Internet technology companies are changing the world in more ways than one. Their fabulously rich leaders are shaping the future through their philanthropy, political endorsements, and corporate giving.
In recent news, for instance, Microsoft founder Bill Gates
encouraged fellow billionaires to donate half their fortunes while they're still alive to causes they deem fit. Along with Warren Buffett, Gates has asked for signatures to a Giving Pledge to showcase and encourage billionaire philanthropy. So far, the list of signees includes Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, and Intel co-founder Gordon Moore.
Technology firms and their executives also are casting their influence in other ways. AT&T, for instance,
is among the top 20 PAC (political action committee) contributors to Republican candidates, according to OpenSecrets.org, part of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political spending in the US.
Interestingly, many big computer/Internet companies have traditionally contributed more to Democrats (55 percent) than to Replications (45 percent), according to OpenSecrets.org.
Companies in the technology sector also donate to charity. Apple has been praised for the program CEO Tim Cook has instituted that matches employee donations dollar for dollar. OK, so it's not that big a deal, but Steve Jobs wasn't doing it.
Individuals at Internet firms are also active in giving back. Google co-founder Sergey Brin has created a realty firm that sells facilities on the cheap to businesses in his Silicon Valley town that he thinks would benefit the community most.
All of this sounds great. But some observers have questions about the real value behind this giving. And others say big bucks don't necessarily give companies and their executives the right to donate wherever they'd like.
For example, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff questions the value of pledges like the one Gates has sponsored. "It is terrific as long as we see an increase in philanthropic projects," he told the Wall Street Journal. "It has been two years; what are the 10 or 20 major projects that come out of it?" (The paper notes that Benioff has donated generously to his own causes, despite rejecting Gates's.)
And Peter Krämer, a wealthy German shipping executive, told the WSJ that citizens should be able to vote on the uses of big-time donations. "A few rich men shouldn't decide on the allocation of many many billions of dollars for the public's benefit, whether it is social, cultural or anything else."
Internet companies are rich, and they're giving back in various ways. It's worth keeping an eye on how these donations, especially the large ones, could affect industry policy, as well as the broader political and social spheres.
— Mary Jander , Executive Editor, Internet Evolution