Business

Bill Gates: Google balloons won’t help when you’re dying of malaria

Above: Bill Gates at the World Economic Forum in 2002

Image Credit: World Economic Forum

Bill Gates doesn’t have much faith in Google’s Loon project, which aims to bring Internet access to remote regions of the world via high-altitude balloons beaming 3G signals down to Earth.

“When you’re dying of malaria, I suppose you’ll look up and see that balloon, and I’m not sure how it’ll help you,” Gates said in an interview with BusinessWeek this morning, when asked if Internet access alone could actually solve problems in third-world countries.

It’s not hard to see why Gates doesn’t think much of Loon: He’s donated billions to eradicating diseases like Polio and Malaria, which still plague developing countries. But most of all, his charity efforts aren’t directly serving Microsoft’s bottom line. Loon, meanwhile, could easily be seen as a ploy by Google just to reach more customers.

“When a kid gets diarrhea, no, there’s no website that relieves that,” Gates said. “Certainly I’m a huge believer in the digital revolution. And connecting up primary-health-care centers, connecting up schools, those are good things. But no, those are not, for the really low-income countries, unless you directly say we’re going to do something about malaria.”

Gates has paid out more than $26.1 billion in charity projects through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He’s also donated $28 billion of his own funds to the organization, which has an endowment of around $36 billion.

In the interview, he also expressed disappointment with how Google has managed Google.org, its non-profit arm: “Google started out saying they were going to do a broad set of things. They hired Larry Brilliant, and they got fantastic publicity. And then they shut it all down. Now they’re just doing their core thing. Fine. But the actors who just do their core thing are not going to uplift the poor.”

The end-game Gates envisions for his foundation shows how his thinking differs from that of Google’s leaders: He wants to bring the death rates for children in poor countries down to the same levels as rich countries, and he wants to equalize education in the U.S. between inner-city and suburban kids. You could argue those are future customers as well, but it’s clear that Gates is more focused on helping people where they actually need it, rather than promoting technology as the ultimate solution.


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