Google pays academics for written support

A report unveils Google is paying academics for written supportAccording to a report issued by the Wall Street Journal, Google's Academic Inc., Google has paid academics and professors to write papers supporting its views on public policy issues.

The report is based upon a study conducted by the non-profit advocacy group Campaign for Accountability that discovered 329 research papers concerning policy subjects published between 2005 to 2017 and funded by Google.

The advocacy group showed also other examples of influences arising from Google like emails addressed to professors

Financial ties and funding researches

In some way, Google uses its money to gain approval. From users, from authorities, from any other entitled to.

If you are thinking about money used to enhance tech research or embellish work spaces, or its headquarters where scientists are told going skates thorough enormous hallways and playing ping-pong to concentrate and deliver their best ideas, you are wrong.

Everyone does believe that Google is actually investing lots of funds to heighten its workers quality of life and improving user experience, but it is really not what Campaign for Accountability means when it talks about Google at all.

The Wall Street Journal reveals

It all began when the Wall Street Journal, influential and renowned newspaper, publishes an exclusive report regarding Google.

The report has been released by Campaign for Accountability after a long analysis of hundred papers related to Google: emails between Google and various scholars that wrote in its defence and published studies or written conferences.

One of the email concerns a University of Chicago law professor reclaiming 5.000 $ to persuade his colleagues to patronize Google’s practices; the same professor who is working part-time in the Chicago law firm defending Google.

Again, the newspaper reveals that Google hired a researcher in law and technology to find academics in intellectual property to follow and target for papers, giving him a million dollars budget of checks without further requirements. Every single penny was a gift.

The fundamental information of the article sounds like this: do you know all that papers written by academics, scholars and law professors where Google is depicted as the big friendly internet giant, the mother of media platforms, causing no harm to antitrust and other competition policies? Well, they were all payed off.

Beware of the watchdog: Campaign for Accountability

The US based non-profit advocacy group named Campaign for Accountability is a so-called watchdog organization promoted by both the former legal counsel and the chairman of two other different ethics groups.

As it results from their website, their mission is intended to “hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions”, protecting Americans against “misconduct and malfeasance in public life”.

Founded in May 2015, the Campaign for Accountability, or CfA, soon begins to investigate and to file lawsuits aiming to compel agencies and companies to reveal how they are spending money.

Banks, mortgage agencies, casinos, senators whose campaigns are supposed to be illicitly financed, even solar panel companies are under investigation for their potential abuses and frauds.  

The “Google Transparency Project”

Google is object of interest too. So much interesting are its practices that Campaign for Accountability launches the “Google Transparency Project” to detect the “company’s influence on government, public policies, and our lives”.

To make a long story short, it would be sufficient to say that the main backer of the project is Oracle, the leading tech company producing database management systems that, as it happens, is conducting a lawsuit against Google’s Android operating system related to alleged violations of Oracle’s copyright and patent claims.

The story inside the story: the case of Barry Lynn

When the Google’s funding case came to surface, the Washington Post added a new character to the story. They interview Barry Lynn the manager of a program called “Open Market”, supposedly drawn away from the New America Foundation, once sponsored and funded by Google, because of his appreciation to the EU Commission’s highest fine imposed to Google for abuse of dominant position.

Open Market Program

New America Foundation closes the Open Market program for its repeated refusal to comply with transparency standards of the Foundation declaring the independence of the decision from Google, but Lynn stated to Washington Post that it was sponsored by Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, which did not agree with his clear approval of EU antitrust judgement.

He adds that Google is "aggressively delivering funds from Washington to Bruxelles", and in the meantime, Google releases a post explaining that as it is true that they are funding think – tank and other no-profit organizations researching over information and government of internet, every organization is fully independent from Google.


How the Wall Street Journal came to the report

On July 13th, 2017, the Wall Street Journal publishes a report from Campaign for Accountability in which is said that Google buys academic influence, paying professors for writing research papers in defence of its market dominance constantly under scrutiny. After the report Google released a statement denying any financial involvement with academics.

The report and its content

Campaign for Accountability, within the Google Transparency Project, has promoted an analysis of Google’s relationship with scholars to address any potential ethical concern.

The report has been fully disclosed by the Wall Street Journal.

On the basis of various email obtained by public-records request to Universities, the report claims that Google from 2005 to 2017 has cultivated financial relationships with law professors, law firms and consultants at Harvard, or UCLA, Stanford, MIT, Berkeley or even European universities as Oxford.

Financing academics for favorable researches

According to the Wall Street Journal's report, Google is financing with hundred dollars research papers to make defence against various regulatory charges with favorable theories on the collection of consumer data or demonstrating that Google’s does not take advantage of its own commercial services are the most mentioned in publications, because of the wide range of policy and legal issues involving Google as antitrust, net and search neutrality, regulation, security, privacy, patents and copyright.

In some cases, it is alleged that Google gives suggestion about the content of papers before their publication, in other cases, professors attend to conferences and write papers without revealing Google’s backing in their research.

A former employee reveals Google’s practices before funding

According to a former employee interviewed, Google used to set a list of working titles, abstracts and budgets for each paper to be proposed to willing authors and used to cover travel expenses for professors going to meet government and administration officials.

Other emails supposedly reveal that Google leveraged funded research papers to deflect antitrust accusations before the Federal Trade Commission.

Relationship between Google and University

The study points out the deep mutual influence between Google and University: from its foundation at Stanford University, to the college-like atmosphere of its offices, it is observed how this relationship has brought such an influence that Google is actually paying millions of dollars each year to academics to write papers in its support.

According to the study, Google has funded 330 research papers published from 2005 to 2017, directly or not.

Academics tend not to reveal financial ties with Google

Study’s percentage is supposed to show that 179 academics were funded by Google and 151 were not, beside the fact that 65% of academics did not disclose Google’s funding.

The study also proposes a strict connection between regulatory threats and funding activities: it shows for example that Google began financing studies on antitrust in 2011 when it went under US government scrutiny for its antitrust practices and that the largest number of publications on the same subject are in coincidence with the EU Commission and US FTC antitrust investigations in 2012 as well as it did about copyright issues.

Works sorted by year and subject

Campaign for Accountability has published the full list of funded authors with related works, years of publishing and concerning matter.

The table includes, among many others, prominent scholars and academics that would not reveal their financial ties with Google in their papers, as Geoffrey Manne, Joshua Wright, Daniel Sokol that is supposed to be one of the most influenced author for his favorable papers upon use of data, Michael A. Carrier, J. Gregory Sidak, Andrea Renda, Jorge Contreras that wrote and attended conferences on a looser interpretation of US patent laws,

Campaign for Accountability’s study

The advocacy group Campaign for Accountability, with a methodology made of anecdotal inquiries, analyzes 329 research papers and claims to have found evidence of financial ties binding Google and some academics who may have obtained money to write papers in order to publicly support Google’s business and practices, mostly to address antitrust concerns.

The group states that these research papers, published from 2005 to 2017, were funded by Google as emails and other documents demonstrate it.

The group takes law professor Daniel Sokol as an example of the influence exerted by Google asserting the existence of emails occurred between the professor and the company where he asks money to help persuade other scholars to support Google.

Google’s response

Google’s response to the Campaign for Accountability relies on the Director of Public Policy, Leslie Miller.

He criticizes the report for being misleading because Google is “proud to maintain strong relations with academics, universities and research institutes” and it actually keeps funding external research on tech or policy topics while running publicly its list of policy fellowship programs.

Google’s funding activities require clear disclosure of payment and independence of view. It claims that many of the revealed author had argued against Google in their funded papers.

Indeed, Google points out the fact that one of the main sponsor of the non-profit group, is Oracle that is known for its campaign against Google.

What consequences for the academics?

Until concerned academics do not release their own statements and facts are confirmed, the disclosed report may be able to undermine academic research credibility as well as individuals’ integrity.

It is legitimate to ask if the report can bring consequences to well-known scholars as Renda or Carrier to name a few, for receiving money from a company that benefits from funded research and papers, as Google may have done before courts investigating its policy practices, FTC and EU Commission for example.

Corporate funding and payments for favorable research could be intended as a conflict of interests already seen in US corporations of food, drug, medical, tobacco and oil industries – should be remembered studies on the effects of smoking or the climate change – never well accepted by US government scientists.

Tech companies are financing their research against Google

Along with many other corporate companies, Google may not be alone in funding research for its own goals.

At least, it is not the only tech company creating financial ties with researchers and academics and it is curious how many of these tech companies funded research against Google itself.

Microsoft Corp. is known to have paid Ben Edelman, professor at Harvard, for a paper criticizing Google’s abuse of market dominance while Qualcomm Inc. funded papers against Google in a patent claims lawsuit, as well as some telecommunications companies did.