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Why Does the Center for Democracy & Technology Take Millions from Google?

May 4, 2016

A recent story in the Daily Caller reported on some good open source analysis by a corporate ethics group that demonstrated Google’s funding of the “Center for Democracy and Technology”, a Washington, DC based lobby shop long associated with Google.

The Daily Caller reports that:

An influential tech industry watchdog group that has received millions of dollars from Google has been silent on the internet giant’s recent fight to circumvent Federal Communications Commission restrictions on data collection.

The Center for Democracy and Technology, a consumer watchdog group with outsized influence in Washington, took in $2.5 million from Google between 2010 and 2014, according to tax records. The donations amounted to more than double the amount contributed by any other company during the same period.

Although the CDT has been a vocal critic of privacy infringements by internet companies, it has stayed out of a recent debate over Google’s data mining practices.

This will come as no surprise to MTP readers.  Who can forget the CDT’s involvement in fighting every anti-piracy measure of the last decade.  Remember the infamous memo that the CDT produced in 2010 in opposition to the Combatting Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act of 2011?  (aka Don’t Break the Internet Part 1).

Shortly after the CDT’s memo, the ACLU, Electronic Frontier Foundation and a number of people who should know better also sent a letter up to the Hill opposing COICA that bore a strange resemblance to the CDT’s memo:

CDT Memo ACLU/EFF Letter
“If many other countries adopt [COICA’s] approach—and there is little doubt that many would—it will worsen the balkanization of the Internet, undermining the right to freedom of expression and association and threatening the potential of the Internet as a powerful tool for promoting human rights.” “If many other countries adopt COICA’s approach—and there is little doubt that they will—it will worsen the balkanization of the Internet, where the information any individual can access will depend entirely on where that individual sits.”
“In countries where rule of law is weak or entirely absent, meanwhile, S. 3804ʼs approach opens the door to serious misuse. As Microsoftʼs recent experiences in Russia have revealed, governments can exploit copyright laws as a pretext for suppression of political speech. Further, once the United States sends the green light, the use of domain locking or ISP domain blocking to silence other kinds of content considered unlawful in a given country—from criticism of the monarchy in Thailand to any speech that “harms the interests of the nation” in China—will surely spread, impacting bloggers, citizen journalists, human rights advocates and ordinary users everywhere.“ “COICA’s approach could be misused in countries where the rule of law is weak or entirely absent. As Microsoft’s recent experiences in Russia have revealed, governments can exploit copyright laws as a pretext for suppression of political speech in other parts of the world. Further, once the US sends the green light, the use of domain locking or ISP domain blocking to silence other kinds of content considered unlawful in a given country—from criticism of the monarchy in Thailand to any speech that “harms the interests of the nation” in China—could metastasize, impacting bloggers, citizen journalists, democracy movements, human rights advocates, and ordinary users all over the world.”
S. 3804 also would drive many states, including liberal democracies, to adopt similar policies directed at U.S. content, taking it down worldwide. The scope of protection provided by the First Amendment remains the most expansive in the world, and speech protected in the United States remains proscribable in many other democratic countries (for example, hate speech in France). Local access to such speech remains a frustration for governments in those countries, and they would welcome a U.S.-based precedent to justify blocking it. COICA could also lead many states, including liberal democracies, to adopt similar policies directed at US content, taking it down worldwide. Content that is fully protected under the First Amendment Remains proscribable in other countries, such as hate speech in France and Germany, and local access to such speech remains a frustration for governments in those countries.

And don’t forget that the Center for Democracy and Technology got $500,000 from the Google Buzz class action settlement (see Roger Parloff’s excellent and prescient Fortune article, “Google and Facebook’s new tactic in the tech wars“).

Not only did CDT get $500,000 in the 2011 settlement, the ACLU and EFF also made bank in the same litigation (called a “cy pres” award).  As Mr. Parloff writes:

The EFF, CDT, and Stanford’s CIS all reliably line up on the tech sector side in scrimmages with copyright holders. All three supported, for instance, the January Internet blackout protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act — legislation opposed by both Google and Facebook. EFF and CDT also each submitted amicus briefs supporting Google in its two most important recent litigations: Viacom’s suit against Google’s YouTube unit for copyright infringement, and a suit by Rosetta Stone, the language course company, challenging Google’s practices of auctioning off other companies’ trademarks for use as paid-search keywords and allowing them to be used in ad text as well.

And then there’s Alan Davidson.  Mr. Davidson’s bio in the snappy Congressional Internet Caucus website tells us:

Alan Davidson

Visiting Scholar, MIT

Alan B. Davidson is currently a Visiting Scholar at MIT, where he is a Research Affiliate in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and a Fellow at the Sloan School of Management’s Center for Digital Business.

Until 2012, Alan was the Director of Public Policy for Google in the Americas. He opened Google’s Washington, D.C. office in 2005, and led the company’s public policy and government relations efforts in North and South America. He has written and spoken widely on Internet policy issues including privacy, free speech, encryption, network neutrality, and copyright online.

Yes, Mr. Davidson’s life apparently began in 2005.  Where was he before 2005 and after 2015?  According to Politico:

Davidson is a well-known presence in Washington. In 2005, he left his post as associate director at the Center for Democracy and Technology, a public advocacy group, to open up Google’s Washington office, becoming one of the first Internet company representatives taking part in day-to-day debates in the capital. He stayed at Google until 2011, and later went on to head the think tank New America’s Open Technology Institute.

And after 2015?  Where else does a Google Man hang his hat?  The Federal Government, but of course.

The Commerce Department has recruited former Google executive Alan Davidson for the newly created position of “director of digital economy,” the latest example of the Obama administration tapping tech industry veterans to fill key roles.

Remember–the Devil’s greatest trick is making us think he doesn’t exist.

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