Google’s Tech Philanthropy: Capitalism and Humanitarianism in the Digital Age

In: Public Anthropologist
Sofie Elbæk Henriksen PhD Fellow, Danish Institute for International Studies, Copenhagen, Denmark
Copenhagen Business School, Frederiksberg, Denmark,

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Lisa Ann Richey Professor of Globalization, Copenhagen Business School, Frederiksberg, Denmark,

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Transnational tech companies have become important actors in global philanthropy. Led by tech giants such as Google, this tech philanthropy consists not just of donating funds to expert organizations and ngo s but also, importantly, in using the companies’ own expertise and products to create social impact. This philanthropy is celebrated as innovative and criticized as exploitative for its novel ways of combining capitalism with global helping. But in what way is tech philanthropy novel and to what extent does it continue the well-worn historical trajectory of humanitarianism and capitalism? In this paper, we analyze the philanthropic practices of Google focusing on the company’s current attempt to link philanthropy to the big business of artificial intelligence (ai). Based on ethnographic data collected at the “Google ai Impact Challenge Summit” in San Francisco and interviews with tech and humanitarian stakeholders, we highlight the entanglements of capitalism and humanitarianism in tech philanthropy.

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