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“Purchased Protest” Bombshell: Germany’s FAZ News Uncovers The Seamy Underbelly of Google’s Article 13 Lobbying

March 16, 2019 Comments off

 

 

The usual suspects got caught again.  And you can’t have the usual suspects without Keyser Söze.

 writing in the top German paper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has uncovered the financial link between YouTubers in the paid service of Google to “protest” in favor of the multinational monopolist’s interests in the European Copyright Directive (aka “Article 13”).

In his story filed today “Gekaufter Protest?” or “Purchased Protest?”, van Lijnden’s reporting has turned up what appears to be proof positive that Google’s interference lobbying has sunk to new depths of depravity (translation courtesy of Google Translate, courtesy of Google Books):

According to research by this newspaper, several German Youtubers have been offered money by an interest group that appears under the name “Create Refresh” to position themselves in videos against Article 13 of the copyright reform, which is particularly relevant for the video platform. “I am writing for financial support available to content creators who want to protest against Article 13. Be it a video, memes or graphics – we are open to suggestions, “says Mirko Drotschmann, who trades on Youtube as “mrwissen2go “and has about 900,000 subscribers.

Similar offers have been received by the Clixoom Science & Fiction channels (over 500,000 subscribers), Pietsmiet (more than 2.3 million subscribers) and Jana Riva (around 50,000 subscribers). The latter were promised €2,000 for a critical opinion on Article 13. All four emphasize the finding that they have not responded to the offer and have wondered very much about it, as such attempts to collect money would otherwise be almost non-existent and money would be offered only for the promotion of products.

Google’s interference lobbying should come as no surprise.  As MTP readers will recall, German Member of the European Parliament Helga Truepel was threatened with interference lobbying by Google’s lawyers during a trade mission to Silicon Valley:

helga google interfere

 

MTP readers will also recall the humiliating failure of the pro-Google lobbying effort to turn out any actual humans to protest in advance of prior votes.  I warned at the time not to underestimate Google’s ability to deliver protesters–one only need remember how the homes of Germans who opted out of Google Street View were mysteriously egged by “protesters” all in one night who also hung signs on their target homes stating “Google is Cool”.

The opposition to Article 13 is organizing a protest for March 23 and claims to have a number of cities in Europe targeted, mostly in Poland and Germany (two countries where Google has invested heavily in their academic missionary outposts for a decade or more).  The efforts may be aided by the general waive of protests about a host of social issues sweeping Europe, not to mention a large Brexit protest scheduled for March 23–coincidentally.  It may be possible to create the impression that one protest is about another topic altogether, particularly if the propagandist shows pictures of a protest in a wide shot that has no readable protest signs in frame.

Still, the logistics of getting protesters from one stronghold to a weaker outpost at a particular date and time was striking challenge given the geography.  Van Lijnden addresses how Google’s lobbyists rose to the challenge in the FAZ article:

[T]he protest is financially supported: Under the name of “EDRI” [the European Digital Rights lobby shop] numerous net political NGOs has offered…to bear the travel and hotel costs of people who want to lobby in personal talks with the deputies of the European Parliament. According to EDRI, a budget of €15,000 is available, two-thirds of which would be provided by the Open Society Foundation founded by George Soros and one third by the industry association “Copyright 4 Creativity”.  [MTP readers will have seen that bunch before back in 2015.]

The latter is also one of the supporters of “Create Refresh” and is led by Caroline De Cock, also managing director of the Brussels-based lobbying company “N-square”. Its clients include Google which as a parent company of Youtube would be hit hard by the reform. Such indirect lines from Silicon Valley to the aggravation and whipping of the protest can also be drawn elsewhere, such as the “Center for Democracy and Technology”, which is also listed as a supporter of “Create Refresh” and “Save your internet” and led by Nuala O’Connor, the former lawyer of Google subsidiary DoubleClick.

We wrote about the N-Square group back in 2015:

While Google itself is not a member of Copyright 4 Creativity, the organization is run by a long-time Brussels lobbyist whose firm represents Google, and even a cursory look at the Copyright 4 Creativity materials reveals some of the same rhetoric we have heard for years from the Google-funded anti-artist crowd.  This, of course, is how the astroturf game is played.

“Purchased Protest?” is extraordinarily brave reporting by FAZ given the level of hostility that Google has ginned up in Europe through its interference lobbying efforts rivaled only by Russian bot farmers and Cambridge Analytica–if not inspired by them.  Ahem.  Vlad would be proud.

Bots 14-2-19 Edited

This isn’t the first time that a major newspaper has caught Google and its YouTube subsidiary faking an Article 13 protest or stirring the contagion pot complete with bots and Russomania.  And of course David Lowery and Volker Rieck have done important work in exposing the rot.

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But it’s the first time that Google money has been linked to YouTube “creators” engaging in lobbying efforts to assist Google’s political goals, attacking Google’s political enemies and supporting Google’s political allies–all of which smacks of electioneering requiring compliance with Europe’s election transparency laws.

And of course there’s no one who knows more about where to find individuals likely to carry Google’s water, knowingly or unknowingly, than the one company in the world that knows what you’re thinking before you do.  Unbridled snooping by the pervy Google data scientists produces unimaginable benefits when that information is turned to political profit.

The first rate reporting in these bombshell revelations are all the more reason why the European law enforcement authorities need to open a criminal investigation into the whole mess.  As van Lijnden concludes:

[Big Tech’s attempt] to buy critical voices in the channel that is relevant to the debate highlights the manipulative methods that have fueled or even generated parts of the protest.

Can I get an “amen”?

A Cautionary Tale for Congress: Big Tech Uses Fake Grassroots Interference Lobbying In Europe

March 11, 2019 Comments off

There’s a sound policymaking reason why the European Parliament should ignore the bombardment of email and social media messaging it has recently endured for copyright reform.  That reason is well articulated in a 2010 memo by Professor Cass Sunstein (then Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs) when he cautioned the Obama Administration against relying on social media for making policy:

“Because, in general, the results of online rankings, ratings, and tagging (e.g., number of votes or top rank) are not statistically generalizable, they should not be used as the basis for policy or planning.”

In a post-Cambridge Analytica world where social media platforms not only are ubiquitous but also have earned the distrust of policy-makers and voters as well as parents, Sunstein’s nine-year old admonition is especially prescient-but he could have added “easy to fake.” This would apply to the new boiler rooms of fake Twitter accounts with distorted ratios of tweets to followers, or followed accounts to likes–such as the infamous Internet Research Agency.

Sunstein’s memo is both ominous and also relevant given developments at the European Parliament over the last few months.  Big Tech’s interference lobbyists are fighting the last war against safe harbor reform using “fake grassroots” online campaigns against Members instead of legitimate advocacy.

Specifically, the reaction of multinational Big Tech legacy players to the European Parliament’s safe harbor reform effort demonstrates a toxic brew of corporations attacking Members.   That’s a dark turn to Sunstein’s analysis.  Crucially, it appears that bot farming techniques and mass email attacks verging on denial of service are weapons in Big Tech’s interference lobbying arsenal despite their hollow assurances to multiple governments about policing interference by state actors in national elections.

Think it can’t happen here?  Think again.

Europe’s Safe Harbor Reform

Known formally as the “European Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market” or informally as “Article 13”, the EU legislation is intended to update the law and, among other things, substantially cuts back the legacy safe harbor privilege that is so valuable to Big Tech. (See Emmanuel Legrand’s excellent summary.)  It’s understandable that they would–Facebook, Google, Twitch and others have based their trillion-dollar market caps on what otherwise would be called piracy–also known as the “value gap”.

Congress has yet to grapple with the US version of the DMCA safe harbor (referring generally to Section 512 of the Copyright Act), although the Copyright Office is beginning field hearings on the much needed overhaul.  Originally conceived in 1998 as a way to afford a little latitude to reasonable people acting reasonably, Big Tech and its acolytes have distorted the DMCA “safe harbor” beyond recognition in the last twenty years and converted into an alibi.

In the last session, Congress took an important step by cutting back a different safe harbor in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act with the SESTA-FOSTA package.  SESTA-FOSTA eliminated a safe harbor for sex trafficking which seems uncontroversial-but caused a huge lobbying counterattack by Big Tech.  If you caught any of the manipulated onslaught against SESTA-FOSTA, you have a taste of what the European Parliament is experiencing with their Copyright Directive.

There’s no question that Google and Facebook lobbyists interfered with the EU’s legislation–the companies threatened an MEP that they would interfere in the EU elections if they were challenged on Article 13:

German MEP Truepel gives a first hand confirmation of what happened.  Further, in an official blog post that has become controversial because it struck a little close to home, the European Commission commented conclusively on the MEPs’ experience with Big Tech’s “fake grassroots” campaign and interference lobbying tactics:

[T]here is ample evidence from respected sources, here and here and perhaps here or here or indeed here that ‘Big Technology’ has even ‘created’ grassroots campaigns against the Copyright Directive in order to make it look and sound as if the EU is acting against the ‘will of the people’….

Do Google, Facebook or others really need to pay to persuade?

Are we in a world where ordinary people side with the fire breathing dragon against the knight with a blue and yellow shield?

The Fake Interference Campaign

Yes, Google and Facebook attempted to pass off a blistering email spam campaign targeting Members as a spontaneous grassroots uprising.  Not just once, but three times on three separate votes in Parliament on the Copyright Directive-even after they had been caught faking and interfering by major news outlets.

The first “campaign” was around a committee vote that resulted in a win for Big Tech. Thanks to David Lowery and Volker Reick, the press called out the fakery in exposes by the Times of London and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung among others.  Big Tech attempted to counter that expose by organizing in-person protests after making online threats of the “we’ll show you we’re real” variety across Europe.

Far from setting Europe ablaze, some estimate that these protests drew fewer than a total of 500 across Europe in multiple locations.  Pictures taken at these “protests” suggest that they were primarily organized by the Pirate Party, a fringe political party with one MEP that supports piracy and safe harbors as its name suggests.

Expose or no expose, the “fake grassroots” and spamming were repeated as the Copyright Directive went through successive procedural votes-which Big Tech lost miserably.  Yet the multinationals keep running the same interference play and kept getting sacked.

Members and the European Commission Speak Out Against Interference

Members were not fooled.  One example is an odd Tweetstorm against reform by suspicious accounts.  Members were subjected to attempts to stimulate the documented “emotional contagion” that drives social media.  A typical bot-like Twitter account against the Copyright Directive would have followers in low double digits or fewer but tens of thousands of tweets and a disproportionately high number of “likes” (in some cases over 100,000).  That ratio suggests that the account was used to capitalize on the Twitter “ratioing” algorithm to drive the corporate message into user timelines.  One wonders what did Twitter know and when did they know it?

In addition to the Tweetstorm, interference lobbyists ran a near-DDOS level email campaign that was actually counter-productive.  When asked at a press conference why the vote tally switched from opposing the Copyright Directive in the first committee vote to overwhelmingly supporting it in the next plenary vote, German MEP Helga Truepel pulled no punches:

“I think it’s due to this message spamming campaign. I talked to some of my colleagues here [and they] are totally [angry]…”

The European Commission’s official blog echoes Sunstein:

So next time, when you get a sponsored message on your timeline, which says something like ‘the EU will kill the world wide web as we know it’, stop, pause and consider for a moment. Ask yourself: Cui Bono? Who really benefits from this message or this wider negative campaign?

We know the answer to that question.  Google and Facebook became the biggest corporations in commercial history by manipulating legacy safe harbors in ways that neither Congress nor the EU intended.  Despite assurances about policing interference by bad actors on their networks, the European experience suggests they are actively using similar interference techniques to protect their privilege.

Europe has shown the world that legacy Big Tech business models can be brought into the 21st Century through well thought-out legislation.  But Congress would do well to arm itself against comparable “fake grassroots” interference campaigns in making policy for vital DMCA safe harbor reform to close the value gap.

[This post first appeared in the MusicTechPolicy newsletter, sign up for free version here.]

Article 13: Let the Investigations Begin

February 14, 2019 Comments off

 

 

It remains to be seen how the legislative process on Article 13 will play out but it’s very clear what the European Parliament’s next step is–investigate how American multinational corporations attacked a duly elected government.  The European Commission is foreshadowing this crucial next step in its official, undeniable and detailed condemnation of Google’s lobbying tactics.  (See The Copyright Directive: how the mob was told to save the dragon and slay the knight on the EC’s official blog.)

Bear in mind that these techniques have been used by Big Tech for many years as I have documented.  But it must be said that Google and Facebook have hit a new low with Article 13 and the Parliament should not let it go back to business as usual.  What is unusual about the Article 13 campaign was that it simply was repeated versions of Plan A–carpet bomb the MEPs with automated emails (aka spam) and pretend that these fakes were the voice of the people.

Bots 14-2-19 Edited

Many of these Twitter accounts behaved in a manner that is similar to the Russian bots that all these social media companies have told the U.S. Congress and the UK Parliament that they are taking steps to control.  If that’s true, it should be clear that when Jack Dorsey bats his stock options at the Congress about how seriously they take the problem, they don’t seem to take it very seriously when it is Big Tech’s interests on the line.

Twitter should have caught all this behavior given their supposed interest in stopping the Russian bot farms.  It’s hard to know exactly what the game was with these accounts the way that Twitter could tell the MEPs in, say, an investigation.  Under oath.  But we can guess based on the old Twitter ratioing techniques.

Bot 8 2-12-19 Edited

There are hundreds if not thousands of accounts that all have some common traits–very high numbers of likes, very low numbers of followers and all making a clear effort at riding an emotional contagion that social media is designed to exploit.

There is a real problem with governing-by-contagion and public officials are investigating this very thing with the Russian bots that bear a striking resemblance to Google’s Article 13 campaign.

But this problem isn’t news–for example, Cass Sunstein, then the Administrator of the Obama Office of Management and Budget, issued a memo in 2010 to the heads of executive branch departments and regulatory agencies which dealt with the use of social media and web-based interactive technologies.

Specifically, the Sunstein memo recognized the attraction to social media for policy making:

To engage the public, Federal agencies are expanding their use of social media and web- based interactive technologies. For example, agencies are increasingly using web-based technologies, such as blogs, wikis, and social networks, as a means of “publishing” solicitations for public comment and for conducting virtual public meetings.

 

But Sunstein called for exercising caution with public consultations.  He warned that “[b]ecause, in general, the results of online rankings, ratings, and tagging (e.g., number of votes or top rank) are not statistically generalizable, they should not be used as the basis for policy or planning.”

The European Parliament would do well to take a page from Sunstein’s thinking.

But the most important thing for the European Commission to take into account is that a company that is the target of multiple investigations is using the very market place monopoly that caused the competition investigations to begin with.

And Google is doing it to intimidate the European government into bending to its will on Article 13.  I’ll say it again–the European Commission needs to launch a full-blown criminal investigation into exactly what happened on Article 13.

 

 

 

 

Not All Bots Are Created Equal

February 6, 2019 Comments off

Gotta Whole Lotta Likes: Social Media Oppo to Article 13 Continues

February 5, 2019 Comments off

Here’s a few examples of what the Twitter campaign against Article 13 looks like, draw your own conclusions:

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Bot 3 1-5-19

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@GTP_Updates Demonstrates Google’s European Influence Campaign

January 22, 2019 Comments off

@artistrights tweeted in reaction to the stalled Article 13 legislation in Europe “American multinational corporations impose their commercial imperialism over their vassal states. Not the Europe we love.”

There probably has never been as revealing an insight into Google’s short, loathsome and treacherous lifespan as the Article 13 legislative process in the European Parliament.  It has put a microscope on Google’s fake lobbying campaign, but it also shows the extent of Google’s influence peddling to protect its profits from the European version of what we call the DMCA safe harbor.

Beyond the vile messaging of YouTube’s chief child exploiter Susan Wojcicki, Google has been investing in European academics for a decade.  Thanks to the Google Transparency Project, we know considerable detail about the extent of that investment.

Google has spent millions of euros funding European academics to write papers on digital policy, bankrolling university institutes and think-tanks in London, Berlin, Brussels, Paris and Warsaw

Over the past decade, Google has invested heavily in European academic institutions to develop an influential network of friendly academics, paying tens of millions of euros to think tanks, universities and professors that write research papers supporting its business interests.

Those academics and institutions span the length and breadth of Europe, from countries with major influence in European Union policymaking, such as Germany and France, to Eastern European nations like Poland….

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….

And in Poland, Google has funded the Digital Economy Lab (DELab) at the University of Warsaw, similarly described as an interdisciplinary institute that will research and design policies governing technology issues. Second, Google has created and endowed chairs at higher-learning institutions in European countries including France, Spain, Belgium, and Poland. Those chairs have often been occupied by academics with a track record of producing research that closely aligns with Google’s policy priorities….

Europe’s importance for Google cannot be overstated. It is both a key market, with usage rates above 80 percent in many countries, and the most organized source of opposition to its expansion plans. The European Commission is arguably the only regulator beyond the U.S. with sufficient clout to cause Google to alter its conduct. European officials have levied billions of dollars in fines for antitrust violations and have enacted some of the most stringent laws in the world to protect consumer privacy.

Strangely enough–sarcasm alert–the countries where Google has made its most significant purchase of academic mind share are also the countries where opposition to Article 13 seems the greatest, especially Poland.

But the larger point is that there should be no doubt in the mind of any artist anywhere in the world that Google and its fellow travelers are not your friends, never were and never will be.  This includes the Digital Media Association, the Internet Association and the MIC Coalition.

Read the report here.

 

The Article 13 Trialogue and Google’s Magic Grits

December 16, 2018 Comments off

                                                                               VINNY

             Perhaps the laws of physics cease to exist on your stove!  Were these magic grits?
I mean, did you buy them from the same guy who sold Jack his beanstalk beans?

From My Cousin Vinny, written by Dale Launer

After Google’s stunning defeat on the plenary vote on the Directive on Copyright in the Single Digital Market in the European Parliament, they had to go to plan B on their lobbying and public messaging tactics.  Which was a problem because plan B is the same as plan A–bots, fakery and online disinformation tactics.  Not to mention goofy pronouncements from YouTube President and Sergey Brin’s ex-sister in law Susan Wojcicki and the rebarbative Lyor Cohen.

How do we know of this Plan B problem?  Because notwithstanding the facts that fewer than 1,000 warm bodies turned out for Google’s Day of Rage protesting its embarrassing loss and that this reality check was entirely at odds with the tens of thousands of spam emails their cut outs sent to Members of the European Parliament–notwithstanding these facts, Google wants everyone to believe that an online petition with not 100, not 1000, not even 10,000 signatures was for reals.  Nope–that online petition supposedly had  four million signatures.

Nobody believes this, just like nobody believed the spam.  Why?  Because it could be gamed, just like Google’s other online campaigns that turned out to be largely fake.  And credible journalists determined that the spam campaign on Article 13 was fake.  Volker Rieck and David Lowery also exposed how Google uses astroturf front groups to “push its views”.

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More importantly, many of the MEPs on the receiving end of the spam believed it was fake.  My bet is that they believe the millions of signatures are fake, too.

We need to keep fighting in Europe because this is as close as our community has ever come to overturning Google’s safe harbor in any country, but you have to ask if they are snarfing down some magic grits at the Googleplex.

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