[Marxism] Google’s Disturbing Influence Over Think Tanks
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Thu Aug 31 09:11:26 MDT 2017
NY Times Op-Ed, August 31, 2017
Google’s Disturbing Influence Over Think Tanks
By JONATHAN TAPLIN
The first thing you see when you walk into the offices of the New
America Foundation in Washington is the Eric Schmidt Ideas Lab, a space
named after the executive chairman of Google’s parent company. Google,
Mr. Schmidt and his family’s foundation are the principal funders of
that think tank.
On Wednesday, New America’s president, Anne-Marie Slaughter, issued a
statement saying that Barry Lynn, a pre-eminent scholar there, had been
fired for “his repeated refusal to adhere to New America’s standards of
openness and institutional collegiality.”
What horrible, dangerous act had Mr. Lynn committed? He wrote a piece
for New America’s website in support of the $2.7 billion fine the
European Union levied against Google for antitrust violations in June.
That post fit perfectly with the work of the Open Markets initiative he
lead, which has been one of the strongest voices in Washington calling
for more antitrust scrutiny of our economy. It’s the platform Mr. Lynn,
Matt Stoller and Lina Khan have used to call for regulatory scrutiny of
the tech monopolies like Google, Amazon and Facebook as these companies
increasingly come to dominate our economy. But Google’s financial power
at New America was apparently such that it could close the group down.
Though Ms. Slaughter denies the connection between Google’s funding and
her decision, the implication seems clear. A firm whose motto was “Don’t
Be Evil” has no interest in being called a monopoly by a think tank it
In his book “Zero to One,” the tech investor Peter Thiel writes that
companies like Google lie to protect themselves. “They know that
bragging about their great monopoly invites being audited, scrutinized
and attacked. Since they very much want their profits to continue
unmolested, they tend to do whatever they can to conceal their monopoly
— usually by exaggerating the power of their (nonexistent) competition,”
he explains. There’s evidence that this kind of exaggeration is carried
out by numerous scholars and think tanks funded by Google. According to
a 2017 Wall Street Journal investigative report, “Over the past decade,
Google has helped finance hundreds of research papers to defend against
regulatory challenges of its market dominance, paying $5,000 to $400,000
for the work.”
Every weekday, get thought-provoking commentary from Op-Ed columnists,
the Times editorial board and contributing writers from around the world.
But as the nonprofit Consumer Watchdog discovered in February 2009 when
it investigated Google’s handling of consumer privacy, the funding from
Google comes with strings attached. As the group noted on its website,
Google’s director of policy communications, Bob Boorstin, emailed the
Rose Foundation (a major funder of Consumer Watchdog) complaining about
Consumer Watchdog and asking the charity to consider “whether there
might be better groups in which to place your trust and resources.” Mr.
Boorstin later apologized for his attempts to cripple a Google critic,
but there is no evidence that the use of this kind of tactic has ended.
The Wall Street Journal’s report found that since 2009, Google had
directly funded 100 papers written by academics and 100 papers that came
through think tanks funded by Google. These papers make their way to the
congressional committees and regulatory agencies that are charged with
overseeing Google’s business, like the Federal Trade Commission.
Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” suggested that the company valued transparency.
But the extent of its influence is anything but transparent.
Occasionally this is revealed to the public, such as when the infamous
Google Shill List came out during a lawsuit brought by Oracle. Google
was forced to disclose that it provided major funding to important
organizations like Public Knowledge, Electronic Frontier Foundation and
the Computer and Communications Industry Association.
So when these supposedly neutral organizations weigh in on issues that
involve Google, you should take their advocacy with a grain of salt. In
the coming months, privacy legislation put forward by Representative
Marsha Blackburn, Republican of Tennessee, and modifications to the Safe
Harbor provision in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act advocated by
Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, will come before Congress.
Google does not want either of these laws to pass, and you can be sure
that papers from major think tanks will be part of the policy discussion.
Perhaps more important, the discussion that is beginning to take place
on both sides of the political aisle on whether companies like Google
and Amazon are too big will continue. The role of the think tanks in
this debate will be important. What we don’t need are more Google shills.
Jonathan Taplin is director emeritus of the Annenberg Innovation Lab at
the University of Southern California and author of “Move Fast and Break
Things: How Facebook, Google and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined
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