Separation of 'church' and tech

Should tech companies assume role of social lobbyists? What happens when their users take a different stance?
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

Google recently kicked off its "Legalize Love" campaign, targeting Singapore and Poland as the first two countries for launch, to decriminalize homosexuality and champion the rights of same-sex couples.

According to a report from Dot429.com, a Google rep said the initiative seeks to promote "safer conditions" for gay and lesbian individuals "inside and outside the office". The report further quoted Google's head of diversity, Mark Palmer-Edgecumbe: "Singapore wants to be a global financial centre and world leader, and we can push them on the fact that being a global centre and a world leader means you have to treat all people the same, irrespective of their sexual orientation."

I'm pro-choice and firmly believe everyone has the right to choose the life they want to lead and subscribe to any belief system they best relate to. So I fully support what Legalize Love fights for, but I wonder about the repercussions when tech giants like Google take a stance on social issues.

In a report we ran on Wednesday, Dennis Driscoll from the National University of Ireland's Schoold of Law, said prominent IT organizations such as Apple, Google and Facebook have the potential to "enlighten" society.

According to Driscoll, consumers in industrialized countries were increasingly concerned companies from which they purchase goods and services demonstrated good corporate social responsibility (CSR). He added in the near future, all organizations would have to account for their "social value" and not just financial performance.

The problem, though, is the definition of "social value" and "good CSR" varies between individuals, societies and countries. What may be considered acceptable social value in one, very well may not be in another. Unlike the IT world, where a piece of technology will work the same regardless of where it's used, the world isn't homogeneous and probably will never be.

If Driscoll is right, and consumers want companies from which they purchase goods and services to have good CSR, the effects can go either way. Consumers who do not agree with Google's stance on homosexuality may no longer want to use or buy its technology.

He noted, too, that companies have "their own passions" but what happens when these entities change CEOs--a regular occurrence in the tech business landscape--and the new heads may or may not support the organization's existing social stance?

Some religious groups also would not view Google's Legalize Love campaign in a favorable light. And they might see it as more cause for worry considering the potential influence the tech giant has via its large, and very strong, footprint across the globe.

It's the same reason I monitor the belief system my country's key political leaders subscribe to as it may influence the kind of social policies my government implements. And it's the reason why the separation of church and state has been adopted in several countries.

As I see it, though, it's a business risk companies assume when they choose to take a public stance on social issues which have strong opposing camps. Consumers who don't agree with a tech company's social stance can simply choose to boycott its services, unlike governments and societies where it may take a much longer and more tedious process to effect change.

Like it or not, more and more companies--tech or otherwise--will assume positions in support or protest against policies and social issues, be it because these may have direct impact on their business like the SOPA bill or simply because the companies subscribe to a certain "social value".

It's their prerogative, their choice to make and a business risk they will have to assume.

Agree or not, as consumers, we can at least choose to vote with our wallet.

Editorial standards