[Marxism] Google’s Disturbing Influence Over Think Tanks

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Aug 31 09:11:26 MDT 2017

NY Times Op-Ed, August 31, 2017
Google’s Disturbing Influence Over Think Tanks

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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