Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

WSJ:  Paying Law Professors — Inside Google’s Academic Influence Campaign

GoogleWall Street Journal, Hidden Influence | Paying Professors: Inside Google’s Academic Influence Campaign:

Google operates a little-known program to harness the brain power of university researchers to help sway opinion and public policy, cultivating financial relationships with professors at campuses from Harvard University to the University of California, Berkeley.

Over the past decade, Google has helped finance hundreds of research papers to defend against regulatory challenges of its market dominance, paying $5,000 to $400,000 for the work, The Wall Street Journal found.

Some researchers share their papers before publication and let Google give suggestions, according to thousands of pages of emails obtained by the Journal in public-records requests of more than a dozen university professors. The professors don’t always reveal Google’s backing in their research, and few disclosed the financial ties in subsequent articles on the same or similar topics, the Journal found. ...

In some years, Google officials in Washington compiled wish lists of academic papers that included working titles, abstracts and budgets for each proposed paper—then they searched for willing authors, according to a former employee and a former Google lobbyist. ...

The funding of favorable campus research to support Google’s Washington, D.C.-based lobbying operation is part of a behind-the-scenes push in Silicon Valley to influence decision makers. The operation is an example of how lobbying has escaped the confines of Washington’s regulated environment and is increasingly difficult to spot. ...

Google has paid professors whose papers, for instance, declared that the collection of consumer data was a fair exchange for its free services; that the company didn’t use its market dominance to improperly steer users to Google’s commercial sites or its advertisers; and that it hasn’t unfairly quashed competitors. Several papers argued that Google’s search engine should be allowed to link to books and other intellectual property that authors and publishers say should be paid for. ...

Google has funded roughly 100 academic papers on public-policy matters since 2009, according to a Journal analysis of data compiled by the Campaign for Accountability, an advocacy group that has campaigned against Google and receives funds from Google’s rivals, including Oracle Corp. Most mentioned Google’s funding.

Another 100 or so research papers were written by authors with financing by think tanks or university research centers funded by Google and other tech firms, according to the data. Most of those papers didn’t disclose the financial support by the companies, the Campaign for Accountability data show.

Google said in some of its funding letters that it would “appreciate receiving attribution or acknowledgment of our award in applicable university publications.” There are no professional standards on such disclosures in the research papers, which are mostly published in law journals at the universities.

Money spent on the research measures in the low millions of dollars—according to the former employee and former lobbyist—a relatively small expense for the search-and-advertising giant. Some in academia say professors pay too high a price. Such corporate funding runs the risk of creating the impression “that academics are lobbyists rather than scholars,” Robin Feldman, of the University of California Hastings College of the Law, said in a Harvard University law journal article she co-wrote last year.

Ms. Feldman and other critics of the funding say even disclosing money received from a company that has benefited from the research can give the appearance of a conflict of interest and undermine academic credibility. ...

“Yeah, the money is good but it does get in the way of objective academic research,” said Daniel Crane, a University of Michigan law professor. He said he turned down Google’s offers to fund his research that opposed antitrust regulation of internet search engines. “If I am reading an academic paper, and they disclose an interest with a party with an interest in the outcome,” he said, “you take [the research] with a grain of salt.” ...

In 2010, Google hired Deven Desai, then a researcher in law and technology at Princeton University, to find academics to write research papers helpful to the company. Over the next two years, Mr. Desai said, he spent more than $2 million of Google’s money on conferences and research papers that paid authors $20,000 to $150,000.

Legal Education | Permalink


Amazing how many are repeat players. They may as well be on Google's payroll. I have read it is OK if you disclose. Disclosure just shifts the risk of bias to the reader, like a warning label. How much would you pay for a product that says "This may or may not work?"

Posted by: Jeffrey harrison | Jul 14, 2017 12:14:43 PM