Tech companies: A positive force in an age of COVID-19

The world is adjusting to the new reality of COVID-19 and its impact on businesses. Alongside immediate concerns for health, the pandemic is creating a host of economic stresses, particularly for the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society. Before the crisis, many businesses were working towards achieving #techforgood; harnessing technology for social good. The arrival of COVID-19, however, has prompted many tech companies to elevate their action and find meaningful ways to give back.

Social distancing and quarantine requirements have forced millions into their homes. Internet access, therefore, is a top priority for all. In Europe, YouTube, Netflix, and Amazon have all agreed to cut streaming quality on their platforms to help reduce the pressure on networks. Disney similarly agreed to cut quality and delay the release of its Disney+ streaming platform in France until 7 April, following a request from the French government.

Some companies have gone even further to preserve internet connectivity. In the US, most major internet and network providers signed a 60-day pledge to relax billing and keep small businesses and American consumers connected. They have also been asked by the US government to prioritise connectivity to healthcare providers and hospitals.

Other areas of tech are opening up access to their services. Lifesize, a global provider of enterprise-grade video conferencing, is offering an unlimited number of free licenses to businesses impacted by COVID-19. In another case, Meero (a file transfer service) is offering free large file transfers, with all files supported until June 2020 for an additional three months. Every day the list of companies willing to prioritise social good over profit grows, as they look to improve brand reputation and make a real impact in this unprecedented time.

Many larger tech organisations have pledged significant capital to support the crisis, both in the form of internal packages for their own workers and broader charitable donations. Amazon created a $25 million fund to support its workers affected by the coronavirus, and says it will offer unlimited paid sick leave to those who test positive for COVID-19. On the charity front, Google and Facebook launched a COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund with the World Health Organisation. For every $1 donated, Google will match with $2 up to $5 million.

The largest push for tech companies – which is also a pull from the UK government in the form of a ‘Digital Dunkirk’ –  is to utilise their capabilities to support and advance healthcare measures. Facebook is collaborating with various research bodies to help them understand the spread of the virus, sharing anonymised data on people’s movements around the world. Google’s DeepMind AI produced a detailed modelling of COVID-19’s proteins and published it for free online to aid vaccine research. Various AI models, including those from Infervision and Alibaba, have also been produced to improve speed, and accuracy, of diagnoses at scale.

These collaborations look set to continue, with next-gen technology like cloud, big data, and AI streamlining and improving COVID-19 medical care – fulfilling short-term healthcare needs and helping pave the way to future vaccines.

It isn't just the tech creators at the helm of #techfodgood, but the users themselves. On Slack, 3400 scientists and technologists from around the world have created a group called ‘Helpful Engineering’, an open-source project to coordinate on engineering solutions. The project has one main aim: to deliver high-quality ventilators, as quickly as possible, to the patients that need them.

Ultimately, we are living through unprecedented times when any positive impact a business can make matters more than ever. Many technology companies are seeing COVID-19 as a chance for them to demonstrate powerful leadership, improve connectivity and make a real difference to those isolated and suffering during the pandemic.

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