Mike Isaac

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Tech Giants Help in Wake of Typhoon Destruction in the Philippines

ARC_Logo_Bttn_Vert_CMYKIf you’ve got the world’s attention, you might as well do something nice with it every once in a while.

That’s what Facebook, Twitter and a number of other tech companies are doing in the wake of the recent natural disaster in the Philippines.

The two major social networks have placed ad-like banners at the top of their main timelines — or “streams” — directing those who click on the banner to donate money to outside relief organizations.

Funneled through the American Red Cross and NetHope, the donations will go to aid those bringing food, water and relief supplies to Tacloban, the city in the Philippines decimated last week by super typhoon Haiyan. As of Monday, officials said, the death toll stands at nearly 4,000, with an additional 1,600 people missing or unaccounted for.

The banner campaign is a way for both Facebook and Twitter — home to nearly 1.5 billion monthly active users combined — to help spread word of relief efforts in a relatively lightweight manner. Facebook’s News Feed and Twitter’s home timeline are by far the two most visible and active areas, and thus a prominent way to help promote a cause. I’ve been told that the two companies were not working together or coordinating on the project.

twitter typhoon timelineFacebook was the first network to solicit its users for donations, and has made similar efforts during past major disasters. Twitter joined shortly thereafter with its own timeline ad, while other sites like the Yahoo-owned Tumblr and Apple’s iTunes solicited for donations to other organizations through their respective platforms.

Google created its own “missing persons” tool specifically for survivors of the typhoon, matching those seeking Tacloban residents with others who may have information about them.

Twitter, too, has introduced creative, tech-oriented solutions to natural disasters. Two months ago the company rolled out an emergency alerts system in the United States, allowing official organizations to distribute urgent relief information to Twitter users via mobile notifications.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik