Google is likely silencing criticisms of its conduct — and quasi-monopolistic status — by purchasing influence across political non-profits and think tanks, according to a Wednesday-published report in The New York Times.
The NYT describes Google’s political influence as vast via its co-opting of political non-profits and think tanks:
After initially eschewing Washington public policy debates, which were seen in Silicon Valley as pay-to-play politics, Google has developed an influence operation that is arguably more muscular and sophisticated than that of any other American company. It spent $9.5 million on lobbying through the first half of this year — more than almost any other company. It helped organize conferences at which key regulators overseeing investigations into the company were presented with pro-Google arguments, sometimes without disclosure of Google’s role.
Part of Google’s political influence is its funding of political think tanks and non-profits — aside from direct lobbying of politicians — presumably to shape messaging beneficial to its interests. Criticism of the company’s operations from think tank and non-profit beneficiaries of Google’s donation is presumably silenced.
Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc., is the second-largest company in the world. Its market capitalization as of this article’s publication is $647.8 billion. It handles over 81% of the world’s internet searches and is the world’s largest operator of internet advertising.
Barry Lynn, formerly director of the New America Foundation’s (NAF) Open Markets program, was terminated by NAF after expressing support for the levying of a $2.7 billion fine against Google via European antitrust regulators.
Google is one of the NAF’s benefactors, having donated millions of dollars to the left-wing and Democrat-aligned think tank. The NAF has received more than $21 million from Google, Alphabet Inc.’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt, and Schmidt’s family foundation.
In an interview with the NYT, Lynn said the NAF severed its relationship with him because of his criticisms of Google: “Google is very aggressive in throwing its money around Washington and Brussels, and then pulling the strings. People are so afraid of Google now.”
The NAF is headed by left-wing Clinton loyalist Anne Marie-Slaughter, a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University. She was a senior State Department policy strategist between 2009 and 2011, under Hillary Clinton’s secretaryship.
Google denied involvement in the NAF’s termination of Lynn; a spokesperson for the company claimed Google funds a variety of non-profits and think tanks with varying viewpoints regarding the company’s operations and interests: “We don’t agree with every group 100 percent of the time, and while we sometimes respectfully disagree, we respect each group’s independence, personnel decisions and policy perspectives.”
The NAF’s executive vice president also denied receiving any pressure from Google or Schmidt to terminate Lynn: “New America financial supporters have no influence or control over the research design, methodology, analysis or findings of New America research projects, nor do they have influence or control over the content of educational programs and communications efforts.”
The NAF describes itself as “independent” of its benefactors.
Slaughter described the NYT report as “false” via Twitter:
Slaughter later released a statement via the NAF’s website, describing the aforementioned allegations against Google and Schmidt as “false.” Lynn, she said, refused to comply with the NAF’s standards:
[Lynn’s] repeated refusal to adhere to New America’s standards of openness and institutional collegiality meant that we could no longer work together as part of the same institution. I continued, however, to seek a cooperative solution with Barry; unfortunately, I have been unsuccessful.
Lynn was highly influential in “raising concerns about the market dominance of Google,” writes the NYT, suggesting that his criticisms of Google were certainly known to the company’s executives.
Last year, Slaughter warned Lynn via email that his criticisms of Google were threatening the NAF’s revenues: “We are in the process of trying to expand our relationship with Google on some absolutely key points … just THINK about how you are imperiling funding for others.”
Lynn is launching a new non-profit — its website entitled “Citizens Against Monopoly.” It accuses Google of censoring criticisms of its business conduct:
GOOGLE, DON’T BE EVIL.
Our mission was to protect liberty and democracy from gigantic corporate monopolies. When we criticized Google for its monopoly practices, our program’s funding was cut.
Google’s attempts to shut down think tanks, journalists, and public interest advocates researching and writing about the dangers of concentrated private power must end. As an immense corporation, it’s wrong for Google to wield its vast financial and political power to try to silence the writers and researchers working to promote sensible antitrust enforcement. This kind of unethical behavior violates Google’s founding corporate code of conduct, “Don’t be evil.”
Stop shutting down monopoly research now.
H/T Kenneth Vogel at The New York Times.
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