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Is it Google's job to fix society?

Mike Elgan | July 14, 2015
Social problems exist. Sexism, social stigmatization, crime and other problems have always plagued humanity.

In yet another case, Google is being called upon to address the problem of youth violence.

Google's personalized advertising system on search and YouTube grabs "signals" to decide which ads to display. These signals come from both the content displayed and also the search history and other personalized information of the user.

Because rap music often talks about guns and violence, ads for gun-related companies and organizations are more likely to be displayed in the context of rap content and videos.

The founder of an organization called the Hip-Hop Chess Federation demanded that Google intervene in its own ad-serving algorithm to remove ads for the U.S. Concealed Carry Association (USCCA) and other gun-related companies on rap-related content.

Pedestrian safety

In New York City last year, 20 people were killed by vehicles that were making legal left turns, according to this WNYC article published two months ago.

Because of the article, the New York City Council this month wrote a letter to Google asking the company to make two changes to Google Maps.

One of the council's requests is for a "stay on truck routes" feature for truck drivers. The other is for functionality that would give Google Maps users the ability to request turn-by-turn directions with fewer left turns.

Car accidents happen. It's a real problem, and it's tragic for victims and their families.

Google is already doing as much as any organization to address the problem by inventing a self-driving car that's way safer than human-driven cars.

But the New York City Council now wants Google to change its Maps app in order to solve society's car accident problem.

Google's mission

Here's the problem. Some or all of these ideas might be worth doing. They might make the world a better place. They might not.

But taken together, they have the overall effect of degrading the quality of Google's services, watering down Google's mission and turning Google into a company that intervenes in the way people communicate with each other.

It's social engineering.

The world has problems, but is breaking Google really the best way to fix society?

Google's mission is to organize the world's information, not rearrange the world's information to solve the society's problems.


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