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Inside Amazon's, Facebook's and Google's self-serving 'philanthropy'

Mike Elgan | Aug. 29, 2016
Tech giants don't want to live in a world where someone else makes the world a better place better than they do.

I also crowdsourced the question among my Google+ followers in markets where Free Zone is supposed to be operating. I was told that in South Africa, the Philippines, Nigeria and Thailand that Free Zone is not available.

As far as I can tell, Google Free Zone is dead.

Ultimately, Facebook Free Basics and Google Free Zone are mostly expedient placeholders for the heavy stuff -- namely bringing cheaper or faster internet to unconnected or poorly connected communities around the world.

Google this week hired Tom Moore, who is the co-founder of satellite-based broadband service provider WildBlue Communications Inc., to head up the company's ambitious Loon program. Loon is an initiative in Google parent Alphabet's X research labs for using balloons to relay internet connectivity to remote populations.

We also learned this week that Facebook has commissioned Elon Musk's SpaceX rocket company to launch Facebook's first satellite into orbit, scheduled for Sept. 3. The satellite is intended to enable Facebook to beam internet connectivity to "large parts of West, East and Southern Africa," according to Zuckerberg.

Google and Facebook are also working on drones, lasers and other technologies to bring connectivity to the disconnected worldwide.

Making the world a better place for Amazon, Facebook and Google

As Microsoft learned a few years ago when it tried to compete with Google Search using Bing -- and as every new social network learns when it comes out with an alternative to Facebook -- when it comes to big internet brands, people pick something and stick with it forever. (McDonald's learned the same lesson, which is why that burger chain's customer acquisition strategy involves "Happy Meals," clowns and "Playplaces.")

So when the majority of the people on the planet do start reading eBooks and get online, and do pick their favorite brands, Amazon, Facebook and Google want to be there to scoop up those future lifelong users. More than a philanthropic service, it’s also a forward-looking business plan.

Sure: These companies and their customer-acquisition strategies may, in fact, make the world a better place.

But let's not give them too much credit. With the billions they stand to profit, they won't need it.


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