Image from Exkalibur.com.
By Megan G.
Last week, Alphabet executive chairman Eric Schmidt had a private meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican. The sit-down, chat, kick-back, whatever-you-call-it lasted for only about 15 minutes and no one yet knows what the two talked about.
However, TV agency Rome Reports had video of the Pope shaking hands with both Schmidt and Google Ideas director Jared Cohen before the meeting. It seems that only Schmidt and Pope Francis convened.
While we still don’t know what the tech leader and religious leader discussed last Friday, this news story left the Tek Team with another pressing question.
What is Google Ideas?
This division of the tech giant champions a couple of things that should be no surprise coming from Google. Google Ideas’ vision is to build “products to support free expression and access to information for people who need it most—those facing violence and harassment.”
What is surprising, however, is Google Ideas’ lack of publicity. I could not find an exact date of establishment, though a copyright date on one of their product pages—the Digital Attack Map—makes it that clear Google Ideas has been active since before 2013, at least. With each product either promoting free speech or protecting it, why wouldn’t Google showcase this side of their business?
The answer could be as simple as the fact that project clearly hasn’t reached American shores nor has that many users.
Here is a snippet of the current Google Ideas users, as displayed on their website.
Image from Google Ideas’ Users.
Though this isn’t a widespread user base, this image shows a team of impressive individuals making waves in their respective areas.
Check out the list below for further details on the current Google Ideas users and click on their names to see their full stories.
- Kholoud Htwewash, a PR expert who defends non-governmental organizations in Libya.
- Sergii Smitiienko, a systems architect who protects free press in the Ukraine.
- Mariam Memarsadeghi, a social entrepreneur who teaches women’s rights in Tehran.
- Medhi Yahyanejad, a developer who empowers Iranian citizens with free speech.
- Hisham Allam, an investigative reporter who uncovers corruption in Cairo.
These social activists use Google’s tech to accomplish their deeds, specifically the products created by the Google Ideas’ team—whoever that mysterious group is. It will be exciting to see whether or not their efforts expand across their current continents and eventually the entire globe.
Cyber Swords and Shields
For now, Google Ideas has four solid projects working to protect freedom of expression:
- Project Shield, a program that uses “Google’s technology to protect websites at risk and keep them online.” Shield protects primarily independent news sites, human rights sites, and election monitoring sites from being taken offline. The tech used to do so is called a “reverse proxy,” which allows webmasters—the managers of websites—to serve their site through the Google infrastructure, for free!
- Investigative Dashboard gives journalists the tools to keep track of international money laundering. It does this by “scraping” national business records, compiling a directory of this information, and having “experts” available to help journalists and watchdog groups make sense of it all and report on these happenings.
- Password Alert is, as it sounds, a way to let people know if they have been targeted by hackers who want to steal their passwords. According to the product description, “the tool works like a spellchecker,” except that instead of alerting and highlighting incorrect words, this tool alerts users when they have inputted their password in the wrong place—i.e., a fabricated login screen made specifically to steal your information.
- Digital Attack Map displays DDoS attacks, or distributed denial of service attacks, on various sites, every day. These are the same kinds of attacks that Project Shield actively battles against, while Digital Attack Map serves as a way to visualize these attacks—making the threat both real and manageable by the good guys.
All of these projects call to mind a man whose life and deeds we happen to remember today, January 18th. Let’s conclude with some words from Martin Luther King, Jr. who solidifies the message and mission of Google Ideas.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Perhaps in the coming years, with Google CEO Sundar Pichai’s dream to bring the Internet to “the next billion users” across the globe, we will watch Google Ideas combat imposed silence through their products and give oppressed areas new beginnings through the power of the Internet.
What forms of Internet injustice have you witnessed in your own life? Do you hope to see Google Ideas expand? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.