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Sum Of Us can go too far.

October 2, 2013

Annoyed Alex Nuta 10 Comments

I received an email today, as happens on a very frequent basis, from Sum Of Us. I was invited many moons ago to participate in a petition signing, and since then I’ve had issue after issue parade through my inbox. I’m not opposed to the principle. In fact I appreciate the fact that passionate people, with more time on their hands than I do, research issues and bring them to the forefront, motivating people to speak up. It’s the very mission of Sum Of Us,, and several other organizations that I follow.

I don’t respond to all requests for participation. I like to read about the issue, research the ones that interest me to see if they have real merit, and act according to my conviction to either participate, or not, in a petition, demonstration, or other process.

Today’s email though, had my interest from the start: Google has blood on its hands! 

I was shocked. I mean Google is supposed to not be evil, right?

Reading on, I found that Google is set to take the fall for people posting ads for ivory products through its websites. While I agree that the ivory trade is at best reprehensible, and at worst idiotic, and would campaign to see the senseless killing of elephants stopped, I really think Sum Of Us goes too far blaming Google for the ivory trade. You can’t blame the platform for the actions of users any more than you can blame WordPress for enabling shitty websites, or Craigslist because This guy tried to sell his baby on Craigslist.

I’ve listened, I’ve signed when I agreed, but I’m starting to think that the folks setting the agenda, i.e. Sum Of Us, may not be qualified to determine which issues to raise into public awareness, if they can’t even discriminate between those whose responsibility it really is: elephant killers and ivory merchants, those whose responsibility it is to prevent and prosecute crime, and those supplying an apolitical service.

It is up to regional law enforcement to act upon this illegal trade. It is up to African governments to clean up their act, their corruption and put an end to the destruction of their own natural resources. Google’s “hands” are not stained with blood.

Google involvement is, and should be, limited to removing ads which are illegal or against terms of use when they are reported to them, and complying with law enforcement to identify users, as applicable, when served with duly signed court orders.

You don’t blame the car manufacturer because someone ran over a cyclist in a car they manufactured.

Utter nonsense.

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    Jules Oct 29, 2014

    Hi there,
    I agree with you completely! I just receivevd something from a friend to sign a petition and I had never heard of Sum of Us. I ‘googled’ them to find our if they are legit and found your blog.

    Worldwide issues have increasingly become a daily call to action and at this point, in my middle-aged life, I actually have the time to participate…and I do.

    I appreciated reading your blog report because it reminded me, as someone who forwards petition signing emails to those I know, I need to be responsible in making sure its worthwhile of anyone’s time and/or committment.

    Thanks for your opinion. Its a wise one.

    Gabriola, BC

    Valerie Johnston Dec 12, 2014

    I appreciate the practical, unbiased review of this organization. I am much like you in my interests and followings. I receive emails from numerous advocacy organizations and I too research before signing or donating to them. That is how I found your site. I am genuinely concerned about the future of our world and try to do what I can to make a difference. However, it is too easy sometimes to just lay the blame for all the evils of the world on a well known corporate giant. Don’t get me wrong, I have little respect for the “morals” or ethics of the big corporations. I don’t think they have any. I would just like to know that if I am going to be involved in objecting to something a company did, that I’m doing so for the right reasons. So, thank you for the honest review. I appreciate the fact that you did so without being unfairly negative about everything SumOfus stands for.

    Marilyn Dec 23, 2014

    Agreed. I have had a couple of issues with SumOfUs as well.

    I find that Avaaz is much more thoughtful and lower on the drama scale.

    I do appreciate these sites that bring the research to us since we can’t individually research each issue, nor would we likely find out about many of the issues on our own – our traditional news sources don’t seem to be doing too much work to keep us informed of much but local political scandals and Hollywood gossip.

    But as I have told SumOfUs, if I can’t rely on what they’re saying being the reasonable truth and not being twisted like a supermarket tabloid, then they’re of no real use to anyone. If they come to be distrusted, the whole movement loses credibility.

    Pete Mar 08, 2015

    I have to disagree on this one, Google haven’t done the killing but by supporting the trade they are allowing for more sales of the product through advertising. Therefore keeping the trade going. In our capitalist society it just comes down to Supply and demand.

    You have also given a biased answer, being that you are an IT professional(who probably works with Goole) that deals with relational marketing, although you may be focused on customer satisfaction. Lets face it, you know as well as i do, is what really satisfies people is material goods and money. Money that Google is making a lot of through commission from Affiliate Marketing. There needs to come a point where big corporations think about ethics and what they’re are showing to the rest of the world, instead of thinking what will produce higher profit margins.

      Alex Nuta Apr 07, 2015

      I can’t agree with you that Google “support the trade”.
      And yes, my answer is probably biased in that I understand these systems and how it works, and realize that the level of oversight in order to monitor who’s selling what simply isn’t realistic.
      Ebay does the same thing. Yes, they will cancel the auction of someone trying to sell a baby, but someone has to report it first.
      So report it. If they do nothing, then it’s Google fault.
      Until then, I still call bullshit.

    Joseph Garcia Mar 21, 2015

    “Let’s Google it!”
    Google operates the most visited and well known search engine website in the world as well as other profitable ventures. Google has a voice and has the power but much like corporate and political greed, are more concerned with the bottom line and how much money they can make.

    Sum Of Us is over 5 million strong and making a difference in this world, maybe not so much on this issue but many others that can impact our children and grandchildren who have to inhabit this world when we’re gone. They’re doing something right. Maybe they’re wrong to cast blame upon Google on this issue but Google has money and assets at it’s disposal to make a difference that governments and law enforcement otherwise couldn’t do for whatever reason. But they are raising awareness about a problem. And people are quick to turn they’re backs because “it’s not Google’s fault”. My point is, they do they’re research and make the argument, and are trying to make a real difference, a real change. And if they’re wrong, show me who’s responsible and how to inflict change instead of bashing those who are trying. What are you bringing to the table besides your opinion? Sum Of Us is making a difference and also know what they’re doing, despite the skeptics who read online for a few minutes and all of a sudden become an expert in the matter.

    Thank you for your time and your article, it’s what makes this Country great! Good day to you all.

      Alex Nuta Apr 07, 2015

      I’m not particularly defending Google, actually. It’s more of a question of responsibility.
      For example: An Internet Service provider isn’t responsible for the child porn that one of its clients is spreading on the internet. The customer who is uploading the material is responsible.
      If someone reports the user to the ISP, and the ISP does nothing to cut them off, call the police, etc. THEN you can say it’s the ISP’s fault. Not before.

      This is the same thing.
      Google sets up a system. Google’s clients use it. They commit a crime. Google’s responsibility, once notified, is to take action to prevent the person from using their system to commit a crime. I think they would also be required to report incidents to the authorities. But to then say that Google supports the criminal actions, when it’s impossible for them to control and review the terabytes of data passing through their systems, is just ridiculous.

      My problem with Sum Of Us began with a deluge of emails, followed by non-compliance when I requested to be taken off the list, and was crowned with two articles, including the one about Google, which is just ethically wrong. It’s bad enough they spammed me, didn’t comply with anti-spam laws, but then I question their ability to distinguish real issues from those they manufacture themselves.

      Anyway. I remain annoyed.

    Roz Kennedy Jun 01, 2015

    I agree with your statement that yes, we can feel “bombarded” by issues which don’t affect us personally. I don’t feel I have enough time to go through all the non-profit organisation emails I get every day. However your statement that Sum Of Us aren’t qualified to decided what is important and what isn’t, left me feeling absolutely gobsmacked! Everyone has a different mix of issues which they feel strongly about, and what you feel is unimportant, is very important to someone on the other side of the world, or in that state, or whatever. Who IS qualified to decide for everyone else? Above all else, I recognise and am grateful for, my freedom to access information, and my right to choose. Otherwise I would be uneducated, ignorant, and narrow-minded when it came to understanding other cultures, other species, and other people. Knowledge is a gift, not a nuisance.

      Alex Nuta Jun 01, 2015

      I understand what you’re saying, Roz.
      You’re asking essentially what makes me qualified to make that kind of judgement on this particular topic. It’s a valid question.
      Because of my background in technology, my years of experience as Director of Technology for three different companies, and with a fairly deep knowledge in terms of systems, IT architecture and infrastructure, I feel that technologically, I have the necessary knowledge to pass the technical test.
      From a legal standpoint I have read extensively on copyright issues, civil responsibility and, because of the nature of this particular issue, namely responsibility for the use of platforms, having designed platforms, I had by necessity to research extensively to ensure limited liability in case of misuse of those platforms, so I feel that I have the requisite knowledge to pass that test as well.

      If you”ll permit a reductive example to illustrate, you probably would not claim that a reckless driving incident be attributed to the car manufacturer. The issue is simple enough that most people would agree you can’t blame Ford for some guy plowing his truck into a crowd.

      The problem is that the Google issue is precisely the same thing, though there are clearly additional complexities. You can and must blame the guy placing an advert for the sale of elephant tusks. You can and should blame the shoddy, corrupt police work in some of these countries, and you can and should demand that when Google is advised that their platforms are used for such purposes, that they act swiftly to remove offending ads.
      But you cannot, in my opinion, request that Google review every single ad prior to publication on what is a free service open to the public. Nor can you demand that a sophisticated AI analytic tool be designed and deployed, again, for free, which can somehow identify illegal ads and prevents them from being placed in the first place. What you can do is notify Google, notify the authorities, and let them do their jobs, providing that they actually move on this issue.

      I agree that more information is better than less, and I agree that Sum of Us may have, on the whole, done more good than harm. This is why I’m not ready to condemn them at large. But on this particular issue, which falls precisely within my area of expertise, I feel entirely justfied in my comments. Simply put, they are wrong about this, not just legally, but also in my opinion, ethically. They are not blaming the right people, and that is something which they should be very very careful about.
      We could not wish for a better citizen than yourself, who searches out the truth about issues and makes up their own mind.

      Keep questioning, and find your own answers.

    Max Kloosterman Dec 03, 2015

    Hi Alex,

    Understand your point but would like to challenge it a bit.

    If there would be a technology that would reliably prevent cars from running people over would automakers be required by law to install it? I would argue there is a chance that they would. Like seat belts, not optional anymore. The decision to require it by law would probably depend on factors such as cost, expected number of deaths prevented, healthcare cost avoided, cost to society avoided etc. Not saying it will be but it certainly could be.

    On to google: could they find and prevent illegal ads from being displayed? I think: if not Google, then who? Finding stuff is pretty much what they are good at.

    Should they? If not required by law to do so they certainly could decide to do so from a corporate social responsibility point of view.

    Do they have blood on their hands? I agree that is a bold statement that is clearly off putting to some and sounds like a reasonable claim to others. Ultimately a matter of opinion.

    I think it is a good thing Sumofus annoys people at times as this gets you to voice your annoyance and for us to have discussions such as this one. It apparently is a working strategy to get a message heard beyond the choir they are already preaching to. I’m convinced ensuring a liveable planet for our children is a thing more of us need to be annoyed about, in our lifetimes, urgently, no holds barred.

    Kind regards,



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