Google’s stealthy innovation: buying academic research to cement market dominance

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Across the country, from UC Berkeley and Stanford University in the West to Harvard University in the East, professors and academic researchers have been pocketing cash from Google in exchange for writing papers the tech titan could use to lobby against regulations threatening its dominance.

That’s the claim in a new report providing a purported detailed look into how the company has taken the business of lobbying into the shadows, with voluminous payments to academics whose papers, favorable to Google, often fail to note that Google paid for them.

“Over the past decade, Google has helped finance hundreds of research papers to defend against regulatory challenges of its market dominance, paying stipends of $5,000 to $400,000,” the Wall Street Journal reported July 11.

“Some researchers share their papers before publication and let Google give suggestions,” the WSJ reported, based on the fruits of public-information requests for email correspondence from more than a dozen university professors.

“The professors don’t always reveal Google’s backing in their research, and few disclosed the financial ties in subsequent articles on the same or similar topics.”

Google’s stealthy influence campaign “is an example of how lobbying has escaped the confines of Washington’s regulated environment and is increasingly difficult to spot,” the WSJ asserted.

Some of the academic papers were sent by Google lawyers to the Federal Trade Commission in 2012, when the agency was close to deciding on whether to charge Google with antitrust offenses, according to the WSJ. No charges were laid, after Google agreed to change some of its business practices.

Google did not immediately respond to a request by SiliconBeat for comment on the WSJ report. The company told the WSJ that it had enjoyed “strong relations” with universities and research institutes since its inception, and has “always valued their independence and integrity.

“We’re happy to support academic researchers across computer science and policy topics, including copyright, free expression and surveillance, and to help amplify voices that support the principles of an open internet,” the company said.

Google has funded about 100 public policy papers since 2009, and another 100 or so were written by people financed by Google-funded think tanks or research centers, the WSJ reported after analyzing data from the Campaign for Accountability, an arch foe of Google that’s funded in part by Oracle.

Sometimes, Google put together detailed “wish lists” for academic papers and “then they searched for willing authors,” the WSJ reported, citing a former Google employee and a former Google lobbyist.

That former lobbyist said Google promotes completed papers to government officials, and had paid travel expenses for professors to meet government officials and congressional aides, according to the WSJ.

“Google has paid professors whose papers, for instance, declared that the collection of consumer data was a fair exchange for its free services; that the company didn’t use its market dominance to improperly steer users to Google’s commercial sites or its advertisers; and that it hasn’t unfairly quashed competitors. Several papers argued that Google’s search engine should be allowed to link to books and other intellectual property that authors and publishers say should be paid for,” the WSJ reported.

Photo: Inside a Google data center in Council Bluffs, Iowa (AP Photo/Google, Connie Zhou, File)

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Google’s stealthy innovation: buying academic research to cement market dominance