How to Make Smart Donations

By | April 11, 2018

firefoxHello, I am going to talk about how to donate to organizations and know it will count towards something important. There are many opportunities in daily life to give to charity – a change bucket at the register, girl scout cookies, the prompt to donate before you authorize a payment. But rarely you get the full details about where that money is going and why, you just kind of part with your change and that’s it. Some charities are thinly veiled scams (it happens so often there’s an FTC page for it). I think to have the largest impact one should give less frequently and more precisely. In larger amounts rather than smaller. When this topic comes up most people insist that you should only give as much as you’re able, and that you should not feel pressured into donating. I agree, but think about this: Google tells me that the largest group of people who read this blog are males age 20-30 from the United States with an interest in electronics/photography. I believe this is fairly accurate. That makes you (probabilistically speaking) the 2nd-4th best positioned demographic to donate in the world. And even if you’re still a broke college student/recent grad, you should know how to give back in the event you make it big. Take a page from this man’s book.

Impactful Charitable Causes

The Mozilla organization is a growing force in the free and open source space. This growth goes beyond the anticipated release of the latest version of their browser, Firefox Quantum (appearance by Reggie Watts)

I’m talking about Mozilla’s voice around the world.

Companies like Google, Amazon, and Apple are positioned to be the forerunners in integrating our daily lives with technology. Personal assistants make life easier and so more and more people are using them. This is made possible by machine learning and mounds of data. However, these companies are not obligated to share their R&D with the world. And so I don’t believe they will share their datasets and methods, even though it was partly made possible by a general public: a world full of test subjects to train their models on.

So Mozilla has taken it upon themselves to try and open up this area to the rest of the world with Common Voice by collecting and validating data from speakers all over the world. This data is freely available to anyone and is currently around 12 Gb. An important question that we must ask ourselves is: what if machine learning models are trained using data from a single demographic? Will it work as well for people who have different dialects/accents? When we engineer any mechanical device it usually works as well for one person as it does the next, so we should strive to keep that standard when engineering software. Common Voice aims to establish a representative sample – anyone can donate their voice to the data.

Mozilla also has some interesting outlets to check out: a page titled “Internet Citizen” which analyzes and discusses topics about our online life. I also came across a “Data detox” post that explains how your browser, your apps, and so on can communicate information about you that not only results in your data being sold (as we all now know) but also impacts your credit score and insurance rates.

In short, Mozilla still is the champion of a free and open internet and has come a long way in organizing itself and selecting projects and topics that are the most relevant to our rapidly evolving technology-society.

How to Support Change

Consider donating to one or more of these causes.

Mozilla  – Give once and give big. Put down $25-$100 or whatever fits your budget and say no to giving an automatic $5 each month. Then write them an email or post on their blog saying why you chose to donate and what topics are important to you. That feedback is worth far more than $5/month and will lend some weight to your message.

Free Software Foundation – an organization that helps make sure software licenses are not abused:

“The FSF holds copyright on a large proportion of the GNU operating system, and other free software. We hold these assets to defend free software from efforts to turn free software proprietary. Every year we collect thousands of copyright assignments from individual software developers and corporations working on free software. We register these copyrights with the US copyright office and enforce the license under which we distribute free software — typically the GNU General Public License. We do this to ensure that free software distributors respect their obligations to pass on the freedom to all users, to share, study and modify the code. We do this work through our Free Software Licensing and Compliance Lab.”

Occasionally a company will use open source code with the GNU General Public License and infringe on the copyright. That is when FSF steps in and enforces the GPL. At first Richard Stallman, founding president of FSF, would do this himself.

Open Street Maps – Basically open source Google Maps

Tired of paying for Microsoft Office licenses? Try LibreOffice for free, they also accept donations.

Do you use free software that has an option to donate? Well if you like it and are still using it, go back and donate!! I did this with Sublime text editor. I didn’t have to, but I could, and so I did.

Wikipedia if and only if you are O.K. with the long list of Wikipedia controversies or how its main use for politicians and companies is as a medium for rewriting history and distorting facts. My recent favorite Wikiscanner is this Twitter bot.

Support RISC V – sure you’ve heard the open source software rhetoric, but what about open hardware?

Or donate to a Linux distribution of your choice, my favorites are

Here’s another way to think about donating – do you pride yourself on making smart buys or investments? If that’s true, shouldn’t you be making smart donations as well…?

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