Slate's Rachel Withers argues that "tech companies that profit from Wikipedia's extensive database owe Wikimedia a much greater debt." Amazon's Alexa, for example, uses Wikipedia "without credit, contribution, or compensation." The Google Assistant also sources Wikipedia, but they credit the encyclopedia -- and other sites -- when it uses it as a resource. From the report: Amazon recently donated $1 million to the Wikimedia Endowment, a fund that keeps Wikipedia running, as "part of Amazon's and CEO Jeff Bezos' growing work in philanthropy," according to CNET. It's being framed as a "gift," one that -- as Amazon puts it -- recognizes their shared vision to "make it easier to share knowledge globally." Obviously, and as alluded to by CNET, $1 million is hardly a magnanimous donation from Amazon and Bezos, the former a trillion-dollar company and the latter a man with a net worth of more than $160 billion. But it's not just the fact that this donation is, in the scheme of things, paltry. It's that this "endowment" is dwarfed by what Amazon and its ilk get out of Wikipedia -- figuratively and literally. Wikipedia provides the intelligence behind many of Alexa's most useful skills, its answers to everything from "What is Wikipedia?" to "What is Slate?" (meta).
Amazon's know-it-all Alexa is renowned for its ability to answer questions, but Amazon didn't compile all that data itself; according to the Amazon developer forum, "Alexa gets her information from a variety of trusted sources such as IMDb, Accuweather, Yelp, Answers.com, Wikipedia and many others." Nor did it pay those who did: While Amazon customers pay at least $39.99 for an Echo device (and the pleasure of asking Alexa questions), Alexa freely pulls this information from the internet, leeching off the hard work performed by Wikipedia's devoted volunteers (and unlike high school students, it doesn't even bother to change a few words around). It's hardly noble for Amazon to support Wikipedia, considering how much Alexa uses its services, nor is it particularly selfless to fund the encyclopedia when it relies upon its peer-reviewed accuracy; ultimately, helping Wikipedia helps Amazon, too. [...] We all benefit from Wikipedia, but arguably no one more than the smart speakers, for which the internet's encyclopedia is a valuable and value-adding resource. It's frankly a little exploitative how little they give back. Withers goes on to note that Wikipedia seeks donations from its users -- it's a non-profit that runs entirely on donations from the general public. While one can argue that "Amazon is only packing up information that we ourselves leech for free all the time, [...] Alexa is also diverting people away from visitng Wikipedia pages, where they might noticed a little request for a donation, or from realizing they are using Wikipedia's resources at all," Withers writes. A report from TechCrunch earlier this year pointed out that Amazon is the only one of the big tech players not found on Wikimedia's 2017-2018 corporate donor list -- one that includes Apple, Google, and even Amazon's Seattle-based sibling Microsoft, all of which matched employee donations to the tune of $50,000.
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