In “Beware the empathy-washing of self-proclaimed caring capitalists”, Evgeny Morozov warns of the risks of trusting large (for-profit) tech giants for humanitarian relief. His concern centres around the conflict of interests between a for-profit corporation and its humanitarian efforts:
Not so long ago, the juxtaposition of “freedom” – something to be guaranteed by laws – with the “as a service” business model – something to be offered by a company in a commercial context – would seem oxymoronic. However, as we expect corporations to take over the functions of not only the welfare state but also of humanitarian relief, “freedom as a service” makes perfect sense.
Fleeing from the effects of neoliberal capitalism, all of us are becoming permanent refugees – with technology giants occasionally taking pity on us by offering us free services, identity papers, and an opportunity to make money in the sharing economy. And, soon, there won’t be anywhere to flee.
I don’t know anything more about the “Freedom-as-a-service” service from Cisco as described above, but I’d hesitate to permanently put anyone’s life or welfare in the hands of a tech company.
But I think tech companies can powerfully contribute to humanitarian efforts in 2 ways:
- Enhancing existing products with features to aid one-time disasters. Facebook and Google both have services which, under emergency conditions, help their users to get in touch with loved ones, and let them know they’re safe.
- Producing and releasing the relevant software, documentation, or training material in a way that can be reused and which survives its creator. (I.e. Under a compatible open-source licence)