As the Google Ideas Summit Against Violent Extremism winds down, one of the remaining questions has snowballed since the opening of the conference: Why is Google inserting itself into the business of de-radicalization?
And it’s a question Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt does not like facing. Schmidt looked visibly agitated over the course of several questions regarding Google’s intentions during a press conference, saying that Google (and Google Ideas) is “simply a convener.” But that seemed somewhat contradictory to a statement he made during a conference session on Monday when he said that sometimes “Google encourages people to do things their government doesn’t want them to do.”
Schmidt told Think Tanked that Google Ideas was created “to catalyze collective solutions to some of the most complex and seemingly intractable global challenges we face,” adding that problems like de-radicalization "are all about embracing risk in the search for solutions.”
That however, did not seem to be a satisfactory answer to several conference participants who wanted to know why a profit-seeking company such as Google would get engaged in an area that has been left to governments and non-profit organizations. One conference participant, on the condition of anonymity, said that Google “is in the business of money...and if they want something other than money, I’d like an honest explanation.”
Schmidt told Michelle Shephard of the Toronto Star that he was becoming “impatient” with the questions over how Google would benefit financially from the effort of de-radicalization.
An apparently exasperated Schmidt also told Shephard:
“Maybe Google has a little extra time to try to encourage a discussion about important problems . . . The best thing for us as a business to do is absolutely nothing. If we do absolutely nothing, we don’t get criticized,” he said in an interview with the Toronto Star.
However, Google Ideas director, Jared Cohen, thinks the skepticism will eventually benefit Google Ideas.
“I like that there are skeptics out there,” said Cohen in an interview. “It means that skepticism will lead to debate and debate will lead to more thinking...hopefully that will mean more people who will see what we’re trying to do and, eventually, embrace it.”