Tech money in government privacy conference
Corporate influence on the US government continues apace. Sam Biddle reports in The Intercept:
In Januay, academic-turned-regulator Lorrie Cranor gave a presentation and provided the closing remarks at PrivacyCon, a Federal Trade Commission event intended to “inform policymaking with research,” as she put it. Cranor, the FTC’s chief technologist, neglected to mention that over half of the researchers who presented that day had received financial support from Google — hardly a neutral figure in the debate over privacy. Cranor herself got an “unrestricted gift” of roughly $350,000 from the company, according to her CV.
Virtually none of these ties were disclosed, so Google’s entanglements at PrivacyCon were not just extensive, they were also invisible. The internet powerhouse is keenly interested in influencing a lot of government activity, including antitrust regulation, telecommunications policy, copyright enforcement, online security, and trade pacts, and to advance that goal, has thrown around a lot of money in the nation’s capital. Ties to academia let Google attempt to sway power less directly, by giving money to university and graduate researchers whose work remains largely within academic circles — until it gains the audience of federal policymakers, as at PrivacyCon.
Some research at the event supported Google’s positions. An MIT economist who took Google money, for example, questioned whether the government needed to intervene to further regulate privacy when corporations are sometimes incentivized to do so themselves. Geoffrey Manne, the executive director of a Portland-based legal think tank that relies on funding from Google (and a former Microsoft employee), presented a paper saying that “we need to give some thought to self-help and reputation and competition as solutions” to privacy concerns “before [regulators start] to intervene.” (Manne did not return a request for comment.) Other research presented at PrivacyCon led to conclusions the company would likely dispute.
The problem with Google’s hidden links to the event is not that they should place researchers under automatic suspicion, but rather that the motives of corporate academic benefactors ought to always be suspect. Without prominent disclosure of corporate money in academia, it becomes hard for the consumers of research to raise important questions about its origins and framing.
Google declined to comment on the record for this article.
How Tech Money Flows to Privacy Scholars
Google’s ties to PrivacyCon are pervasive enough to warrant interrogation. As a case study in how pervasive and well-concealed this type of influence has become, PrivacyCon is hard to beat.
Authors of a whopping 13 out of 19 papers presented at the conference and 23 out of 41 speakers have financial ties to Google. Only two papers included disclosure of an ongoing or past financial connection to Google.
Other tech companies are also financially linked to speakers at the event. At least two presenters took money from Microsoft,` while three others are affiliated with a university center funded by Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Twitter. . .