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Texting charity

Technology | Technology spurs millions in 'impulse giving'

Issue: "Tour d'America road rage," Feb. 11, 2012

In January the Pew Research Center released a survey of mobile phone users who donated $43 million for Haiti earthquake relief by simply sending text messages. The results suggest they were driven partly by "impulse giving."

When a 7.0 magnitude earthquake stuck Haiti in January 2010, relief organizations jerked into action while television news networks flashed images of impoverished devastation. Through TV, Twitter, and Facebook, word spread rapidly that Americans could donate to the relief effort by texting from their phone. (Texting "Haiti" to 90999, for instance, would have sent $10 to the American Red Cross, to be added to the user's phone bill.)

The Pew survey found that 89 percent of those who texted a donation were watching TV-generally while seeing images of destruction-when they learned they could contribute that way. Half of the givers made their donation immediately. Only 14 percent did additional research before giving.

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Most of those surveyed said the Haiti earthquake was the first time they had made a mobile donation. In the time since, over half have made text donations to other relief causes, such as for victims of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in 2011. Three-quarters said they usually made text donations as a spur-of-the-moment decision: It's a giving method convenient for donors, and could be a boon for some charities.

Free speech firewall

Google is carefully expanding its business in China once again, following its protest of the Chinese government's internet censorship two years ago, when Google shut down its main Chinese web search site. Since then, the internet giant's relationship with China has been shaky-last year it accused Chinese sources of hacking into the Gmail accounts of U.S. officials.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the country's 500 million internet users are too lucrative a market for Google to pass up: The company wants to expand its web services that aren't hampered by censorship, such as shopping websites, and give millions of Chinese smartphone users direct access to its Android phone application website.

While straddling the Great Firewall of China, Google is dealing with other troubles in India, along with Facebook, Inc. A judge there is seeking to hold the two companies criminally responsible for not censoring "inflammatory material" that internet users have posted on Facebook and on Google services, such as YouTube. Some of the material was deemed offensive to Hindu and Muslim figures and Indian political leaders.

Run for your money

Discouraged about fulfilling that health goal you set Jan. 1? Two web-based startups want to help, using a couple of time-honored motivators: peer pressure and money.

HealthRally.com allows friends to motivate you to keep a goal, like losing weight or quitting smoking. Your friends give whatever amount they wish toward a predetermined reward, like cash, an iPad, or new shoes, but you'll only receive it if you meet your goal.

GymPact (gym-pact.com) requires you to pledge the number of days each week you hope to visit the gym. You have to check in at the gym for 30 minutes with a GPS-enabled smartphone, and for each day missed, you agree to pay at least $5. But if you meet your goal you'll get a small cash prize.

Daniel James Devine
Daniel James Devine

Daniel is a reporter for WORLD who covers science, technology, and other topics in the Midwest from his home base in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.

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