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The MMF’s Google Problem

July 5, 2015 Comments off

David Lowery’s recent post on the Trichordist reveals the disclosure by an apparent whistleblower that the Music Managers Forum and to some extent the Feature Artist Coalition have each been taking undisclosed money from Google and Spotify.  (Given the context, I assume the whistleblower is referring to the MMF chapter in the UK.)  Why is this important?  Because when confronted with the artist rights grass roots movement that Lowery personifies, we can expect Google to do what they always do–try to co-opt it one way or another.

Want evidence?  If you’ve had a look at the Public Citizen report “Mission Creep-y“, Google’s technique of buying their way into issues or industries and increasing their dominance in their ownership and influence through control of resources should come as no surprise.  The venerable good government group provides extensive documentation of Google’s massive investment in indirect lobbying through funding a host of academic institutions (who can forget the millions Google paid for Lawrence Lessig’s enterprises at Stanford), organizations like Creative Commons, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Knowledge, the Center for Democracy and Technology, and a host of others.

Creative Commons 2008 Schedule B

What’s the Spotify connection?  The distinction between Google and Spotify is more blurred after Spotify let Google onto their board of directors last year.  I find it hard to believe that Google got a Spotify board seat without a Google investment in Spotify which would be typical of how you get a seat on private company boards of directors most of the time.

In addition to any ownership stake that Google may have, what unites Spotify and Google is advertising supported, i.e., “free”, music.  For which Google sells the ads, of course.  Or as they might say, “content,” which has implications for everyone from visual artists, to movie makers, to journalists, to artists and songwriters.

As Spotify’s billionaire investor Sean Parker told CNN’s Poppy Harlow, the most important aspect of Spotify’s business success is the ability to offer music at scale–or as Thom Yorke said more accurately, the ability to commoditize music.  Commoditizing music is also exactly what Google’s goal is with the YouTube data honeypot, for example, as scale makes scraping the data from YouTube users more profitable.

YouTube Tracking

For these reasons, I think Lowery is on to something with the whistleblower disclosures.  I would agree with David that artists would want to know if their manager is participating in this co-opting exercise.  It’s all entirely believable to me as it is a 100% fit with Google’s modus operandi that I have observed.

How far does this influence penetrate the many MMF chapters?  And what about the International Music Managers Forum umbrella association?

Strange Bedfellows for the IMMF

The mission statement of the International Music Managers Forum says:

The IMMF is an international umbrella organisation comprising of regional associations of music managers from +30 countries from five continents, which currently represent +1.200 artist managers. It’s the IMMF’s mission is to defend the economic and legal interests of artists on an international scale with the vision to create Transparency and Fairness. This shall be accomplished by three core activities: training and education, networking and lobbying.

Sounds good, right?  So why is the IMMF part of a lobbying astroturf group based in Brussels (to lobby the European Commission) called “Copyright 4 Creativity“?  The group features on its home page the IMMF’s “Open Letter on Record Label and Music Publishing Deals” as a tool to accomplish some lobbying goal.  That’s the letter that was written after the mysterious leak of the Spotify/Sony agreement.  So if the group is going to use that letter as a lobbying tool we would expect that the other members of Copyright 4 Creativity would be in line with the IMMF’s mission statement, right?

Wrong.  For starters, the Computer and Communications Industry Association (Google is a member), the Center for Democracy and Technology and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (Google provides support) are all backed by Google.  Google was forced to disclose that connection in its litigation with Oracle on a filing that has become known as the “Google Shill List.”   These groups are also included in Public Citizen’s “Mission Creep-y” lists.

There are some other names on that list that seem odd bedfellows for the IMMF that purports to represent artists but in which artists have an indirect voice at best.  This is a prime example of why artists who take individual action can be so effective (I’m especially thinking of David Lowery and Blake Morgan).

For example, Google and the Computer and Communications Industry Association are also members of the MIC Coalition, a massive lobbying effort organized to continue the practice of denying artist pay for radio play in the US.  I think it’s fair to say that the CCIA has opposed every effort by artists and songwriters to improve their lives.

Dima Panel

Using IMMF positions to lobby for the goals of these other groups seems antithetical to an artist rights organization that the IMMF purports to be.  It’s certainly something deserving of a vote by artists.

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.

Here’s the real problem–artists have never confronted a multinational media corporation that is willing to spend millions and millions to undermine copyright and artist rights on a worldwide basis.  Through lobbying and strategic investments in academics, astroturf groups and competitors, Google is doing just that while at the same time trying to pass itself off as your best friend.  So the question is how many of the members of Copyright 4 Creativity get money from Google and is IMMF in that position?

There may be explanations for how MMF-UK and IMMF have ended up in this situation, and I’d love to hear what it is.  We owe them a fair hearing, but I think they owe artists an explanation and an opportunity to be heard.  That’s a fundamental aspect of the legitimacy of representation.

The Free Speech Rights of Advertisers (h/t to @LaurieSegallCNN)

March 26, 2015 Comments off

As we have seen in Google’s attempt to stop being investigated by Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood and other members of law enforcement, Google are quick to cast themselves as the defenders of free speech under attack from law enforcement–as they serve ads on YouTube against ISIS recruitment videos as reported by CNN, NBC an a host of others.

The latest example is the aspirational video posted by Jund al-Aqsa promoting the group’s most recent suicide bombing attack (YouTube Distributes Jund al-Aqsa Video Glorifying Jihadi Suicide Bombers).

One group whose free speech rights were not discussed: Advertisers.  But thanks to courageous reporting by CNN’s Laurie Segall, the truth is starting to emerge on just how bad Google’s adserving platforms really are.  (See These Ads Ran Before ISIS Videos).

aqap 4

NBC covered the story, but this time the reporters unfortunately succumbed to the Google Spin (Ads Shown Before YouTube ISIS Videos Catch Companies Off-Guard):

With more than 300 hours of footage uploaded every minute, and with ISIS-related videos cropping up from a variety of accounts, YouTube relies heavily on its users to flag content that violates its community guidelines. YouTube also has a “promotes terrorism” flag as an option underneath every video, and it reviews content that anyone flags.

In other words, Google’s defense is that in an environment that is 100% within Google’s control, Google is unwilling to spend the money to properly filter videos that violate laws against giving material assistance to terrorists before YouTube distributes them widely around the world through ISIS’s much vaunted social media campaigns.

And serve advertising against them, thus forcing their advertisers to subsidize terror.

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There are several steps the Congress could take that would  go a long way toward fixing Google’s unwillingness to treat advertisers fairly and honestly.  These are best summarized by Professor Ben Edelman of the Harvard Business School in his “bill of rights for advertisers” which offers a robust multi-tiered approach easily adopted in regulation and against which one can imagine little principled objection.  Consider right #1:  The advertiser’s right to say no.

Ask Advertisers Where They Want Their Ads to be Placed

It usually comes as a surprise to the casual observer of YouTube’s distribution and monetization of terror that advertisers—the true source of the revenue for Google—are kept in the dark about the ultimate destination of their ads.  As Professor Edelman says,

“It is nonsense to pay for ad space without knowing where an ad will appear; sites vary too much in user quality and context.”

Refusing to tell advertisers where their ads appear is a common practice, in fact is the industry standard.

Why might that be the case?  Is it that the adserving company doesn’t want to bear the cost of producing the information for its clients, or is it that the adserving company doesn’t want to get the advertisers’ approval.  Or take a chance that the advertiser might leave the service or worse yet—refuse to pay for advertising against YouTube videos that it had instructed Google were not to have the advertising.

Yet by producing this piece of information—no law enforcement costs to the government involved—advertisers speech rights are protected and Congress helps the market to correct for many of these anomalies.

Clearly, providing decent accounting information and true choice to advertisers is not a panacea.  But it is certainly something that Google could do tomorrow as an undeniable benefit for truth in advertising.

It is the FTC’s long held view that

“cyberspace is not without boundaries, and fraud and deception are unlawful no matter what the medium. The FTC has enforced and will continue enforcing its consumer protection laws online to ensure that products and services are described truthfully in online ads….These activities benefit consumers as well as sellers, who expect and deserve a fair marketplace.” (emphasis mine)

Requiring the FTC or other government agency to enforce such a law as part of the FTC’s “truth in advertising” regulations is a vital part of aiding law enforcement —particularly if the Congress retained oversight over the law to make sure that powerful commercial interests were not able to take advantage of special treatment by industry insiders who come through the revolving door into the agency.

It would also go a long way toward stopping adserving companies from free-riding on the brands of unsuspecting advertisers as well as the life’s work of artists.

As a never ending flood of stories are released almost daily about Google’s influence over the US. government in general and the Federal Trade Commission in particular, it may just be that the U.S. government is so far in the tank with Google that we can not expect the federal government to do its job.

That’s why it is important for Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood to succeed in at least being able to investigate Google’s seedy business practices.  While the big advertisers have enough of a relationship with Google to get the attention of the Leviathan of Mountain View, the little advertisers in Mississippi represented by the populist Hood will never get a human on the phone at Google to discuss the problem, much less the time of day.

The “little guy” can only turn to their State Attorney General when confronted with Google, a company that averages one meeting a week with the White House.  Crony capitalism and the special interests can only be defeated by sunlight brought by crusaders like Attorney General Hood.

Only Jim Hood and AGs like him can force Google to stop defrauding advertisers and to stop YouTube from pumping jihad into our homes–jihad that Google monetizes.

Corporate Astroturf and Manipulation of Media Messages by @SharylAttkisson at TEDxUniversityofNevada

February 7, 2015 Comments off

Uncle Sugar and Big Daddy and their Edifice Complex

As we enter the a new session of Congress, we can anticipate being assaulted by the combined forces of Google, Facebook, Pandora and SiriusXM, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Knowledge, the Digital Media Association, the Computer & Communications Industry Association and its host of “studies”, the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Stanford Institute for Internet and Society, the Berkman Center, the Consumer Electronics Association, the Internet Association and of course, the National Association of Broadcasters.

What’s different about the current state of play for artists, songwriters, producers is that our side really doesn’t have anything like the complex and systematized network of 501(c)(3)s, cy pres awards, special interest groups and academics that are on Google’s payroll and increasingly on the payroll of Facebook and the new Internet Association (which itself spends approximately $400,000 a quarter on lobbying alone).

I highly recommend you read this article by Tom Hamburger and Matea Gold from the Washington Post, “Google, once disdainful of lobbying, now a master of Washington influence.”  You’ll begin to get the idea that Google spends so much money on “astroturf and manipulation of media messages” that it had to start finding ways to create other ways to spend the money.  Hamburger and Gold lead their reporting with this example:

In May 2012, the law school at George Mason University hosted a forum billed as a “vibrant discussion” about Internet search competition. Many of the major players in the field were there — regulators from the Federal Trade Commission, federal and state prosecutors, top congressional staffers.

What the guests had not been told was that the day-long academic conference was in large part the work of Google, which maneuvered behind the scenes with GMU’s Law & Economics Center to put on the event. At the time, the company was under FTC investigation over concerns about the dominance of its famed search engine, a case that threatened Google’s core business.

Indeed, this manipulation has gotten so bad, the judge in Oracle v. Google required the parties to make court filings listing all the public commenters on the case which has come to be called the “Google Shill List” which you can read here.  The Trichordist has an excellent “connect the dots” post showing Google’s history of financing those filing “friends of the court” briefs in Google’s efforts to stop Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood’s investigation into Google’s violation of various laws.  All this in the aid of what the EFF might call “obfuscation”–Google and its “amici” would have you believe that Hood’s case is just about the acts of people using Google or its products, for which Google has a variety of statutory protections.  Nothing to see here, move along.

But as Hood points out, the four-year sting operation run against Google by a combination of federal agencies before a federal grand jury in Rhode Island showed that Google and its senior management team right up to Google’s CEO Larry Page was complicit in violating the Controlled Substances Act to the point of helping the bad guys get around Google’s own filters.  Google paid a $500,000,000 forfeiture for those drug violations for advertising the sale of prescription drugs–not for what the advertisers did, but for what Google did.

Sorting through more than four million documents, prosecutors found internal emails and documents that, they say, show Mr. Page was aware of the allegedly illicit ad sales. Under this week’s $500 million settlement, those emails won’t be released, avoiding the possibility of disclosure at trial.

“Larry Page knew what was going on,” Peter Neronha, the Rhode Island U.S. Attorney who led the probe, said in an interview. “We know it from the investigation. We simply know it from the documents we reviewed, witnesses that we interviewed, that Larry Page knew what was going on.”

Subsequently, Google’s lawyer said in open court that the Department of Justice apologized to Google for the statement by Mr. Neronha (Transcript of hearing at pp 11-12):

“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.” (emphasis mine)

So when Hood served his subpoena, you could easily imagine Larry Page telling Google’s lawyers to MAKE IT STOP!  I’M RICH, I’M ENTITLED, HE CAN’T DO THIS TO ME!

MUZZLE HIM!

Because, the U.S. Attorney for Rhode Island told the Wall Street Journal that Page was implicated.  Google is now settling shareholder class action cases against Larry Page and the Google senior management team and board members alleging that Page is implicated.  There is a potential for a host of criminal violations at the State and federal level from consumer fraud, to RICO, to Sarbanes Oxley.  And the best Google can come up with for friends of the Court are the usual suspects and trade groups?  When the federal Justice Department is issuing apologies to multinational corporations, it’s left to state law enforcement officials to seek justice.

Just like the copyright battle in the Congress yet to come this year, Attorney General Hood’s investigation is a significant upping of the ante in these cases.  Hood’s case is one of the few times that an American multinational corporation tried to muzzle a criminal investigation into its own practices before it ever started.

And that’s worth bringing to bear a whole lot of astroturf just the copyright law–that in Google’s case presents a host of loopholes on which it’s built its business.

As the Trichordist points out, the venerable public interest watchdog “Public Citizen has released a study called Mission Creepy a great guide to Google’s labyrinthine influence buying.”  Even if you skim that report, I think you’ll agree we haven’t seen as comprehensive a takeover of the federal government, tax exempt organizations and the academy since the days of John D. Rockefeller, maybe not ever.  No wonder the Department of Justice is apologizing to Google.

But it’s not just controlling government officials that’s the problem.  It’s the combined work product of all this influence buying that is truly insidious.

How does this work?  This video by award wining investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson is an excellent discussion by the former CBS news reporter about the new media world we live in.  Ms. Attkisson uses the example of pharmaceutical companies doing a variety of things like manipulating search results and controlling Wikipedia.  Ahem….

Here is a link to the Columbia Journalism Review article that Ms. Attkisson references:  Bitter Pill: How the press helps push deadly prescription drugs, sometimes with deadly consequences.

Attention Mr. Almunia: Justice Department Evidence Against Megavideo Confirms Adsense Account

December 26, 2013 3 comments

by Chris Castle

Joaquín Almunia, the Vice President of the European Commission in Charge of Competition currently investigating Google’s unsavory business practices in Europe may wish to consider the dark underbelly of Google’s advertising business when deciding whether to give the company an unprecedented third opportunity to settle the competition questions against the global monopolist.

According to evidence released by the Justice Department in the Megavideo criminal prosecution, Megavideo was a Google Adsense customer until at least May 17, 2007:

On or about May 17, 2007, a representative from Google AdSense, an Internet advertising company, sent an e-mail to DOTCOM entitled “Google AdSense Account Status.” In the e-mail, the representative stated that “[d]uring our most recent review of your site [Megaupload.com,]” Google AdSense specialists found “numerous pages” with links to, among other things, “copyrighted content,” and therefore Google AdSense “will no longer be able to work with you.” The e-mail contains links to specific examples of offending content located on Megaupload.com.

While the quotation appears to be carefully worded email relating to Megaupload.com‘s Adsense account, it is unclear whether the government is pursuing the role that Google played in shoveling money to the “Mega Conspiracy” prior to that termination, and whether all accounts that benefited the Mega Conspiracy prior to and after the email were in fact terminated.  Given the numerous examples of Google serving advertising to referring sites that drove traffic to Megavideo, this email quoted by the government actually raises more questions than it answers.

The DOJ also notes evidence that the Mega Conspiracy opened a Google Analytics account for Megavideo to provide data to help the company steal more efficiently, that apparently rose to the level of email exchanges with Google employees:

According to internal e-mails and documents obtained from Google, members of the Mega Conspiracy, including DOTCOM and VAN DER KOLK, began accessing Google Analytics reports for Megavideo.com, Megaupload.com, and Megaporn.com. The Google Analytics account was opened at least as early as November of 2008 under the name “TIM VESTOR,” which is an alias for DOTCOM. Google Analytics provides website measurement tools, such as the number of visits during a specified time period….

A particular Google Analytics report shows that between November 19, 2010, and February 18, 2011, Megavideo.com had roughly 1 billion visits. Less than 13% of these visits were “direct traffic” — meaning visits that were likely generated by the user having directly typed the URL link into the web browser or having bookmarked the URL link. More than 85% of the visits to Megavideo.com were from “referring sites,” meaning the user appears to have clicked a URL link on the referring site that directed the user to Megavideo.com. The top referring websites during that time period were third-party linking sites, such as seriesyonkis.com (more than 110 million referrals) and sidereel.com (more than 60 million referrals).

The reports from Google Analytics for the following time periods reflect similar data: February 19, 2011 — May 18, 2011; May 19, 2011 — August 18, 2011; August 19, 2011 — October 27, 2011….A particular Google Analytics report shows that between November 19, 2010, and February 18, 2011, Megaupload.com had roughly 1 billion visits. Less than 20% of these visits were “direct traffic,” and roughly 80% were from “referring sites.” The top referring websites during that time period were third-party linking sites, such as taringa.net (more than 50 million referrals), seriesyonkis.com (more than 25 million referrals), and multiupload.com (more than 20 million referrals). The reports
from Google Analytics for the following time periods reflect similar data: February 19, 2011 — May 18, 2011; May 19, 2011 — August 18, 2011; August 19, 2011 — October 27, 2011.

It’s not surprising, then, that the government obtained emails from Google relating to this level of traffic as it beggars belief that a Google Analytics customer with this level of traffic was just kind of getting an automated report.

These reports prepared by Google also demonstrates that Google knew or should have known that its terminated Adsense customer was in a business of getting most of its traffic from referring sites–and as Ellen Seidler has documented on Popup Pirates, these referring sites triggered pop up advertising pages that served “Ads by Google” and did so in the tens of millions.  Advertising for some of the biggest brands in the world.

There was clearly an Adsense account somewhere in this mix for these referring sites, even if the Adsense account for Megaupload got to hot to maintain.  It is now clear that Google was preparing reports that detailed exactly which sites were referring traffic to the Mega Conspiracy.

There are two questions that the DOJ has not asked as yet:

1.  What happened to the money that Google made on Google’s share of revenue paid to the Mega Conspiracy before May 17, 2007?  If this is like other instances where Google has profited from crime (as it told the BBC regarding advertising for counterfeit Olympics tickets, for example) and selling human growth hormone, RU486 and oxycontin, the only way Google will give up any of the proceeds from crime is if Google is criminally prosecuted.  So let’s get on that, shall we? and

2. What is the relationship was between Google and these referring sites documented in the Google Analytics statements it sent to the Mega Conspiracy, how were they paid, and did any of that income originate in the US or was the revenue disguised outside of the US (such as in Google’s China operations that played a leading role in Google’s payment of $500,000,000 for violating US controlled substances laws.  Did Google provide any income tax disclosure or filing regarding the income, including for its own share of advertising revenue?  (Actually paying tax might be a bit much to expect, but at least telling the government how much income it was not paying tax on might have happened.)  Was any of this income included in SEC filings and audited financial statements for Google and if not, why not?  What did Google’s CFO Patrick Pichette know and when did he know it?  Or perhaps John Dixon at Ernst & Young?

There’s a term for this…what is it again?  Oh, yes.  A Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization a/k/a how they sent  Michael Milken to prison and bankrupted his company for a lot less evil.  If the U.S. government is not going to pursue this investigation, Mr. Almunia is perfectly positioned to do so–why would he want to give an unprecedented third chance to a company that does not come to him with clean hands?

As the DOJ tells us:

On or about September 2, 2007, via Skype, VAN DER KOLK said to ORTMANN, “we’re modern pirates :-)”. ORTMANN responded, “we’re pretty evil, unfortunately”, “but Google is also evil, and their claim is ‘don’t be evil.’”

It takes a conspirator to know a conspirator.

Cramdown Part 3: War is Peace, Ignorance is Strength and Search is Neutral

December 19, 2012 Comments off

The hoopla over the FTC investigation of Google frames one of the most important questions for consumers: Does Google hardwire search results?

Google’s explanation for this has gone all over the map over several years.  Eric Schmidt denied that Google cooked the books in his testimony before the US Senate Antitrust Subcommittee (that the Senators did not believe); Google lawyer Jon Jacobsen denied that there is any (known) evidence to suggest bias); Marissa Mayer exclaimed that “it’s only fair!” for Google to promote their own services over others; and Google has consistently made legalistic statements that even if they do it, they have no legal obligation to assist rivals anyway, so it’s all perfectly legal.

We have said for years that it seems apparent that Google has hard wired YouTube search results above all others and extended its monopoly from search to video search by illegally subsidizing YouTube with Google’s monopoly profits from advertising–including advertising sold on pirate web sites.

Like Orwell’s Minitrue, Google would have you believe that SEARCH IS NEUTRAL, which has to go right up there with other half baked monstrations like WAR IS PEACE and especially IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.

After a two-year investigation, the FTC has a pretty good idea of the answer and the public deserves to be told.  Up or down, right or wrong, the FTC is the best bet that the American consumer has to know exactly what is going on under the hood at Google.

An uninformed consumer cannot drive competitive markets.  The FTC has the power to either leave them in the dark (which is where Google likes them) or inform consumers through evidence trial and testimony under oath.  Ignorance is not strength, and Google should not be allowed to make the FTC an accomplice in their deception.

It’s time to come clean.  It’s time for transparency.

It’s time to bring this case to trial.

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