Google-Funded Think Tank Fires Analyst For Criticizing Google, Says Report
An analyst at the Google-funded think tank the New America Foundation claims he was fired for writing a statement that was critical of Google, according to a New York Times report published Wednesday.
The decision reportedly stemmed from allegations that Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google and current CEO of parent company Alphabet, pressured leadership to remove Barry Lynn, the director of the public policy institution’s Open Markets program.
Lynn published a post June 27, 2017 applauding the European Commission’s decision to levy a record $2.42 billion fine on Google for breaching EU antitrust rules, specifically favoring its price-comparison search results over those of its competitors.
“By requiring that Google give equal treatment to rival services instead of privileging its own, Vestager [E.C. antitrust chief] is protecting the free flow of information and commerce upon which all democracies depend,” Lynn wrote, adding that he hopes U.S. regulatory agencies would follow suit when the situations arise. The statement, according to TheNYT, disappeared from the think tank’s website for roughly a few hours, eventually reappearing with little evidence as to why.
The statement, which was offered for public use (typically for media outlets), wasn’t a lengthy diatribe, or even a thorough analytical piece — it was a relatively terse viewpoint on the situation, which referenced other tech giants like “monopolists including Amazon.”
Lynn told TheNYT that his boss and president of New America, Anne-Marie Slaughter, requested they meet in her office at some point to discuss the statement and Schmidt’s alleged disapproval. Slaughter allegedly told Lynn in an email that “the time has come for Open Markets and New America to part ways,” seemingly implying that 10 full-time employees and fellows would be fired as well. Slaughter added that this “was in no way based on the content of your work,” according to TheNYT. But she did supposedly purport that he was “imperiling funding for others” and “imperiling the institution as a whole” — a reference to the predicament in which the institution was put. The company is hard-pressed to balance the desire for more money to maintain and improve operations with the prospect of losing intellectual integrity by shying away from criticizing donors.
“Google is very aggressive in throwing its money around Washington and Brussels [where the E.C is headquartered], and then pulling strings,” Lynn told TheNYT. Google donates to at least 170 organizations, including New America and other groups that try to influence public policy. “People are so afraid of Google now.” (RELATED: Google, Facebook Are Super Upset They May No Longer Be Able To Sell Your Internet Data Without Permission)
Slaughter, though, in an official press release, says she has been working with Lynn for the past two months in an attempt to successfully turn the Open Markets program into an independent one and foster a fluid transition. But “his repeated refusal to adhere to New America’s standards of openness and institutional collegiality meant that we could no longer work together as part of the same institution,” she asserted.
Schmidt served on the board and was the chairman of New America for several years until 2016. Google is listed as one of the top donors for the think tank, having donated more than $1 million from 2016-2017. “Eric and Wendy Schmidt” are also included in that top tier of donations.
Google vehemently denies that it had anything to do with Lynn’s departure. Google spokeswoman Riva Sciuto told The Daily Caller News Foundation that all of the organizations it donates to have strict autonomy.
“We support hundreds of organizations that promote a free and open Internet, greater access to information, and increased opportunity,” Sciuto said. “We don’t agree with every group 100% of the time, and while we sometimes respectfully disagree, we respect each group’s independence, personnel decisions, and policy perspectives.”
Some would argue that Google and Schmidt’s endeavors are separate. However, now that leaders of tech giants have thrusted themselves further into the public sphere, which often entails the espousal of political opinions, the distinction between their personal lives and their stake at the company-empowered podium have blurred.
Schmidt was spotted wearing a staff badge during then-Democratic candidate for president Hillary Clinton’s election night party. After Clinton failed to attain the helm, Schmidt told an audience of employees in January that President Donald Trump is “going to do these evil things as they’ve done in the immigration area and perhaps some others.” In correlation with his statements to employees (which seemed to be made as a CEO), Alphabet also reportedly spearheaded the funding efforts for the legal brief signed by nearly 100 companies that objected to Trump’s temporary immigration ban. (RELATED: Google CEO After Firing Engineer: ‘People Must Feel Free To Express Dissent’)
Aside from any political interests, just like concerns of Amazon have been steadily growing, so too have reservations for Google, including from Schmidt’s own side. Democratic New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker said in July that “the U.S. government absolutely should take a look at Google” and other big tech companies, to see if they need to be bureaucratically reigned in. As evident by the EU’s decision, which is relatively liberal when it comes to business regulations, and Lynn’s piece, which applauded the decision to financially crackdown on Google, others on that general side of the political spectrum may be changing their tune on Google.
While how much influence Schmidt actually had on Slaughter’s decision to part ways with Lynn is unclear, he claims that his firing is telling of a larger silencing trend for organizations with a direct goal of influencing public policy.
“Today’s New York Times story alleges that Google lobbied New America to expel the Open Markets program because of this press release. I want to be clear: this claim is absolutely false,” Slaughter said in the press release. “After more than 10 years of doing strong policy work at New America, Open Markets’ position is not news to Google. New America is an intellectually diverse organization. We have always encouraged many different viewpoints and our funders are aware of and support this philosophy.”
The article has been updated to provide New America’s official press release.
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