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Google’s European Campaign Contributions on Article 13

August 24, 2018

RITTER

They want what every first term administration wants…a second term.

From A Clear and Present Danger, written by Tom Clancy (novel), screenplay by Donald Stewart, Steven Saillian and John Milius.

MTP readers will recall that both the Times of London and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung have confirmed the efforts by Google to influence the vote on copyright reform in the European Union.  We called for that investigation on MTP and were mocked for doing so by the usual suspects.

Getting mocked by the usual suspects is how you know you’re onto something big, by the way.

But we owe a big thanks to the really stellar investigative work of Volker Rieck and David Lowery that exposed how Google uses astroturf front groups to “push its views” and for which it no doubt pays well.

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There is, of course, a political dimension to this exposé that has not been examined thoroughly yet.  It’s an important dimenstion because the Members of the European Parliament must stand for election next year, less than a year away.  And the Member of the European Parliament who certainly appears to be as close to Google as 1 is to 2 is the lone Pirate Party representative.

The Pirate Party is a creature of proportional representation, an interesting practice in Europe (and other places) that allows political parties with very small constitutencies to field candidates and sometimes get elected to legislative bodies such as the European Parliament.  The Pirate Party has one European Parliament representative elected from Germany, which is interesting because Google has also dropped a pile of influence-peddling cash in Germany according to the Google Transparency Project.

First, Google’s academic influence program in Europe has gone beyond funding existing academic institutions, as it does in the United States, to helping create entirely new institutes and think-tanks in key countries like Germany, France and the United Kingdom. In those countries, executives from Google’s lobbying operation have helped conceive research groups and covered most, or all, of their budgets for years after launch.

Google policy executives have acted as liaisons to steer their research priorities and host public events with policymakers.

For example, Google has paid at least €9 million to help set up the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society (HIIG) at Berlin’s Humboldt University. The new group launched in 2011, after German policymakers voiced growing concerns over Google’s accumulated power.

The Institute has so far published more than 240 scholarly papers on internet policy issues, many on issues of central importance to Google’s bottom line. HIIG also runs a Google-funded journal, with which several Google-funded scholars are affiliated, to publish such research.

The Institute’s reach extends beyond Germany, or even Europe. HIIG previously managed, and still participates, in a global Network of Internet and Society Research Centers [Silicon Valley’s answer to the Confucious Institutes] to coordinate internet policy scholarship. Many are in emerging markets where Google is trying to expand its footprint, such as India and Brazil.

So it must be said that when Google was caught with its hand in the cookie jar on Article 13, that astroturf effort must be viewed as part of a larger Google policy laundering operation that may include influencing elections.  Certainly in a post-Cambridge Analytica world, one cannot simply ignore these dots and all are worthy of investigation for compliance with Europe’s campaign finance laws if nothing else.

For a minority political party representative of one in need of a message in the face of an imminent election, it simply cannot be ignored that garnering the finanical support of Google and Facebook’s astroturf operation for a campaign that directly or indirectly benefits a candidate may be welcome.

Getting Silicon Valley’s billions focused on motiviating the electorate around a particular issue of benefit to such a multinational bloc of monopolists might help motivate voters and guide them to the “right” candidate.  As one of the usual suspects noted:

When the European Commission announced its plans to modernize EU copyright law two years ago, the public barely paid attention. This changed significantly in recent months.

Which was perhaps one of the electoral objects of the astroturf exercise.

Considering that political campaigns in Europe are typically of quite limited duration compared to the US (sometimes as short as 25 days before polling day), coming up with a an issue campaign that a political candidate–especially an incumbent–can leverage to increase their profile has got to be golden–particularly if that campaign may not rise to the level of a restricted political contribution or electioneering has got to be disclosed.

If that issue campaign can draw funding and support from U.S. based multinational corporations like Google and Facebook leveraging their user networks and advertising clout, all the better for a vulnerable candidate.

Because in the end, what every incumbent wants is another term.  The Pirate Party already faces declining relevance and may lose the one seat they have in the European Parliament elections in a few months time.  Especially if the the Pirate Party already struggles to field a winner.  Faced with such an existential threat, who knows what compromises may get made and who knows what in-kind donations may surface.

Undisclosed compromises and in-kind donations.

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