Google has paid millions of dollars to academics at British and American universities for research that it hoped would sway public opinion and influence policy in favour of the tech giant.
A watchdog identified 329 pieces of research funded directly or indirectly by Google since 2005 in key public policy areas where regulatory changes could cost it a fortune in fines and lost earnings. The authors, who received payments of between $5,000 and $400,000, did not disclose Google’s funding in two thirds of cases. Emails suggest that some researchers shared papers with Google before publication, seeking suggestions for changes….
Much of the research made arguments in Google’s favour. Authors argued that the internet search company and publisher did not use its market dominance improperly, for example, or concluded that collecting huge volumes of personal data was a fair exchange for its free services….
The number of studies funded by Google has risen sharply at times when the company’s business model was under threat. Google-funded academics wrote more than 50 papers on competition issues between 2011 and 2013 when the company was investigated by the Federal Trade Commission for alleged anti-competitive practices. Google subsequently agreed to change some business practices.
There was a second sharp increase two years ago when the European Commission filed formal antitrust charges against the company. Last month, European regulators issued a record $2.71 billion fine against Google for unfairly favouring its own services over those of rivals in its search results. The company denies the charge.
Former Google employees told The Wall Street Journal that the firm’s officials in Washington compiled wish lists of academic papers, then searched for authors. Other academics approached Google to pitch ideas, according to emails obtained by the newspaper.
The sources said that Google promoted the research papers to government officials and sometimes paid travel expenses for professors to meet policymakers.
On one occasion Eric Schmidt, Google’s former chief executive, cited a Google-funded author in written answers to Congress to back his claim that his company was not a monopoly — without mentioning that it had paid for the paper, the investigation found.