CfA Report Reveals Google-Funded Speakers Dominate Key Policy Conferences

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: JULY 19, 2016

Contact: Daniel Stevens, dstevens@campaignforaccountability.org, 202.780.5750

WASHINGTON D.C. – Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA) released a new report, Google’s Silicon Tower, revealing how academics and experts funded by Google have played a major role at academic and government conferences, debating some of the company’s core issues. Nearly all of the Google-funded participants failed to disclose their financial ties to Google, now a subsidiary of Alphabet, Inc.

Read the report here.

CfA Executive Director, Anne Weismann, said, “Google is not just spending more on lobbying than any other company, it is also paying academics handsomely to set the terms of the debate.  Allegedly independent experts adopt Google’s arguments as their own, helping to persuade regulators that Google’s position is the right one.”

CfA compiled information on participants at conferences arranged by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), George Mason University (GMU), and Princeton University, to discuss issues of critical importance to Google including privacy and antitrust issues.  CfA’s analysis uncovered extensive financial ties between the speakers at the conferences and the internet giant.

Specifically:

  • More than half of the speakers at the FTC’s PrivacyCon (22 of 41) were funded by Google, either directly through grants or indirectly through their institutions.
  • More than half of the research papers presented at PrivacyCon (11 of 19) had an author with financial ties to Google. Only one disclosed the Google funding.
  • Four of five speakers at GMU’s panel on the global antitrust investigations of Google received funding from Google.
  • Five of seven panelists at Princeton University’s broadband privacy workshop received support from Google.

A review of the conferences found that the Google-funded academics played an outsized role in the debate over the US government’s policy on internet privacy.  Lorrie Cranor, for instance, is the chief technologist at the FTC.  Before joining the FTC, Cranor was a professor of computer science and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University.  She personally received nearly $250,000 in research awards from Google and shared another $400,000 Google research award with two other Carnegie Mellon researchers.

Cranor played an important role at the FTC conference.  She gave the closing remarks, and she co-authored one of the papers accepted for submission.  She also co-authored, with a Google employee and others, a second paper that was submitted to the conference, though not accepted for presentation. The FTC’s previous chief technologist, Ed Felten, also received Google funding in 2010 for privacy research while at Princeton.

Ms. Weismann continued, “Government policy should be informed by unbiased research, with consumers in mind.  Instead, the FTC appears to be relying on researchers paid by the industry they are charged with policing to set its privacy agenda.”

Read the report below.  For more information about CfA’s efforts to shine a light on Google, visit the Google Transparency Project at http://googletransparencyproject.org/.

CfA is a nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.