Google: No, we don't fund biased research. And just look who's paying our accusers

Google has defended funding researchers to produce papers on public policy issues that affect its business.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Google says a report containing the allegations is "highly misleading".

Image: Google

Google has responded to accusations in a Wall Street Journal article that it gives grants to academics to produce research designed to sway public opinion on regulatory matters that affect its business.

The story covers results from a report by the Campaign for Accountability (CfA), a Washington-based non-profit that recently launched the Google Transparency Project, an ongoing campaign that is critical of the company.

The report identifies 329 papers on public policy matters relevant to Google that were in "some way" funded by the company.

The WSJ identified grants of between $5,000 and $400,000, some of which aren't disclosed in the papers. A former Google employee claimed the company had a list of research topics it wanted produced and then shopped around for academics to work on the projects.

CfA said its report aims to enlighten regulators that some apparently independent academic work is in fact sponsored by Google. The papers include subjects relevant to Google's business, such as antitrust, privacy, net neutrality, patents, and copyright.

Google's director of public policy Leslie Miller said the CfA's report was "highly misleading" and accused it of inflating the numbers by attributing funding to Google when it actually came from associations to which Google belongs.

Miller also points out the non-profit's own transparency issues, given that the CfA's only known backer is Oracle.

"The irony of discussing disclosures and transparency with the Campaign for Accountability is that this group consistently refuses to name its corporate funders. And those backers won't 'fess up either," wrote Miller.

"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.

"Oracle is not alone. You can easily find similar activity by companies and organizations funded by our competitors, like AT&T, the MPAA, ICOMP, FairSearch and dozens more, including hundreds of pieces directly targeting Google."

Miller doesn't deny that Google funds academic work though its "many research programs" and points to a common interest among some academics, and to Google's support for the principles underlying an open internet, such as copyright, patents, and free expression.

In other words, Google does fund some research that supports its business on regulatory issues, but as Miller highlights, not all the research in the CfA's report is supportive of Google's policy positions.

She added that Google requires guarantees to disclose funding when the company provides it, and that it works to tighten its requirements if there are omissions.

"We're proud of our programs and their integrity. The Campaign for Accountability and its funders are, clearly, not proud of theirs," wrote Miller.

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