Saturday, April 23, 2016

Google's Crony Relationship With the Obama Administration

According to the site Protect Internet Freedom, and their newsletter "The Intercept", Google has been the most frequent visitor to the White House and there has been a revolving door between Google and the Administration, with nearly 250 people leaving Google to work in the White House or leaving the White House to work at the tech giant.  Between January 2009 and October 2015, Google staffers gathered at the White House on 427 separate occasions.  The White House official visited most often by Google is Todd Park, the U.S. chief technology officer from 2012 to 2014. In that short period, Park met with Google officials at the White House 22 times. Park’s replacement, current Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith, was a former Google vice president. She had five White House meetings as a Google representative, then 10 Google meetings as a White House representative.
No other public company approaches this degree of intimacy with government. According to an analysis of White House data, the Google lobbyist with the most White House visits, Johanna Shelton, visited 128 times, far more often than lead representatives of the other top-lobbying companies — and more than twice as often, for instance, as Microsoft’s Fred Humphries or Comcast’s David Cohen. (The accompanying chart reflects 94 Shelton visits; it excludes large gatherings such as state dinners and White House tours.)
Google, of course, claims innocence. In a company blog post, they attacked the WSJ for daring to question them. They were just there to help fix the steaming pile of fail called, and to talk about STEM education, internet censorship, cloud computing, trade and investment, and smart contact lenses. No, it had nothing to do with the several antitrust lawsuits against Google!  How dare you suggest such a thing! 
Google’s dramatic rise as a lobbying force has not gone unnoticed. The company paid almost no attention to the Washington influence game prior to 2007, but ramped up steeply thereafter. It spent $16.7 million in lobbying in 2015, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and has been at or near the top of public companies in lobbying expenses since 2012.

But direct expenditures on lobbying represent only one part of the larger influence-peddling game. Google’s lobbying strategy also includes throwing lavish D.C. parties; making grants to trade groups, advocacy organizations, and think tanks; offering free services and training to campaigns, congressional offices, and journalists; and using academics as validators for the company’s public policy positions. Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, was an enthusiastic supporter of both of Obama’s presidential campaigns and has been a major Democratic donor.
Google doesn't just lobby the White House for favors, but collaborates with officials, effectively serving as a sort of corporate extension of government operations in the digital era.
It can perhaps be argued that in an increasingly technical world, that the should hire the best guns from the private sector to help them out.  The question becomes, can the feds be trusted to regulate Google (or Silicon Valley in the larger sense) when they've spent so much time in bed on the sofa together.  This is saying Google is the personal "IT help desk" to the White House staff.  Shouldn't that be up for public bidding, like any other government contract?  I can imagine several companies would like to have that position.  And there is no doubt that Google’s rise in Washington has coincided with public policy that is friendlier to the company.
In 2012, staff at the Federal Trade Commission recommended filing antitrust charges after determining that Google was engaging in anti-competitive tactics and abusing its monopoly. A staff report that was later leaked said Google’s conduct “has resulted — and will result — in real harm to consumers and to innovation in the online search and advertising markets.”

The Wall Street Journal noted that Google’s White House visits increased right around that time. And in 2013, the presidentially appointed commissioners of the FTC overrode their staff, voting unanimously not to file any charges.
I suppose there are probably naive folks who think search engines are impartial things, and return results based on some objective measures of popularity.  Sorry, but that just isn't the case.  Google (and their competitors) go through proprietary algorithms that change fairly quickly.  As a fellow gunnie, I'm sure you recall that they completely blocked out gun and ammo searches back in 2012, a practice that has shown up back as far as 2002.  It's not hard to imagine Google returning only unfavorable search results on White House political enemies, is it?  Can you see them influencing the election process, if only by restricting the information that can be found online?   

The article contains a couple of very information-dense graphics that chart the 427 meetings between WH and Google representatives, and that chart the revolving door between the WH and Google.  The second chart reveals 55 cases of individuals moving from positions at Google into the federal government, and 197 individuals moving from positions inside the government to jobs at Google.  This isn't a new thing; the revolving door between the big banks and brokerages and their regulatory agencies is another example.  But wouldn't it be better all the way around for less corporate cronyism  to be the rule?  Unless you're one of the cronies, then it would suck.  


  1. I do NOT trust Google anymore!

    The founders may have believed in Don't Be Evil" or whatever it was they espoused, but those days are loooong gone!

    The one thing that really irks me are the applications in the Play Store that want access to EVERYTHING on your phone or tablet. The days of an app not wanting any permissions to rape you are also loooong gone.

    There's an app for a place I volunteer at that wants almost everything on your phone. It wants access to your phone contacts, your email list, your location, your *entire* camera roll, any videos you have stored, unrestricted Internet access, and on, and on, and on.

    I was going to install it, but as soon as the install screen showed what it wanted, I froze in terror, and told it NO.

    One of the Apple fanbois I work with said "Gee, you need to get an iPhone! It didn't ask ME for all that stuff!", ay which point I told him that Apple apps typically DON'T ask...they just do it.

    ANYWAY.....enough of my rant. Google is getting a little too comfy with Satan for my taste.....

  2. People need to remember: When something is free, YOU are the service.

  3. We need to clean house. We need half a dozen special prosecutors and a couple hundred perp walks. Sadly regardless of who gets elected I suspect Obama's crimes will never come to light. Our MSM is strangely incurious. Start with the EPA, IRS, Homeland security, HHS, ATF... Hell, investigate all of them.

    1. I agree 100%, but it's even worse than that. I think a new administration could work full time for its entire term undoing the damage from this one.

      The problem is you can't just cancel some piece of legislation and be done with it. They write these 3000 page monstrosities because they put things in a dozen laws that really have to do with just one. The big example is Obamacare, the ACA. They wrote pieces of that into the TARP bailouts that were passed over a year before the main bill.

      And then the alphabet agencies like the EPA turn one page of "black letter law" (written by congress) into 10 or 20 pages of regulations.

    2. You forget:

      Stroke of the pen, Law of the land.

      It worked fine for the Muslim in Chief. Congress had no real problem with it, nor did the courts. Trumped!

  4. It is one thing to hire a tech company to fix problems; it is quite a different one for them to come in and privately discuss policy that affects them and to provide advice on multiple issues for free.
    What is happening here is far beyond common government contracting (whether that should happen to the scale it does is a different issue).

  5. First step away from Google search, try It's just as good a search engine and they don't keep a record of your searches.

    1. Or use; they are foreign based and can't be pushed to secretly change their policies like a US company could be.
      Some of the encrypted email companies have been forced by the FISA court to change how they operate and are forbidden from letting people know they changed.

    2. Do you really NEED all that that crap on a phone ???