Americans are freedom loving people, and nothing says freedom like getting away with it.
From “Long, Long Time” by Guy Forsyth.
(Continued from Part 1)
As we have seen time and again, Google will sell advertising against everything from jihadi war porn, to ads for illegal drug sites, sex tourism and pirate sites of one species or another–and that’s just on the sainted YouTube.
Once you roll off of the YouTube site, nothing changes much except the labyrinth of referring sights, bridging pages and the like gets much, much more complicated. Whether it’s on a Google publisher or a third party or fourth party site, Google dupes brands from Honda to Gatorade to local businesses into facilitating the company’s enrichment at the cost of degrading their brands.
This came up before with the Google drug settlement–the $500,000,000 fine that Google paid to the US Government, and it’s a tribute to the power of the world’s largest media company that you’ve probably never heard about that payment. But we have, so now you will. Google ran a fake hand off with Google Drugs where they had some really serious downside potential that they might not have been able to buy their way out of–also known as jail time. They constructed a fake out by using their government connections–possibly through present members of the senior Justice Department staff as well as Clinton-era intermediaries. And so far, they have gotten away with it.
And I hope to persuade you that Google just ran the Drugs play again to distance themselves from brand sponsored piracy–you might call it the naked bootleg.
Whether they get away with it or not remains to be seen.
Naked Bootleg I
MTP readers will recall the infamous Google Drugs settlement. Google was the subject of several sting operations over a multiyear period conducted by a variety of Federal criminal investigators as well as a federal grand jury in Rhode Island. This was no small thing–Google produced over 4,000,000 documents in the grand jury proceeding.
There are a few other reasons why it is no small thing. Google signed a nonprosecution agreement with the federal government that was remarkably favorable to Google, but still cost the company $500,000,000. And they got off very cheap if you ask me. It takes Google about 48 hours to make $500,000,000, so while that may sound like a lot of money, it really isn’t.
This was in 2011–knowing what we now know about Google’s connections to the Administration, untold data mining on behalf of the government through cozy relationships with the National Security Agency, the Department of Justice and FBI, are you surprised that Google got off lightly on something as serious as violations of the Controlled Substances Act?
Also remember that the issue wasn’t that Google itself was actually fulfilling drug sales–the issue was that they were accused of selling advertising that promoted drug sales they knew to be illegal. Also known as profiting from human misery.
It’s also not surprising that when Google Chairman Eric Schmidt testified at a hearing of the US Senate Antitrust Subcommittee, he invoked his right to refuse to answer on the advice of counsel–some might call that invoking his right against criminal self-incrimination–under questioning from Senator John Cornyn. Senator Cornyn was rightfully not happy. (I’m reminded of Samuel Jackson’s question regarding Mr. Wallace in Pulp Fiction: “Does he look like a bitch?”)
Schmidt clearly looked and sounded like…someone who had something to hide as he repeatedly deflected Senator Cornyn’s question with what he had to know was a lie before Schmidt lawyered up. (The next time this happens–and there will be a next time–it might be worth asking Schmidt to clarify that he’s “taking the 5th”.)
Google is also being sued by many of its stockholders as a result of the Google Drugs prosecution, essentially for defrauding investors by failing to disclose this $500,000,000 forfeiture in a timely way, and using the company’s money to pay what is essentially a fine for the personal bad behavior of the senior management team.
And here is where the plot sickens: The Wall Street Journal noted a statement made by Google’s lawyer Boris Feldman in an official court transcript from a hearing in Delaware on one of the many stockholder lawsuits, a statement regarding the drug case prosecuted against Google by Peter F. Neronha, the US Attorney for Rhode Island (“Did DOJ Apologize to Google for US Attorney’s Comments?”):
“The U.S. attorney in Rhode Island went off the reservation and gave a long interview about all the evidence and why it was he was so excited about the case,” lawyer Boris Feldman told the judge at a Delaware state court. “It ended up being so far off the reservation that the Justice Department apologized to Google for it and muzzled him.”
Given what we now know about Google’s cozy relationship with law enforcement agencies and past and present DOJ appointees, it is entirely believable that the Justice Department would have apologized to Google for one of the US Attorneys having the brass to actually prosecute Google for anything that ended up in any kind of meaningful punishment for Google. However, the Wall Street Journal reports that the Justice Department (i.e., “main Justice” in Washington) denied apologizing:
Maybe the Justice Department apologized on his behalf? “We did not apologize,” a department spokeswoman said.
And the reaction from Rhode Island (which kept about half of the $500,000,000 to offset law enforcement costs in the state)?
“The U.S. attorney has never issued apologies to anyone in this matter,” a spokesman said. “As far as the suggestion that the U.S. attorney has been ‘muzzled,’ I can only point to the fact that we recently held a widely attended press conference” at which he answered media questions about the case.
Of course, Google likes to enjoy all the benefits of having access to the US public financial markets while accepting only the burdens it is forced to bear:
For its part, Google declined to comment, saying: “Google does not comment on its discussions with regulators.”
“Regulators”? Do you call the cops “regulators”? Maybe in Young Guns, but not since the 19th Century.
I think it is insulting that Google did not back up its lawyer–Boris Feldman has a sterling reputation and is one of the top litigators in the world. That–by the way–should have been the reason he was appearing for Google in the stockholder lawsuit in the first place. The idea that Mr. Feldman somehow misspoke on such a fundamental point or is not worthy of being backed up by his client is laughable.
Calling the Naked Bootleg
What does this have to do with the brand sponsored piracy “best practices”? Here’s where Google calls the naked bootleg.
It also appears that General Holder presided over a December 14, 2010 meeting for invited media at the White House requested by Google during the DOJ’s drug investigation into Google’s bad acts. Rather, nearing the conclusion of the 7-year long investigation into Google’s bad acts.
What, if anything, did this meeting have to do with the prosecution of Google? Did the Attorney General find it appropriate to make the following statement while at the same time prosecuting Google, a participant in the very White House meeting at which he was speaking, a meeting called to promote Google’s activities to cover over its bad acts?
[W]e successfully prosecuted a defendant who was selling fake cancer medications to patients in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Belgium, and the Netherlands. The drugs – which he marketed as a rare, experimental treatment – were manufactured in Canada, but advertised and sold globally over the Internet. With assistance from Canadian and German authorities, this individual was apprehended and extradited to the United States. He is now behind bars and has been sentenced to almost three years in prison.
Given that at the time of the White House meeting (December 14, 2010), Google executives were no doubt close to being criminally prosecuted themselves, don’t you think that news of Google’s prosecution would have been relevant and surprising to participants in the White House meeting? Particularly since the Attorney General of the United States was giving a speech about the very crimes of which Google (a major political supporter of the Obama Administration) was accused at a meeting held under the auspices of the President of the United States concerning the very subject of that prosecution?
When the Google plea bargain was announced a few months after the December White House meeting (reported in the Wall Street Journal on May 13, 2011), would it not have been reasonable for the public to be at least a little surprised–if not shocked–by the Attorney General’s comments or lack thereof? If anyone bothered to report the story?
CNET was the only news organization I could find that actually pointed out this bizarre pageant. CNET reported on May 19, 2011 (six months after the White House meeting at which General Holder spoke):
No one may have been more surprised [at the announcement of Google’s $500,000,000 settlment] than Victoria A. Espinel, the U.S. intellectual-property enforcement coordinator. Just six months earlier, Espinel, who’s leading the Obama administration’s efforts to thwart rogue pharmacies, commended Google’s help in the battle at [the December 14] White House meeting.
The December White House meeting was also the occasion to announce the formation of the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies. Remember this part of the pageant–it will return with the IAB “best practices” announcement.
Again, according to CNET:
There are plenty of others surprised by the news. At that same December meeting at the White House, Google was joined by Microsoft, Yahoo, Go Daddy, and a few other companies in announcing the creation of a nonprofit organization called the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies. The purpose of the group is to share information about illegitimate online pharmacies in order to root them out and shut them down.
“It was a surprise to me because I didn’t know the investigation was going on and because a half a billion dollars is a big number, even for Google,” said Christine Jones, general counsel, executive vice president, and corporate secretary at Go Daddy, the giant domain registration and Web hosting company that spearheaded the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies effort.
The formation of the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies is one of Google’s customary defenses to why the company isn’t simply running a RICO-predicate criminal enterprise. As recently as April 19, 2013, John Burchett, one of the legion of revolving door types in Google’s Washington DC in-house lobby shop, cited Google’s participation in the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies in response to Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood’s inquiry into Google’s compliance with the DOJ plea deal. (See page 13, AG Hood Exhibits. Burchett joined Google in 2007 (“Google: As Cool as it Seems and More“) just before Eric Schmidt received a prophetic letter from Joseph A. Califano, Jr. warning that Google was inducing the sale of drugs to kids. Burchett is a board member of Andean Health and Development and is the former Chief of Staff for Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm. Governor Granhom was an Obama campaign debate surrogate you will recall from many, many appearances on Sunday shows during the 2012 presidential campaign. Before joining the staff of Harvard Law School classmate Granholm, Burchett “worked as a business consultant to governments across the country” including Detroit’s Little Caesar’s.)
Getting into the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies industry group apparently was–and continues to be–a very important strategic move for Google. (Or what good Catholics will recognize as an “indulgence” for their sins.)
It also must have been important to Google that their motives for joining the group be concealed and not tainted by the fact that Google–at the very time they were being deceptively portrayed in the People’s House as one of the good guys–was either being criminally prosecuted by the US Government at the time, or was then currently negotiating a way to pay a $500,000,000 fine with the stockholders’ money and be handed a get out of jail free card by the US Government.
Imagine if instead of having this political plum handed to them on a silver platter inside the People’s House (albeit in the dark and without the knowledge of all–well, nearly all–the participants in the White House meeting) the press instead was all about why Google was allowed to join the group without at least disclosing its own felony prosecution for the very crimes at issue in the meeting.
Not very Googlely.
And they got away with it.
And according to Mr. Burchett, they are still getting away with it.
Next: The Return of the Naked Bootleg.