Google has found itself in the midst of a “paid-policy research” controversy as a non-profit watchdog has claimed in its latest report that the tech giant’s financial support for academics may have influenced policymakers unaware of the company’s role. Google lobbyists and lawyers pushed Google-funded research to journalists, the White House, Congress, and agency regulators investigating its conduct, such as the Federal Trade Commission, often without disclosing the funding, said Campaign for Accountability in its report on Tuesday.

“For example, Eric Schmidt, then Google’s Chief Executive, cited a Google-funded author in written answers to Congress to back his contention that his company wasn’t a monopoly. He didn’t mention Google had paid for the paper,” the report said.

Responding to the report, Google called it “highly misleading”.

Campaign for Accountability said it identified 329 research papers published between 2005 and 2017 on public policy matters of interest to Google that were in some way funded by the company.

Google-funded studies are published by a wide variety of sources, and often blur the line between academic research and paid advocacy, the report entitled “Google Academics Inc.” said.

“Google uses its immense wealth and power to attempt to influence policymakers at every level. At a minimum, regulators should be aware that the allegedly independent legal and academic work on which they rely has been brought to them by Google,” said Daniel Stevens, Executive Director, Campaign for Accountability.

“Google-funded academics should disclose the source of their funding to ensure their work is evaluated in context and the government makes decisions that benefit all Americans, not just Google employees and stockholders,” Stevens added.

Reports funded by the company have been authored by academics and economists hailing from some of US’s leading law schools and universities, including Stanford, Harvard and MIT, as well as some of the most prestigious universities in Europe, including Oxford, Edinburgh, and the Berlin School of Economics, Campaign for Accountability said.

Google said it runs many research programmes that provide funding and resources to the external research community, and that it is “proud to maintain strong relations with academics”.

“This helps public and private institutions pursue research on important topics in computer science, technology, and a wide range of public policy and legal issues,” Leslie Miller, Google’s Director of Public Policy said in a blog post.

Google said its funding is guided by “disclosure requirements” and alleged that the Campaign for Accountability has consistently refused to name its corporate funders.

“The one funder the world does know about is Oracle, which is running a well-documented lobbying campaign against us. In its own name and through proxies, Oracle has funded many hundreds of articles, research papers, symposia and reports,” Miller wrote.

“Oracle is not alone — you can easily find similar activity by companies and organisations funded by our competitors, like AT&T, the MPAA, ICOMP, FairSearch and dozens more; including hundreds of pieces directly targeting Google,” Miller added.

First Published | 12 July 2017 1:54 PM
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