Wednesday, 12 July 2017 08:05

Google paying academics to influence public policy: report Featured

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Google has been paying academics to write papers that could help influence public opinion and policy, with money going to professors at universities ranging from Harvard to the University of California at Berkeley.

A detailed report in The Wall Street Journal said Google had paid for hundreds of research papers over the last 10 years, to build public opinion against regulatory changes that would affect its market dominance.

Google was recently fined €2.42 billion (US$2.7 billion, A$3.64 billion) by the European Union for allegedly abusing its search engine dominance to give illegal advantage to its own comparison shopping service.

And there have been reports that it may face another fine over how it pays and limits mobile phone providers who use its Android mobile operating system and app store.

Emails obtained by the newspaper showed that in many cases the papers were shown to Google before publication and suggestions were accepted for changes.

The professors in question did not always disclose that they had been paid by Google; this was also the case in later papers on the same or similar topics.

One case that the WSJ cited was that of Paul Heald, a law professor from the University of Illinois, who suggested a research paper on copyrights that he thought would assist Google. He received US$18,830 to fund his work which did not mention his sponsor when it was published in 2012.

When asked about the lack of admission, he claimed it was due to oversight. Heald claimed that the money did not influence his work, claiming that Google had told him: "If you take this US$20,000 and open up a doughnut shop with it — we’ll never give you any more money — but that’s fine.”

The WSJ said a former Google lobbyist and a former employee had said that Google drew up wishlists of proposed papers that included working titles, abstracts and budgets and searched for authors who were willing to write them.

The company told the newspaper: "Ever since Google was born out of Stanford’s Computer Science department, we've maintained strong relations with universities and research institutes, and have 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 WSJ said that Google had paid for about 100 papers on public policy, most of which mentioned the funding. Another 100-odd papers were funded by think-tanks or research bodies founded by Google and other technology companies and these did not disclose the source of their funding.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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