesting. They don't seem to have it on their website, but if you feel like dropping $10, it seems to be here.
posted by soma lkzx at 11:28 AM on February 23, 2006


empath: Well, investors couldn't sue Google because, obviously, it was in the prospectus (as the article stated). But, even if they had written much more than a few sentences about their philanthropic intentions, the effort may not be carried out in such a way, or may be impossible to carry out in such a way, that results in realizing the best interests of the shareholders. If Google ultimately decided that their efforts would not be fruitful, or would distract from the greater goal of the company, it would be prudent to deviate from the original plan. The language in the prospectus doesn't handcuff them to this plan.

I certainly haven't been trying to say that Google is betraying their shareholders by simply considering or exploring this idea - but rather I'm wondering if it will ultimately satisfy the interests of the shareholders.

On preview, what bove said.
posted by mullacc at 11:29 AM on February 23, 2006


How many of you really, truly believe that it's possible for people to be a little bit good and a little bit bad at the same time? Because that's the way reality is. You can't boil someone's morality down to a single signed integer.

Bill Gates is the canonical example of someone whose evil deeds are outnumbered only by his good deeds.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 11:32 AM on February 23, 2006


As an aside, I think this topic can be extend, in general terms, to health insurance. Why should corporations be expected to provide and administer health-care benefits? They should focus on making widgets and not be overly distracted by HR issues. I think this could lead to a powerful argument for nationalized health insurance.
posted by mullacc at 11:37 AM on February 23, 2006


Bill Gates is the canonical example of someone whose evil deeds are outnumbered only by his good deeds.

I'm skeptical about how much good Bill Gates has actually done. What do his organizations actually do?
posted by empath at 11:45 AM on February 23, 2006


delmoi: So under my definition I would say that Microsoft is "evil" or at least "mean". How would you define evil?

Deliberately and directly causing another person physical or psychological harm.

And no, annoyance is not psychological harm. Especially not annoyance that a system which enables people to do far more than they would otherwise be able to doesn't fulfill every whim of yours 100%.

I mean, seriously, what are the desktop alternatives to Windows? Let's not even talk about *nix, because as promising as it is, it has far more "evil" (by your definition) quirks and annoyances than Windows. OSX? Sure, it's a better system, but at what cost? Apple steals intuitive ideas and products from its developer community, which really discourages independent product innovation. At least Microsoft has the decency to buy the poor bastards out, often at a very fair price. Apple's much vaunted and overhyped "stability" is largely due to its proprietary hardware requirements. The reviled Wintel system enables the business of countless hardware manufacturers around the world.
posted by dvdgee at 11:49 AM on February 23, 2006


If a business model that relies entirely on consumer lock-in and a forced upgrade cycle via intentionally breaking backwards compatibility can be considered "good", I guess so...

I call it screwing your customers.
posted by sonofsamiam at 11:53 AM on February 23, 2006


I'm skeptical about how much good Bill Gates has actually done. What do his organizations actually do?

He's given nearly $1bn to fight TB, for example. This will literally save millions of lives, even if they are lives which are mostly insignificant and invisible to you.

In no way does this excuse his earlier actions (e.g. destroying livelihoods through illegal anticompetitive actions and a systematic campaign to lock down the free exchange of information), but dammit you can't but give the guy a pat on the back for it.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 12:22 PM on February 23, 2006


What's interesting is that this thread seems to show how local morality can be. The people I know who hate Microsoft tend to be computer people, who either don't know or care about the philanthropy (Gates's donation is supposed to be the most charitable in history). Imagine if it turned out that, say, Fox News turned out to be incredibly charitable: I'd still dislike it.

Also, ditto on the google being evil thing. I don't see why this is a big deal. It's not like morality is an indelible stain. Wouldn't it be better to look at what the best practical alternative would be? If Google weren't there, another search engine would do the same thing. Given that google is there, the money can at least be philanthropic. Even if google didn't donate, I don't see how it's bad on the grand scheme of things. The Internet isn't the center of a typical Chinese person's life, and search blocks can be snuck around. These sort of civil liberty fears are real, but don't concern me as much as, say, rural famine in China.
posted by kensanway at 2:15 PM on February 23, 2006


There's a few ways you can (try to) overthrow an authoritarian regime...

1) Violent revolution, or invasion... Iraq
Will work.. eventually

2) Economic sanctions... Iraq before invasion
Failed... and caused deaths

3) cultural, ideological infiltration into the country.

This happened in Spain, tourists came over, the locals saw how good it was to be in a democratic country, and pressure formed within for regime change (which coincided with leadeship change).

Google didn't have a choice in the terms when being allowed into China. I think it is very easy to argue firstly that the firewall will not be complete, and secondly that it will highlight what the Chinese government wants to ban, therefore magnifying feelings of oppression, and thoughts of regime change. Although it is a very slow process, it is easily defendable because it does not directly lead to deaths...

Rupert Murdoch has a satellite which could transmit FOX to the whole of China, if that happened how long before democratisation?
posted by RufusW at 5:25 PM on February 23, 2006


sonofsamiam wrote "If a business model that relies entirely on consumer lock-in and a forced upgrade cycle via intentionally breaking backwards compatibility can be considered 'good', I guess so...

Exactly. That's why I hate healthcare, automobiles, perishable food and domestic animals. Things should just be.
posted by VulcanMike at 5:58 PM on February 23, 2006


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