Google’s Think Tank Support – Bribery Or Blackmail?

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The tech companies such as Google pay significant sums of money to varied think tanks and pressure groups. The aim of all this is obviously to influence the law about what Google may or may not do. There’s really no doubt about that.

And now to what there is doubt about. Is this a lightly concealed bribery, the tech giant’s money buying privilege in the political process? Or is it blackmail by the political process of the tech giants?

Google has spent tens of millions of pounds funding think tanks that have published papers supporting its policy interests.

A report seen by The Times examined the financial backing of five institutions in Britain and Europe. The academic groups also stage events that allow Google lobbyists to rub shoulders with ministers and policymakers who might not attend those run under the technology company’s branding.

The report, compiled by a US watchdog, said that Europe was crucial to Google because the European Commission was the only regulator outside America with sufficient clout to cause the company to change its conduct. The commission fined Google €2.4 billion last summer for abuse of market dominance in shopping search results.

Obviously, if some bureaucracy has the ability to nick €2.4 billion off your shareholders you would be negligent if you didn’t spend a few tens of millions to influence that bureaucracy. But what’s the cause, which is chicken, which egg?

I tend towards it all being a blackmail paid to the policy process. Years back it was noted that neither Google nor Microsoft really did any lobbying. They weren’t paying money into the DC political process at all, no campaign contributions, no fees to lobbying shops and so on. But that political process had noted that they were now large companies with lots of money. They started to talk about regulation of the sector.

Now, perhaps regulation was and is necessary. And perhaps it isn’t. But I would insist that at least some of it is about threatening regulation in order to increase the flow of money into the political ecosystem. You know, nice business you’ve got there, be a shame if the law were changed, wouldn’t it?

No, this isn’t paranoia, it’s a clear eyed view of how the politics of regulation works. Once any activity becomes significant the political process wants a piece of it.