While corporate entities are seldom willing to “take sides” in political matters that do not directly affect their bottom lines (though they are quick enough to hire lobbyists to try and kill any activity that will force them to compete in the free market), many of today's technology giants run by younger generations – think Google (News - Alert), Facebook and Twitter – appear to be bucking the “don't get involved” mantra to speak out forcefully against the current Internet blockade by Egyptian authorities, according to AFP news.
Protests continue this week against Egyptian president President Hosni Mubarak, whose administration has attempted to stifle dissent by severing 80 million Egyptian people from the Internet. All three companies – Google, Facebook (News - Alert) and Twitter – have taken active steps to help provide at least some protestors with access to the Internet. Many analysts see this as an unusual move.
“Usually with most corporations the issue is what's going to make profits, not necessarily what's going to do good for the world,” said Benjamin Hermalin, a finance professor at the University of California, Berkeley's Haas School of Business. “Particularly given a situation of political uncertainty it would be very strange for companies to take bets on one side because if the other side wins they're in deep trouble,” Hermalin told AFP.
Facebook, which has about five million users in Egypt, has issued a statement criticizing the Internet black-out, stating that “no one should be denied access to the Internet.”
“Although the turmoil in Egypt is a matter for the Egyptian people and their government to resolve, limiting Internet access for millions of people is a matter of concern for the global community,” said Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes.
Google and Twitter went considerably further than merely expressing concern, jointly creating a tool to allow Egyptians to bypass the Internet blockade and post messages to Twitter via the telephone system, in a sort of new “speech to Tweet” technology cobbled together just for this purpose. The service, which turns voice messages into tweets, was launched by Google to “help people in Egypt stay connected at this very difficult time.” And, presumably, to keep a window open on the happenings within Egypt that the rest of the world can use to look in.
Google-owned YouTube (News - Alert) also highlighted videos from Egypt on its news and politics channel, CitizenTube, inviting users to submit their own and began streaming live coverage of broadcasts by the Al Jazeera television network.
In addition, Google also created a “Crisis Response” page featuring links to the “Speak to Tweet” tool, CitizenTube, emergency telephone numbers and Google Maps of where protests have been occurring in Egypt.
Should we be surprised? Not at all. Google's unofficial slogan is “Don't Be Evil.” In addition, the three companies are led by younger-than-average chiefs. Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg is 26. Twitter's founders Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams and Biz Stone are all in their mid-to-late 30s. Google's founders Sergey Brin (News - Alert) and Lawrence Page are both 37.
Perhaps they didn't get the memo that successful companies are supposed to detach and pursue nothing but profit at any cost. For that, the protesters in Egypt and all the rest of us can be glad.
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Tracey Schelmetic is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of Tracey's articles, please visit her columnist page.
Edited by Tammy Wolf