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Google.org product manager addresses technology’s impact on poverty

Google is about more than just answering search inquiries and providing PLNU’s email service, according to Paul Lee, a senior product manager at Google.org.

Lee spoke Nov. 4 to a packed Fermanian Conference Center about technology’s impact on poverty. His research on internet access and affordability in Africa on behalf of Google.org (the philanthropic arm of Google) fits in with PLNU’s Center for International Developments mission statement “Business to Serve the Least of These” according to the center’s director, Robert Gailey.

“The center is trying to engage students who say, ‘Are there other ways of doing poverty alleviation besides just governments and charities,’” Gailey said. “I support those and I think those are great but there are business and corporations like Google that are attempting to do things on a more massive scale and so I want our students to be exposed to that.”

Lee and his research team found that mobile data users in Ghana experienced a lack of price and data usage transparency needed to make informed decisions about Internet use, something that proved to cause problems for economic efficiency in the country. In Ghana, research showed that most mobile data users assumed they were billed for their time spent on the Internet, not the size or type of web page they were viewing, which led to confusion and extra spending.

“It was so interesting to find out that their Internet usage is totally different than ours,” Annika Nousiainen, a junior business administration major. “Our access is pretty much unlimited and we take the Internet for granted while they’re spending huge amounts of their income that could go to food and shelter toward Internet.”

Lee said he was glad to present his research to students in particular, because his case study is just one example of ways technology can help to alleviate poverty and address other social issues.

“I think the students today are going to bring the most important innovations tomorrow,” Lee said. “I think the reason why all our technology is getting better is because of people who are in undergrad and graduate school right now become captivated by this problem space and get motivated to work really hard and solve it.”

He said he hopes the PLNU students who attended would be inspired by the possibility of innovation as he was as a student.

“If you look at the biggest technical innovations, the biggest start-ups, the biggest companies that have launched like Facebook and Google, they started with people who are in college or grad school and so forth,” Lee said. “Every major civic movement has had kind of like a student tie-in. I think that’s true with any major technological movement as well. I think especially this type of audience will help be the vanguard of that.”

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