Corporate Social Responsibility in the Digital Era and Cases of Tech firms following CSR

The Evolution of CSR from the Industrial Revolution to the Digital Revolution

CSR or Corporate Social Responsibility is the term that describes how corporates not only pursue profit and profit making as imperatives but also ensure that they give back to the communities and the societies in which they operate.

For instance, in the manufacturing era and during the times of the Industrial Revolution and its aftermath, corporates engaged in manufacturing were expected to contribute to the communities surrounding their plants and factories and ensure that any pollution and other damages to the environment and the ecologies of the societies were offset through their contributions to cleaning up and restoring such surroundings.

Gradually, CSR evolved into a concept where corporates were increasingly asked to play a more prominent role through their outreach to the underprivileged and disadvantaged sections of society.

Indeed, CSR as it is now known encompasses a broad swath of activities ranging from charitable activities to active intervention into the nations and societies in which corporates operate with a view to furthering the less privileged individuals.

Having said that, CSR like the broader economy in which corporates operate has to change with the times and now that we are in the throes of a Fourth Industrial Revolution wherein the norm is the Digital Economy, corporates and Big Tech firms have a responsibility and indeed, a duty to actualize CSR in the virtual and online worlds as well.

While we think of CSR as being interventions in the physical world, recent research suggests that it can very well be taken to mean that the virtual and the online worlds too need CSR practices.

How Google is Helping India Bridge the Digital Divide

For instance, the Digital Divide is a term that one often hears about. To define the same, it is pertinent to note how the spread of the internet and the mobile revolution have transformed the lives of ordinary citizens by empowering them with information and knowledge at their fingertips.

However, it is also the case that the spread of the internet has been uneven as far as access to such online knowledge is concerned and this can be seen in the way in which countries like India have high internet penetration rates in the urban the metropolises whereas the semi urban and the rural areas continue to have either internet that is slow and often patchy or no internet at all.

This is where Tech firms ought to pitch in by ensuring the uniform and the even spread of the medium into the nooks and corners of countries such as India.

Already firms such as Alphabet or the parent company of the leading internet search engine, Google, has tied up with the Indian Government to offer free Wi-Fi as well as wired internet in the remote regions and to ensure that such facilities are available in the public places in towns and metros as well.

The Indian Origin CEO (Chief Executive Officer) of Google, Sundar Pitchai has taken a personal interest in this initiative and this is the clear example of how Big Tech firms can actually put in place strategies that help the underprivileged in the Digital Era.

Collecting and Using Data Responsibly and How Facebook Needs to be More Transparent

Talking about the Digital Economy, a key term or phrase that is often bandied about in the media is How Data is the New Oil. What this means is that whichever or whoever has access to personal, user, and official data can monetize it to reap rewards since once you have data, you can sell it to marketers, mine it for patterns using Big Data and AI (Artificial Intelligence) powered Algorithms, and otherwise have a rich source of potential profits.

Thus, whoever collects and controls data holds the key to success in the Digital Era. Indeed, the Chairperson of the Indian behemoth, Mukesh Ambani, is often known to repeat this phrase in public gatherings to emphasize its importance.

Having said that, it is also the case that such data must be collected ethically and not stealthily without consent from the users.

Moreover, once collected, such data should not be misused or used for nefarious purposes. In the recent months, the news has been all about how Facebook has allowed unscrupulous third party app firms to collect data of its users and then use it to influence everything from interfering in elections and to skew the power away from consumers and towards Big Tech firms.

Thus, Tech firms and especially the Big Ones have a social and moral responsibility to rein in such practices and while not sacrificing profit, also ensure that they have an ethical and moral compass to guide their business decisions.

Internet is the New Commons

A third aspect of CSR in the Digital Era pertains to how the concept of Net Neutrality is followed. This is a term that describes how certain websites can be made to load faster and others given lesser preference in speeds depending on how much money they have spent to make such practices possible.

Before we can allow Net Neutrality to vanish, it is important to remember that the Internet is the New Commons wherein in the same manner in which the Physical Environment and its components such as Air, Water, and Land were expected to be used responsibly, the internet should also be kept free from falling to naked commercial and rank profiteering practices.

Thus, to conclude, CSR for the Digital Economy and the Digital Era is as important as CSR in the Industrial Economy and hence, Big Tech firms indeed have a responsibility in this regard.

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Corporate Social Responsibility