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Academics 'funded by Google' tend not to mention it in their work

Two-thirds of the time support is not disclosed, say campaigners

By Andrew Orlowski, 13 Jul 2017

A network of academics on Google's payroll just so happens to churn out "independent research" friendly to their sugar daddy's corporate goals. But two-thirds of the time you wouldn't know it, according to the Campaign for Accountability.

An ongoing campaign by the non-profit, called the Google Transparency Project (GTP), inspected public data on research directly or indirectly funded by the Chocolate Factory, focusing on privacy, net neutrality, patents and copyright.

Instead of providing a dispassionate critique of Silicon Valley, academics viewed it as a chance to expand their domains. The early noughties saw a proliferation of "cyberlaw" departments and "internet institutes" only too keen to take corporate funding from technology companies. This was a shrewd investment – it has helped now-dominant internet platforms set the agenda.

Academics prominent in today's corporate-backed net neutrality protest include Stanford Law School's Barbara van Schewick and lawyer Marvin Ammori, who runs "Fight For The Future". Both, the GTP claimed, are indirectly funded by Google.

Schewick declared last year that zero-rating would lead to people watching the wrong kind of videos. You know, the entertaining ones. The GTP notes: "The Stanford Center for Internet and Society (CIS), where Van Schewick has been a fellow since 2001, received a $2 million grant from Google in 2006." This was not declared in her 2015 paper on net neutrality.

However, Stanford says on its website: "CIS does not accept grants, donations, or any other support that would limit our ability to conduct our research or any other work we do free of outside influence. CIS does not accept corporate funding for its network neutrality-related work."

Stanford Law School has contacted The Reg to say that Van Schewick is "inaccurately listed" in the GTP doc.

Ammori, co-manager of the Ammori Group, "a law firm and internet-law consulting practice whose clients include Google", helpfully chipped in with a 2016 paper arguing that the concept of "neutrality" was valid if applied to telecoms companies, but should not apply to search engines or internet platforms. Handy, that.

Other boffins were "interned" or had Google-funded fellowships at thinktanks. Here in the UK, Google funds the Oxford Internet Institute.

Corporate funding is rarely declared, the GTP found. "Academics did not disclose the Google funding in two-thirds of cases (66 per cent). Authors failed to disclose funding even when they were directly funded by Google in more than a quarter (26 per cent) of cases."

Funding reached a peak in 2012 when Google was the subject of an Federal Trade Commission antitrust investigation. Against the wishes of FTC staff, who believed there was sufficient evidence to file a suit, the Obama-appointed commissioners opted not to pursue Google. By contrast the European Commission found Google illegally used its monopoly to the detriment of third-party search services and fined it a record amount earlier this month. It also believes Google illegally abused its Android platform to thwart competing third-party apps and services. The Commission is also probing Google's "superprofiles", which Oracle argues present an insurmountable barrier to entry in the digital ad space.

But who, you may ask, is funding the GTP? The project itself is reluctant to be transparent about that, for good reason. Turns out Oracle is among the group's financial backers. Ken Glueck, senior vice president, told Fortune: "Oracle is absolutely a contributor (one of many) to the Transparency Project. This is important information for the public to know. It is 100 per cent public records and accurate."

Last year the Google-Facebook duopoly gobbled between 72 per cent and 99 per cent of new cash (growth) in the industry, with capital investment deserting ad biz startups. Google and Facebook compete very hard in some areas, but perhaps not so hard in others.

You can find more here.

Comment

Although all large corporations lobby and fund academic research, Silicon Valley is unique in funding not only thinktanks but also ersatz "civil society" groups (such as Fight For The Future), which then manufacture a synthetic "grassroots" legitimacy for a policy issue. The phenomenon of "slacktivism" or "clicktivism" makes use of low-cost, low-risk tools to generate apparent support for lightweight causes ("save the internet").

This means that the corporate puppet master can work academics to create and promote an issue, and then deploy fake "citizen" groups to generate the impression of popular support for its position. Although sometimes it's hard to tell the slacktivists from the academics. ®

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