Don’t be evil – Google, freedom of speech, corporate responsibility and that video

I’m a huge fan of Google. The company has defined the internet era. Google is the world’s most popular search engine. Youtube is more popular than television in many parts of the world. Google Maps has redefined how we get from A to B. I could go on and on, but you get the point. Google has even entered the common language as the term people use when they refer to searching on the internet: “Go Google it…”

Google has done all of this and more while living by its ‘don’t be evil’ corporate motto. While Google has been criticized before for bending and breaking this mantra (most notably with its operations in China), the last couple of weeks have been remarkable. There’s probably few of you out there who have not heard about the film, named ‘the Innocence of Muslims’. The film, which has caused a global uproar, was uploaded to Youtube at the start of July.

Since then, there have been riots and demonstrations worldwide. Dozens have been killed and injured. And yet, Google has refused to pull it off Youtube. According to an AP story from two weeks back:

“Google is refusing a White House request to take down an anti-Muslim clip on YouTube, but is restricting access to it in certain countries.

The White House said Friday that it had asked YouTube to review whether the video violated its terms of use. Google owns YouTube, the online video sharing site.

YouTube said in a statement Friday that the video is widely available on the Web and is “clearly within our guidelines and so will stay on YouTube.” (the full piece can be viewed here)

Google argues that only materials which are in clear violation of laws or that promote hate speech will be removed from Youtube.
Google says The Innocence of Muslims does not however breach YouTube guidelines. However, Google has blocked users from seeing the video in India, Indonesia, Libya and Egypt due to local laws and “the sensitive situation”. Youtube’s full statement from Friday 14 September is below.

“We work hard to create a community everyone can enjoy and which also enables people to express different opinions. This can be a challenge because what’s OK in one country can be offensive elsewhere. This video — which is widely available on the Web — is clearly within our guidelines and so will stay on YouTube. However, we’ve restricted access to it in countries where it is illegal such as India and Indonesia as well as in Libya and Egypt, given the very sensitive situations in these two countries. This approach is entirely consistent with principles we first laid out in 2007.”

For me, the video is the clearest indication yet that Google has given up on its ‘Don’t be evil’ mantra. Google had to pull down a video from Brazil after its resident of its Brazilian operations was arrested for breaking local laws.

Google constantly argues that Youtube is a channel and that it has no say in what should be on that platform for the sake of free speech. However, how many newspapers would accept advertising from Neo-Nazi groups? How many television channels would run an advert for euthanasia? Just like these media channels, Google has a responsibility to its audience. This cannot simply be about pure profit and driving up viewer numbers. Google sells products globally, it has to be responsible globally as well.

The fact that these videos are still on Youtube shames Google. I for one hope that the company I have admired for so long finally wakes up and does the right thing on this issue and others in the future by better defining and vetting what should go up on platforms such as Youtube and reacting to communities sooner rather than not at all.

Please Google, don’t be evil…

Google, please don’t be evil. Come back from the dark side.

Reflections on why we all should adapt to the cultures around us

How much do you understand about and live in harmony with the culture around you?

I was reading a short but poignant piece by Annabel Kantaria, the Daily Telegraph’s journalist in Dubai. The column was about Dubai’s Brits and how today’s British expats in the Emirate are a breed apart from their predecessors (have a look at the article here).

My take on culture and our settings may be different to most, partly cause of my background and partly due to my circumstances. As a child of two cultures, I’ve always been acutely aware of the importance of the need to adapt and become part of the community within which I am living. For years my family lived in Saudi Arabia, a country that has a very distinct set of cultures. I’ve married into another culture as has my sister.

For those that aren’t from a melting pot of genes, traditions and customs I can imagine that it isn’t easy to let go of what you know so well. Is there an urge to make others adapt, to conform? You could certainly say that the walls of a compound are a way to keep out external influences.

However, isn’t there more to living in a foreign location than just a job or a salary? How much more can we enrich ourselves through adapting to the local culture and becoming part of the local community?

It pains me when I meet with people who can’t utter a word of the local language despite having lived in the country for years, and whose only contact with their environment is the food (usually hummus). Admittedly exchanges do need to be two-way; a dialogue needs two or more people to talk and listen to each other. However, someone needs to make the first move and look beyond their boundaries to understand, learn and appreciate what is different.

Despite its reputation for being a harsh place to live, I loved my time in Saudi Arabia. Why? Because I became part of the community. I spoke the language, I developed friendships and spent time with locals talking about what is important to them.

I miss that cultural understanding, that bridging of the divide between me and them. The world will be a better place with more understanding. Adapt to your surroundings, thrive in your local environment rather than simply live there, and you’ll end up calling your foreign adventure your home rather than a ‘couple of years abroad.’

Why we all need some reflection in our lives – my journey back to Durham University

Many years ago I had the opportunity to spend three years at Durham, a small town in the North East of England. Those three years were spent studying my undergraduate degree. In some ways, I was a typical student. In others, I was not. Maybe due to my background as an Arab-European I was imbued with a hope that I could make a difference.

When I was at Durham, I had the chance to engage with others, to support good causes and promote a very special charity, the Durham Palestine Educational Trust (I will blog more about this very special cause soon).

Time has passed, and priorities seem to have changed. I’ve spent a decade in the Gulf, looking after family, getting married, and embarking on a career.

I took it upon myself to do a second Masters degree, in marketing, and I chose to study online with Durham University. This week I returned to Durham University, to study two residential modules. The six days I spent back in Durham were for me a chance to catch up with those student days, to meet with lecturers and old friends, and to remember. The experience has meant so much to me.

The visit to my Alma Mater has reminded me of memories, of hopes, and dreams. This may be optimistic of me, but I hope that it has awakened in me a belief that no matter who we are, what we may be doing or where we may be we can still carry those positives with us and be the difference that we want to see around us.

Think back, remember the time when you were young(er) and remember what was important. Think about how you’ve changed. And then think about how you can make that difference which you hoped to all those years back.

Thank you again Durham and all those people whom I knew and loved from my time there. You had such a profound effect on me and who I am today. I hope that this week will help me to reflect on what I need to do better.