REVEALED: How Google funding of academic research reaches into Australia's policy debate

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Google’s funding of academic research, which helps the multinational technology giant gain influence in setting public policy, extends into Australia.

An investigation in the US has revealed that Google paid scholars millions of dollars to produce hundreds of papers supporting its policy interests.

The Google Transparency Project identified 329 research papers published between 2005 and 2017 on public policy matters of interest to Google that were in some way funded by the company.

The Google Transparency Project is a initiative of the Campaign for Accountability, a not for profit that reveals the conduct of companies in public life.

In Australia, Google has confirmed that it funds research. However, a spokesman declined to comment when questioned about specific projects.

Google says it’s happy to support academic researchers across computer science and policy topics, including copyright, free expression and surveillance.

It describes the Google Transparency Project report as highly misleading.

“For example, the report attributes to Google any work that was supported by any organisation to which we belong or have ever donated,” it says.

In Australia, Google is a key player behind not for profit groups now lobbying to change copyright law, as recommended by the Productivity Commission.

Google stands to gain from the change expected to be debated within federal cabinet shortly. The proposal is opposed by writers, artists and musicians.

One of the academics said to have benefited from Google funding is Patricia Aufderheide from the US, who was until recently in Australia at QUT in Queensland and helping the Australian Digital Alliance by speaking in favour of “fair use” copyright.

The Australian Digital Alliance is currently lobbying the federal government to change Australia’s copyright law to one resembling that used in the US.

Google is a member of the digital alliance and has a staff member, Michael Cooley, Google Australia’s Public Policy and Government Relations Counsel, on the board of directors. Google has confirmed that it provides “financial sponsorship” to the alliance.

Aufderheide, a Fullbright Fellow and US academic, is listed as a co-author of five academic papers, according to the Google Transparency Project.

The funding is shown from Google as being indirect, via her co-author legal scholar Peter Jaszi of American University, a founder of the Digital Future Coalition, which includes many Google beneficiaries among its members.

Among the papers co-authored by Aufderheide is one titled, “Fair Use and best practices: Surprising success”.

Aufderheide later emailed Business Insider: “I have never gotten a Google grant for any of my research.”

And the Google Transparency Project said: “We’re reviewing the comments we’ve received from some of the academics mentioned in the report and plan to post an update soon.”

The Google Transparency Project later released a statement replying to objections from some academics at being included in the list.

“Some authors felt that only those who had directly received Google money should be included,” the Google Transparency Project said. “They argued that working for an institution that receives funding from Google should not merit inclusion in the list. However, we felt that would give an incomplete picture of the ways in which Google funds academic research that can advance its public policy positions.”

A string of academics have protested at their inclusion on the list, according to a report in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Aufderheide told Business Insider: “I have worked with people who got Google money but not on scholarship funded by Google.”

An Australia-connected work funded by Google is the paper, “The Role of Switching Costs in the Markets for PC Operating Systems, Online Search, Internet Access and Mobile Service: Implications for Australian Competition and Consumer Protection Policy” in 2012 by Robert G Harris at the University of California, Berkeley.

Google is thanked. “The author is grateful to Google, Inc. for financial support of this research,” the paper says.

The report says some individual papers offered criticisms of Google but the overwhelming majority tended to support the company’s policy or legal positions.

Here’s a chart showing how copyright has been a big issue for the Google-related research:

Source: Google Transparency Project

(DISCLOSURE: Chris Pash, Business Insider’s business editor, is a member of the board of directors of the Australian Society of Authors and of the Copyright Agency, and is a former director of PANPA, the newspaper industry group. He also receives royalties for copyrighted written material he owns.)

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