Tech’s Help With Disaster Relief in Paris Attack

Coordinated attacks by ISIS were carried out around Paris on Friday of last week. Mass shootings and suicide bombings resulted in at least 132 dead and 349 injured.

In response to such misfortunes, businesses -- particularly tech giants -- have shown abundant support. Chief Executives around the world have offered words of comfort and infused their sites and social media profiles with the colors of the French flag.

The capacity tech has to elevate relief in case of a disaster truly revealed itself when the following tech firms stepped forward and set their vast international social networks to work.

Airbnb & Twitter

Airbnb, the home-renting service urged its hosts to house victims and refugees for free and created a site where people can request these services. Airbnb also enabled a feature that allows hosts to extend existing visits free of charge.

Airbnb has its largest market in France, but that does not take away from the fact that the tech giant is providing for the livelihood of those in need. Twitter did its part by helping people find a place to stay with the hashtag #PorteOuverte as well as kept the rest of the world informed during the crisis.

Facebook

As for Facebook, aside from unveiling a new profile filter that used the French flag, the social network activated its “Safety Check” tool to allow people in Paris to notify friends and family of their safety in the aftermath of the attacks.

A technology that Facebook began developing after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan as a means for people to check in on loved ones and get updates, the latest version of Safety Check launched in October 2014 as a notification system after natural disasters.

Unfortunately, Facebook took heat from critics who argued that Safety Check was not activated after the twin suicide blasts that killed almost 50 in Beirut on Thursday, and that this action proved that Facebook placed a higher value on the lives of Westerners.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg quickly addressed these accusations of selectivity by pointing out that until the day before the attacks, Facebook’s policy was only to activate Safety Check for natural disasters, and added the following as a resource for further information:

https://www.facebook.com/fbsafety/posts/930229667014872

Google

The tech giant offered free international calls to France via its Hangouts app after the attacks.

Skype ,T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint

These companies also joined the ranks to help the Paris victims. T-Mobile offered free calls and texts to and from France for its customers until Sunday and Skype, Verizon and Sprint offered free calls to phone numbers for a few days as well.

Symbolic Support

Uber changed the colors of the car icons from black to blue, white and red. YouTube and Reddit changed their logo to have the colors of the French flag as well. Snapchat, the picture and text messaging company, featured several videos of vigils in New York City in the “Stories” feature, as well as images of the Freedom Tower from the night of this past Friday.

The tech companies did what many businesses would have done and lent a helping hand. It was pleasantly revealed how the tech industry has a unique position to provide quick and effective relief thanks to the nature of their services. Quickly being able to scout for shelter, verify the safety of loved ones, and communicate for help are factors that make a big difference in times of catastrophe.

It’s unfortunate that these tech tools are what ISIS reportedly uses to recruit and plot its attacks. In response to this, a hacking group that calls itself Anonymous, declared total war against ISIS on Sunday.  According to Foreign Policy Magazine, the conflict between hackers that identify with Anonymous and ISIS has waged for more than a year. Anonymous are taking down Islamic State  affiliated websites. The only problem that remains is determining whether Anonymous is achieving the social good by doing this, for it may very well be diminishing the authorities’ opportunity to effectively track ISIS.

New questions will most certainly emerge as to how to maintain a balance between national security, privacy, and the role of tech. Lolay’s thoughts are with everyone in Paris and our team is deeply saddened by the news. Paris we stand with you.