December 27, 2012 11:29 pm

Google supplies products to meet demand

From Dr Alberto Mingardi.

Sir, Evgeny Morozov maintains that, if government knew as much about us as Google does, we would be very worried (“Google should not be choosing right and wrong”, Comment, December 24). And rightly so: Mr Morozov overlooks a not so trivial detail – that governments are special agencies, armed with coercive powers. Corporations, no matter how big and efficient, are not.

Government demands information from us “for our own good”, regardless of our opinion. We supply information to Google “for our own good” in a rather different sense: all that information is given voluntarily, by individuals who judge this to be in their best interest.

Mr Morozov is preoccupied with the “algorithmic nudging” path towards solving social problems, and wonders whether that is really more effective than collective action. Collective action is not Google’s problem. What the US company does is supply products to a demand. Apparently, there is a demand from individuals who want to give their personal contribution to “fighting obesity or climate change” – before resorting to politics.

All too often individuals speak in favour of change without committing themselves to it. Bold choices have costs – from cutting your consumption of French fries to exercising for one hour a day – that their own advocates tend to forget. If self-improvement software helps people to have a taste of the better world they dream of, it might sensibly improve their understanding of the choices they are facing, both as customers and as a citizens.

Alberto Mingardi, Director General, Istituto Bruno Leoni, Turin, Italy

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