The Ethical Puzzles of Google’s Jigsaw


Sean MacEntee | Flickr

Jigsaw is the incubator inside Alphabet/Google, formerly known as Google Ideas, that tackles “geopolitical challenges” and provides support for activists, journalists, and free speech around the world. In Quartz, Lucy Wark tries to figure out how the pieces of Jigsaw fit together. She finds it’s not pursuing save-the-world style initiatives like the Gates Foundation’s efforts to cure diseases and alleviate poverty; its narrower focus on speech issues has a distinctly classical-liberal, if not outright libertarian, bent.

Does Jigsaw’s work represent “do the right thing” philanthropy, or is it — as Julian Assange and others have charged — part of a more sinister Google-imperialist plot? Wark finds little evidence for the latter, but she suggests that Jigsaw’s failure to carefully define its ideals and goals leaves it open to suspicion and confusion.

One Jigsaw effort (Project Shield) helps protect dissidents from distributed denial of service and other attacks, while another (Conversation AI) helps site publishers filter unwanted abusive comments. When one person’s hate speech is another’s dissent, can such parallel efforts possibly be consistent? More rigorous self-definition — Wark suggests a model in Doctors Without Borders’ approach to neutrality — would help Jigsaw navigate such ethical minefields.

Why Trump’s “Keep the Factories Here” Plan Will Backfire

Tyler Cowen (Bloomberg) is willing to say what a lot of conservative economists are thinking: President-elect Trump may have fulfilled a campaign promise by cajoling Carrier Corporation not to move an Indiana factory to Mexico, but he’s also setting an awful precedent for government meddling in, or outright bullying of, a private company. And in the long run it’s unlikely to keep manufacturing jobs from moving abroad, anyway.

At best, Cowen argues, Trump will tout a few high-profile “jawboning” victories on behalf of the working person and leave it at that. At worst, he will use the power of his office and the law to reward supporters, punish enemies, and leave us with a “crony capitalist nightmare scenario” from which we cannot wake up.

How Consumers Got Their Power

Once upon a time — like, through the entirety of ancient times, the Middle Ages, through the Renaissance and right on up till the 18th century — the consumer, as we know that figure today, did not exist. In eras of scarcity, consumption had a bad name, luxury was sin, and accumulating goods was often illegal. The tide began to turn, as Frank Trentmann tells it in an entertaining history of the concept of the consumer (The Atlantic), when economists figured out that the consumption of goods was the foundation of economic growth.

It was only a century ago, however, that we began to understand consumers as, potentially, an active force in society — shaping economic activity through their choices, and even wielding their power to achieve social ends. Today, climate change poses the biggest challenge yet to our belief in the almighty consumer: Can we figure out how to continue to drive economic progress while limiting or reversing the damage to human consumers’ habitat?

Patagonia Paints Black Friday Green

Patagonia, the idealistic outdoor-wear company, told customers it would donate 100 percent of its Black Friday revenues to environmental groups. The public came through in a big way: Patagonia says it expected $2 million in sales but saw $10 million, thanks to its “fundraiser for the earth” (Huffington Post).

The move was explicitly a response to the U.S. election, which is putting climate-change-denying, drill-baby-drill conservatives in charge of federal environmental policy. “The science is telling us loud and clear: We have a problem,” Patagonia says in a blog post. The company’s customers are replying loud and clear, with their wallets.

80 Million Seniors Will Need Care By 2035. We’ll Need 5 Million New Jobs To Do It — And Robots Need Not Apply.

The senior care market in the U.S. is deeply broken. Honor, an 18-month old startup, aims to fix it, combining the platform approach of an Uber with the algorithmic matching of a Work Market. Honor’s twist: Its workers are full employees, not gig laborers.

In NewCo Shift, Honor CEO Seth Sternberg tells editor-in-chief John Battelle why getting this service right isn’t just a great market opportunity but an inspiring mission.

Join us for the NewCo Shift Forum, where 400 of the best minds in business, technology, and government will come together for two days of focused, action-oriented dialog.

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