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Tech Companies Step In To Help After Paris Attacks

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 15/11/2015 Alexander C. Kaufman
ATHENA IMAGE © DOMINIQUE FAGET via Getty Images ATHENA IMAGE

Droves of companies paid tribute this weekend to the victims of the attacks in Paris, brandishing their websites and social media profiles with the blue, white and red of the French flag. Chief executives offered words of support. 

But a few companies -- namely tech firms with vast international social networks -- stepped in to help amid the upheaval caused by the Friday string of mass shootings and suicide bombings that left 132 dead and 349 injured.

Home-renting service Airbnb -- which has its largest market in Paris -- urged hosts to house victims and those stranded by delays for free. The company created a site where people can request places to stay and hosts can offer space for no charge. By Sunday afternoon, 19 pages of listings were available.

"If you are able, we hope you will strongly consider helping those who are in need by making your listing available at little or no cost," the company wrote in an email to users on Saturday.

Airbnb also enabled a feature allowing hosts to extend an existing guest's visit free of charge.

Facebook activated its Safety Check tool, allowing people to alert friends that they are safe in the aftermath of the attacks. Until Friday, the feature had only been available during natural disasters. It was first activated last October after the deadly earthquake in Nepal. 

Still, the move took heat from critics who said debuting the feature for the attacks in Paris -- but not after the twin suicide blasts that killed more than 40 people in Beirut on Thursday -- demonstrates a higher value placed on lives of people in Western countries.

"You are right that there are many other important conflicts in the world," CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a post addressing the criticism. "We care about all people equally, and we will work hard to help people suffering in as many of these situations as we can."

Skype and its Google-owned rival Hangouts, which charge money to make calls to phone numbers, both made all calls to France free. 

Even small companies rallied to help victims. 

In Boston, where memories of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing are fresh, companies in the city's burgeoning tech industry started a fundraiser with a goal of $10,000.

"Boston tech helped heal a tragic event with the marathon bombing, and in the process received amazing international support from our brothers and sisters in the EU. Let's reciprocate their gifts of friendship and humanity," Phil Beauregard, founder of the software startup Objective Logistics, wrote on the fundraising page. "Let's let the world know we all stand united against cowardice and treachery. Most importantly, let's help those affected by this despicable event with our financial support."

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