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Dreamforce 2014: Hillary Clinton Talks Tech Philanthropy, Net Neutrality

The former secretary of state shares the pros of Net Neutrality, and asks that industry leaders and entrepreneurs guide tech toward social good as they dive deeper into the national landscape.

SAN FRANCISCO -- With the rise and progression of digital technologies, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has challenged industry to create and contribute with the community in mind.

“What we have to be really focused on now is making sure that the benefits of technology to people’s lives outweigh the pitfalls — and it is as evenly distributed as it is possible to do — creating more jobs, connecting up more families and communities, and expanding our horizons,” Clinton said on Oct. 14, during day two of Dreamforce 2014, a tech convention for the cloud-based data management company SalesForce.

In light of technology’s pervasive growth in critical arenas such as health, education and the economy, Clinton said industry leaders and entrepreneurs had a charge to guide tech toward social good as they dive deeper into the national landscape.

Praise was awarded to SalesForce CEO and Founder Marc Benioff for the company’s emphasis on charitable causes. Of specific commendation was the company’s 15-year contribution of more than $68 million in grants, 680,000 volunteer hours from staff, and its support of more than 23,000 nonprofits and schools around the world.

Clinton also shined a spotlight on Benioff’s 1/1/1 model, a pledge that commits Salesforce to donating 1 percent of its employees' time, product and financial resources to organizations serving humanitarian causes.

“At DreamForce, what I like is that ethics are as important as electronics, and corporate responsibility is highly prized,” Clinton said.

Yet her talk didn’t simply orbit around do-good strategies and philanthropy, a theme stressed since the conference began when Benioff asked visitors to donate 1 million meals for the disadvantaged worldwide. Clinton also touched on the fact that social media creates hurdles for those who want to run for higher office, as well policy issues, like the debate around Net Neutrality.

Siding with President Obama, she argued the practice, which forbids Internet broadband providers from favoring or manipulating Internet content, should be enforced to maintain freedom of expression.

She added, however, the battle for an “open Internet” is one that must be fought with more than corporate profiteers; it also should be fought internationally with governments and world leadership. Recounting her past experiences serving the White House, Clinton said she saw numerous occasions when the U.S. Department of State had to invest in the defense of online freedoms.   

"It became obvious that individuals, especially those with activist approaches and dissident opinions, were increasingly becoming the targets of governments,” Clinton said. ”It is absolutely clear to me that we need to keep the Internet open”

The battle is ongoing, she said, and did not name but alluded to “oppressive regimes” that had real desires to manipulate the Internet and handicap basic freedoms of expression like those guaranteed in the Bill of Rights.

Recent events point to China as one possible example of such a regime, as the country is infamously known for its prohibitive censorship on its Google-inspired search engine Baidu. And since Hong Kong protests for a democratically elected leadership erupted in September, China has censored other services like Instagram and Twitter, fearing the movement’s influence.

As in previous speaking engagements, Clinton was again pressed whether -- as one of the Democratic favorites -- she would announce intentions to run for president.

“I’m going to ask you a question I asked you in 1999,” said her interviewer, Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum. “Don’t you think it’s time for the American people to elect and support a strong, brilliant woman to be president?”

Before Clinton could reply yes or no, Klaus recalled her previous answer in 1999, when Clinton had said “Yes, and I look forward to voting for her.”

With smiles and laughter, Clinton was warmly reticent in her next reply to Klaus. “I don’t want to make any news today,” she said.

Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.