Chickens out the one time it performs a useful public service.
Here’s a question: If a major tech company debuted a feature in one of their more popular apps that was designed to target one of the most brutal and widespread epidemics in American society, only to remove it after the fact, would you consider that tech company irresponsible?
In fact, let’s make this concrete: Suppose that tomorrow, just hypothetically, Google added a feature to its Google Maps app that would show people who searched for the nearest liquor store a link to sites designed to help alcoholics alongside the directions to their chosen destination. Then, imagine that when an army of hardened alcoholics and lobbyists for the booze industry complained, Google folded immediately out of fear of offending those people and removed the feature. Would we not say that Google was willing to risk public health in order to avoid offending people without any regard for it?
Well, if so, then boy, did Google screw up this week.
You see, as part of an update to Google Maps this week, Google did a (rare) good thing and introduced a calorie counter to its Maps app, which would show how many calories walking to a particular destination would burn. In order to visualize this more effectively, Google even translated the number into an equivalent number of “mini-cupcakes.”
To a sane person, this would seem to be a noble and helpful thing. According to the American Heart Association, over 80 million people suffer from obesity in the United States. What’s causing it, exactly, is still a matter of some debate, but what is not up for debate is the fact that, as anyone who’s picked up a workout DVD knows, exercise can help with weight loss, sometimes in highly dramatic ways. For Google to add encouraging statistics that could prompt people to consider exercise to their Maps function, therefore, was clearly a useful, entirely voluntary attempt at curbing one of the most deadly epidemics in contemporary America. After all, it wasn’t as if the information deliberately interfered with people choosing to use other means of transportation — it simply offered them positive information that might independently be persuasive. It should have been celebrated.
Instead, Google was targeted and shamed for including the feature by the malign forces of political correctness, and they caved by removing it. Now, no information exists in the Maps app to provide any incentive to exercise. Why was there so much outrage? Why, because the feature might give people an incentive to exercise!
Yes, really. According to the BBC, there was mass outcry over Google’s including the calorie counts because there was concern that the information might be “triggering” to people with eating disorders. Among those making this absurd claim, incredibly, were actual journalists such as Mic’s tech writer Taylor Lorenz, who tweeted, “Do they realize how extremely triggering something like this is for ppl who have had eating disorders? Not to mention just generally shamey.” In other words, how dare you tell people who might benefit from cutting calories how to cut calories? It might make them want to exercise, and making people want to exercise is shaming them, you monster! Granted, Lorenz isn’t one for lucidity at the best of times, as she’s prone to bizarre bouts of complaining that men have the audacity to talk to her, and tweeting out implied stabbing threats.
But she wasn’t alone. The social media backlash was vicious, hence Google’s spineless decision to remove the feature, citing “strong user feedback.” Translation: Google will never program anything that might upset snowflakes. And given the company’s many, many recent incidents of caving to the far Left, no one should be surprised.
But we should be upset. Tech companies deciding to deprive their users of useful, or even life-saving information is an outrage no matter what, even if that life-saving information is “generally shamey.” Other companies with Maps apps, such as Microsoft’s Bing, should view this as fertile ground for competition, and an outcry by those who want a tech space concerned with public health is richly overdue. And for those who are offended by saving people from an epidemic? Suck it up, cupcake.
Don DeBold/Creative Commons