Google has funded hundreds of research papers by scientists over the past decade in an effort to influence legal action against the company’s market dominance. That’s according to The Wall Street Journal.
Not only would Google try to influence public policy through academics, but also influence public opinion. Since 2009 sums of between $5,000 and $400,000 have been paid for about 100 scientific publications that should be beneficial for Google. Most publications make no mention of Google’s funding. That’s according to The Wall Street Journal, based on a study by Campaign for Accountability, a research group that has campaigned against Google and is co-financed by competitors of Google, such as Oracle.
It seems to mainly concern legal publications in areas such as copyright, patents, big data and competition law. Some researchers reportedly shared their papers with Google prior to publication so that the company could offer suggestions for adjustments. This would appear from thousands of pages of e-mails, which the newspaper got its hands on through the American equivalent of the WOB request. The emails contain information about more than a dozen professors. According to the paper, the professors do not always disclose or make clear in their publications that Google sponsored them, and only a few have disclosed financial ties to Google in other academic articles.
For example, it was a paper on copyright written by a law professor at the University of Illinois, Paul Heald. He proposed to Google to write about this, for which he received nearly $19,000. The Wall Street Journal confronted him with the fact that the professor did not name his sponsor Google in the publication. Heald admitted he hadn’t, calling it a mistake; it would only arise from inattention and not have been done consciously. The money would not have influenced his paper and Google set no conditions, Heald said.
Google allegedly brought the research papers to the attention of government officials, in some cases paying for travel expenses so that professors could meet with Congressional and government officials. For example, the publications would have been used to counter allegations by the Federal Trade Commission against Google about abusing its economic dominant position. That would appear from a letter that lawyers from Google sent to the FTC; The Wall Street Journal says it has seen this letter.
For example, another example of a paper by a professor that Google funded involved a publication that argued that collecting consumer data was reasonable and legal, given the free services Google offers. In addition, publications have allegedly been written advocating that Google should not have abused its market power to direct users to websites and services of Google and its advertisers. Other papers sponsored by Google argued that Google’s search engine should have the right to link to books and other copyrighted material.
In addition, Google would also have compiled wish lists containing working titles, summaries and available budgets for possible scientific publications that have yet to be written. A search was then made for authors who were willing to write the papers. The newspaper reports this on the basis of a former Google lobbyist.
Google has responded to the article from The Wall Street Journal. The company finds the research ‘highly misleading’. Google says it is proud of its strong ties to academics, universities and research institutes, and says it establishes and finances research programs to explore key topics. In its own words, Google does not always agree with the publications that result. In addition, Google states that scientists who make a publication must always report if the funding comes from Google. Google says the company values academic independence. Finally, Google also points to the fact that Oracle is behind the research and that this company is clearly lobbying against Google, and Oracle, like companies like AT&T, would also pay for research papers.