From its inception, Google has promoted itself as a company that dares to be different in its pursuit of innovation and information. The company’s new philanthropic arm, Google.org, promises to be just as pioneering in its search for social returns through the mechanism of profit. This Essay takes a closer look at the Google.org experiment in philanthropy. It argues that Google.org’s uniqueness lies not in its “hybrid” model that merges for-profit and charitable aims, but in the ways it seeks to use market mechanisms to harness the social benefits of information technology for the public good. Google.org also has enormous transformative potential, as it is freed from the legal restrictions on commercial activity that apply to non-profit entities, and the market pressures that generally confine for-profit businesses. However, as this experiment in philanthropy plays out, this Article cautions that Google.org must also develop innovative accountability structures to match its ambitious goals.
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