Over the past few months, Google has done considerable work on Japan's front lines. The company launched its Person Finder to connect people affected by the March 11 Tokohu earthquake and tsunami with their loved ones. To date, the service has built records on 616,300 individuals, and it is now the largest database of missing persons associated with the disaster.
Google Street View is pitching in, too. The service has been criticized -- even fined -- for its work in other parts of the world, and frankly, the Japanese weren't much friendlier. That attitude may be changing, though, as Google's Street View Cars set to work documenting the country's recovery process via regularly updated maps and street-level photos.
Some have criticized Google's work in Japan as disingenuous: a branding campaign disguised as high-tech altruism. While the company will certainly stand to make inroads in Japan as a result of its work, our own impression is that Google's efforts aren't solely about marketing (not least because the company is carrying out these massive efforts on its own dime).
Of course, that isn't to say that these activities won't benefit the company down the road. Beyond the brownie points Google will earn, it's also learning a great deal about its mapping technology -- its benefits, its shortcomings, and unforeseen applications. The funds generated from licensing that technology could potentially supplement or surpass Google's impressive advertising revenue, as online ad sales begin the long, slow shift from keywords to mobile.
For the time being, though, Google deserves praise for joining the people of Japan, the Japanese government, and countless NGOs in rebuilding the country.