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Silicon Valley plays hardball
Tech Companies Aren’t Different

The Wall Street Journal has a bombshell piece on… wait for it… something not Trump-related. Apparently, America’s biggest internet company has been operating a well-funded under-the-table influence campaign aimed at encouraging academics to write papers supporting its political and regulatory interests.

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. […]

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.

These revelations highlight the fact that traditional talking points for regulating corporate influence in politics—curbing formal lobbying or campaign finance contributions—are too limited and perhaps even increasingly irrelevant to our current challenges. Wealthy people and corporations can fund magazines and think tanks and non-profits and even academic research. The influence that flows from these endeavors equals or exceeds the influence from direct campaign contribution or registered lobbying outfits. Activists and politicians interested in making the system fairer and less vulnerable to plutocratic takeover need fresher and more innovative ideas than campaign contribution limits.

Also, Google’s campaign is a reminder of the fact that, as Walter Russell Mead noted in 2014, “Silicon Valley has turned from a hipster refuge for quirky nerds into the home of some of the world’s biggest and most aggressive corporations.” Contrary to the idealistic “save the world” ethos that it (increasingly unconvincingly) tries to project, technology is just like any other sector—energy, finance, or medicine—that is interested first and foremost in maximizing its profits, and, to that end, winning over the levers of the state.

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  • Fat_Man

    Say it ain’t so.

  • Unelected Leader

    Google is global. It is not American unless, that is, we are using “American” so loosely that it is meaningless. They’ve got their privileged gigs around the world piping cash to the cayman and Irish shells. Still, surprising that they aren’t doing more vindictive things to the Chinese autocracy for banning google and almost all google services.

    • KremlinKryptonite

      Well there hasn’t been a huge need with easy to use VPNs. Of course, VPNs only operate so long as the regime wants them to, and if you’re on top of the news then you know they’re basically phasing out VPNs entirely for personal use, as opposed to just occasionally shutting them down during certain holidays and events.

      Think about it soberly though. Its not attractive to go to a place where the unelected regime makes a VPN necessary just to use the worldwide web.
      But now that its going to become virtually impossible you can see that the agitation it’ll cause in the native population as well as more damage done by driving young, tech savvy expats away has been chosen very deliberately in a cost-benefit gamble.

      So, if taking such an unpopular step has been chosen by the technocrats as the least bad gamble for the long run, well that speaks volumes to the instability within the state. We already know that protests and “mass events” have steadily risen for many years. The worries of the technocrats are real, and clearly growing.

      • Unelected Leader

        Oh yeah I know that some google-supported NGOs bring VPN and other encryption ISOs into autocracies like china and spread them around. Upload them on Chinese sites locally so they are easy to access by the people. So that’s something good done by google at least.

        • KremlinKryptonite

          The next frontier for circumventing censorship is not encryption, but rather spoofed data prints that look just like regular clearnet traffic. The reason VPNs can be blocked is because encryption is easy for ISPs to see. They know its encrypted, and they can easily detect that you’re using them as a conduit to connect to a VPN server.
          Some VPNs have gotten a little more inventive by scrambling it further, or by releasing data in pulses rather than a stream to slip past censors. But that’s not enough and comes at a huge cost in terms of speed.

          I’ve talked to some of the guys who perform penetration tests. Its no secret that china (and most countries) fail all the time. Little Singapore is actually one of the best defended go figure.

          • Unelected Leader

            Now that would be good. If Google wants to make that happen then fantastic. Maybe we can overlook their questionable practices elsewhere if they want to make that their pet project and succeed.

          • Suzy Dixon

            But if they limit VPNs or totally get rid of them then that at least increases their cyber security because they can better affect which connections are made.

          • KremlinKryptonite

            Oh no, not true. This gets to the agitation part of it. Chinese are not idiots and they are text savvy, they know it has nothing to do with security. It simply means that it might be more difficult for the casual user to access information about the elite and their opulent lifestyles, affairs, or for people to easily congregate on the web and plan/coordinate a protest.

            With or without VPN connections being made inside of china means basically nothing at all with respect to the Chinese intranet being penetrable. In fact, with the amount of e-commerce going on in China it is ridiculously easy to penetrate the Chinese intranet.

          • Suzy Dixon

            Hmm well i guess I don’t see how exactly.

          • KremlinKryptonite

            If you are able to access a website then that means you’re being served, so the connection established between your computer and that website really represents a connection between servers. If you have a connection between two servers then they can serve each other data.

            Now, looking at commerce and online banking, as well as many other web services, you know these sites use things called cookies so that computers can be identified and tracked for the purpose of streamlining activities, serving advertisements, many other things.

            So if you’re going to connect to a Chinese-based website that wants to serve you a cookie then you have an opportunity right there. In fact, it gets rather exotic at this point with attackers being able to bundle the cookies they were just served and send them back like an enemy target marker. At that point you know what your target is, and you can attack that network after performing a series of stress tests on it. Once you break into the network then the rest is really history because computers and servers connected to the network each have their own unique vulnerabilities.

    • Observe&Report

      Google was expelled from the mainland Chinese market because they refused to comply with the censorship restrictions required by the Great Firewall.

      • Unelected Leader

        I know that and what a pathetic reason to be expelled by a pathetic regime scared of social media and Gmail. I guess they are saving lives right? Without the censorship and repression then there would be another Tiananmen protest and General Secretary Xi would have to follow in the footsteps of the great Deng and shoot a few thousand kids.

  • FriendlyGoat

    So, are we left to guess? Does this article propose reining in Google? Or is it suggesting we don’t need curbs on formal lobbying and campaign finance contributions because they don’t address this form of Google activity very well? Are we asking for more oversight or less?

    • Fred

      I’m not sure he’s suggesting more or less oversight. I think the idea is that sunshine is the best disinfectant. If we know that research that benefits Google is funded by Google, we know to take it with a grain of salt. And, of course, so do journals and peer reviewers. Also, I don’t think he’s suggesting that current oversight of lobbying on the government side is bad, just that we are fooling ourselves if we think we can ever reach the point that corporations just throw up their hands and say “Well, there’s just too much government oversight to engage in questionable lobbying activities” instead of using their resources to work around that oversight.

      • FriendlyGoat

        I’m not sure whether the author was suggesting more or less oversight, either. That’s why I posed the question. Generally, this place and all conservatives would be on the side of less. But, along came that pesky Google doing stuff kinda sorta in support of lefties—-or, at least, in support of leftie corporatism. Then what?

        • Fred

          Then, like I said, we publicize it. I don’t think passing laws against such things would be effective even if the courts upheld them, which they probably wouldn’t because of free speech issues.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Okay. There is never anything wrong with publicizing the side shenanigans of corporations, whether Silicon Valley lefties or Koch Brothers righties.

            As for free speech, sooner or later we will need to sort out whether the founders intended that for people or for multi-national corporations without limitation. For instance, when do we decide that false business advertising is acceptable and PROTECTED free speech because we have determined legally that individual citizens may freely lie in most circumstances (except when sworn in court). Most people will not naturally “go with” that, but it is a next logical step for the free speech crusaders.

  • Timothy

    WE have no choice lets just face the fact that china is phasing out all VPN’s in their Countries. for me i use VPN everyday for personal use and office. try FrootVPN less cost and has a fast internet speed #internetaccessvpn

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