back to article Why DOES Google lobby so much?

Last month we reported how Google was astroturfing British politics by chivvying "citizen groups" to show spontaneous support for policies that benefit Google. Here's another example. Google sponsored a "mentoring" event for tech startups, called the "Campus Grand National" last Monday. For US readers, the Grand National is a …

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The 3 stages of company growth

In the first stage you bring an innovative new idea or product to market and, if momentum and customer enthusiasm are with you, you grow like the clappers.

In the second stage your established, deep- pocketed but commercially stale competitors try to use political clout and (often absurd) legal arguments to stop you taking over. As a bright-eyed and bushy tailed upstart you have little clout of your own and, having realised that the status quo can be powerful and politicians will fight for the share of the gravy that your established competitors give them, you reluctantly push some money into lobbying for purely defensive purposes.

In the third stage your big new idea has peaked and analysts are getting restless for continued growth, while others are starting to erode your advantages and catch up. By now, though, you've discovered for yourself that doing favours for politicians pays big rewards and your mountain of retained cash is pushed into ever deeper, more exotic and more ludicrous attempts to seek rent and keep out the competition.

Google are firmly in stage 4 now, and the fact that they lobby against uk firms that pay uk taxes while avoiding them themselves is particularly galling. Our absurd political class have much to answer for.

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Holmes

You left out the evil part

The significance of the topic is that Google is no longer an innocent victim of the rules of the game. The google has now become a player in making the rules.

I'm not saying that businesspeople are bad. Most of them are fine, upstanding folks who just want to play the game fairly. The problem is that the LEAST ethical businessmen are bribing the CHEAPEST politicians to write the WORST laws--and all the rest of the companies are then forced to play in the crooked game. The way it works now in America, your large company must grow like a mindless cancer just to survive.

They are not worrying about the little detail that the cancer always kills its host--and then dies. They just want to die with the most toys. Think again, fools. If you die with the most toys, you are still dead.

"Don't be evil"? What a sad joke in the google's case, but at least you could argue that it wasn't their own fault until they became the leading high-tech lobbyist. I used to admire Google and think they were going to make the world a better place. That was a long time ago.

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A lot of the senior folks at Google are ex-Microsoft.

Once Microsoft got raised out of its slumbers in the 90s, it meant that not only Microsoft but every potential successor knew it had to get in with the lobbying before competitors formed "common enemy coalitions" beat them to it.

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"You may think an entrepreneur may have enough on their plate already...."

Yes, but I can think of plenty of specific examples where a start-up requires clarity and certainty from government before embarking on expensive product development costs. For example if you're inventing a self-driving car, you might want to lobby government to amend the rules of the road. Your investors will want clarity on who bears the financial burden in the event of a self-driving car malfunctioning and killing the driver; that might require a change in the law too. Another example is LightSquared, who thought they had covered their backs by seeking prior approval from the FCC, only to have their business plan vetoed by the Army.

You can't compare Web 2.0 companies to Microsoft and Apple. When Bill Gates was tinkering about in his garage, he wasn't treading on established industry toes; he wasn't entering into a heavily regulated field. By contrast these Web 2.0 shops are upsetting the music industry's apple-cart; they need clarity in the law and where technology is evolving quickly the law is often left behind.

I'm not saying that what Google is doing is right; I'm simply pointing out that there is a case for start-ups lobbying government in some situations.

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It is the same thing

When Bill and the Steves were tinkering in their garage, they certainly were plagued with already-established companies with huge budgets (IBM, DEC, Compaq and Cray) in a very regulated market (regulations on Information Security, POSIX compliance, DoD and NSA Regs..)

There is nothing special about Web 2.0: we had Search Engines and Advertisers since the dawn of the internet, nothing Google is doing is new, other than blurring lines.

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Mushroom

Truth

"By contrast these Web 2.0 shops are upsetting the music industry's apple-cart; they need clarity in the law and where technology is evolving quickly the law is often left behind"

This is true but British law isn't what is making this hard work - it's the way American law is globally pervasive. If a US company decides it wants to stomp all over you regardless of how legitimate your business is you suddenly need a large (see also: very expensive) legal team in the US or you're going out of business.

This isn't an environment in which people can innovate, Google need to look closer to home if they're buying politicians.

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Just to be clear, Coadec was set up without any help from Google. A group of private individuals - both entrepreneurs and others active in the startup world -- formed and operated Coadec for 18 months with no external support. During that time we engaged in a number of projects on our own, including contributing to Ofcom and IPO consultations, hosting discussion events, participating in panels and writing articles. We did all of this without a penny behind us.

After we had demonstrated ourselves as an organisation and wanted to take on a full-time staffer, we approached companies and organisations whom we felt had similar policy aims to seek sponsorship, and we received contributions from Google, Yahoo and the BCS. While it's always fun to imply that there is something more sinister afoot, I'm afraid there isn't:: they sponsor us because they agree with us on many issues and believe our work has value, and we take sponsorship from them because we agree with them on many issues and do not have our own independent source of cash-flows, simple as that.

I would also like to make clear that the only person connected with Coadec who receives any money whatsoever is our full-time staffer, and she is paid a salary at market rate. Mike Butcher, the rest of the Steering Committee and I all volunteer our time and do not (and will not) receive any money from it.

Jeff Lynn

Chairman, Coadec

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what is your position on climate change?

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@JeffLynn

So, just to be really clear, what is Coadec's position on allowing web companies (be they startups or mammoths like Google) to freely use any material they find online and essentially treat it as copyright-free (and of course, making revenue using this content) unless the copyright owner jumps through dozens of legal hoops to stop them and/or get paid fairly?

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Anonymous Coward

@JamesMicallef @JeffLynn

I picked 'upvote' but you make an important point of etiquette and Google Democracy Denial(tm), when surrounded by sodomites, does one bend over to the right or bend over to the left ?

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"Why DOES Google lobby so much?"

Because it's a fucking marketing organization. It sells eyeballs, on a global scale, without actually providing anything useful to the individual. Think organized religion. Now ask me why I shun it ... goo-space is a train-wreck waiting to happen.

"It has views of privacy, property and creative rights, and economics that are sub-optimal."

See above :-/

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"without actually providing anything useful to the individual"?

So why does anybody go to their site and end up reading the ads on it?

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Re: "without actually providing anything useful to the individual"?

"So why does anybody go to their site"

My family & I don't. We see no need. The corporations who employ me to run their firewalls/DENY tables/border routers see no need for goo-space, either.

"and end up reading the ads on it?"

Ads? What are these things you call "ads"? Your personal circle isn't "everybody".

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Big corporations will do whatever they can to strengthen their position, Google is not alone in this. Nice article

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I see Andrew is getting an Army of pro-copyright followers, personally I'd rather know in advance so as not to click his articles which are always the same old propaganda.

While some may suffer, the damage of not offering a lobby to compete with big media is far more destructive, unfortunately they only way to balance the power seems to be to take a few of the small guys as collateral damage.

I think its worth it personally, fight a balanced argument and you might have more credibility

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you're clearly not a photographer, then.

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Devil

"unfortunately they only way to balance the power seems to be to take a few of the small guys as collateral damage"

That's easy to say when you're not part of the "collateral damage" yourself. Personally I agree with the general premise that copyright laws are flawed, but NOT in the way that Google et al make out. Current copyright law favours the big media producers over the little ones because they have the resources to identify their copyrighted works that others are profiting from without paying. The certainly don't have any orphan works, and they aggressively (and successfully) push for ever-increasing copyright extensions because god forbid that a 60-year-old film or book could be freely available.

Google profits from non-copyright work because it doesn't produce and content but profits from aggregation and distribution of 'free' content, so of course it wants more content to be free. Google can (1) lobby to effectively make all work not produced by a big studio an orphan work that it can profit from. This is easy for Google, and it screws the small photographers, independent artists and filmmakers etc. Or they can (2) lobby to reduce copyright terms - this would open a huge amount of material for Google to profit from, but (a) it doesn't want to take on the movie studios and record companies, preferring to pick on the small guys and (b) it knows that if popular 25-year old works went out of copyright there would be a whole new industry coming into being to compete with Google to provide access to these works.

Google is acting like a bully, picking on the small guys for profit because it won't take on the big boys. How about, instead of making public all orphaned works and making it really easy to orphan a work, we change Copyright law to make it no longer than 25 years from first publication, and make it illegal to remove or otherwise alter metadata from a media file unless you're the copyright owner?

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Anonymous Coward

Google: The Koch brothers of the Tech Industry

Don't think that their lobbying hasn't been noticed - they also only lobby for "one side" of politics - the far left.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: they also only lobby for "one side" of politics - the far left.

If you think a multi-billion dollar monopolistic corporation lobbying to have laws amended in favour of unrestrained capitalism is 'far left' - what on earth counts as right-wing?

Hint - Californian != left wing

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Hey Google

just pay your tax

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Anonymous Coward

Am I alone

In thinking access to British politicians and government officials should be contingent on paying taxes here?

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Mushroom

Re: Am I alone

Not really alone but I for one am quite happy to imagine my tax supports somebody like a disabled person who may never work and can vote if they want?

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Re: Am I alone

By implication, Mr Young, you presume that your disabled non-tax payer would have some form of meaningful access to UK pols? Certainly disabled voters are most welcome for photo opportunities with MPs, but I'm not sure as individuals, even collectively, ordinary people whether disabled or not have any say in British politics, which is the thrust of the original article.

There is a much bigger problem here than Google. We haven't had Lobbygate, because the information isn't properly collected, collated and reported, but the reality is that individuals have little or no say in policy and law forming, excepting when the press report popular discontent that worries the pols. However, if you look at any consultation, or ongoing contact with pols, then you find that non-governmental organisations have incredible clout. And by NGO, I mean exactly that - an organisation, and one that isn't itself part of government, be it Greenpeace, Google, BAe, PWC, or trade associations like the British Bankers Association, SMMT et al.

To illustrate that this isn't a business thing alone, look at how some fairly well intentioned and broadly sensible planning reforms were derailed by the rural Nimbys of the National Trust and CPRE. I'm a member of NT, they didn't speak for me on that issue, but thy will certainly have claimed that they have 2.5 million members concerned about the issue. CPRE - very vocal, but I don't know a single individual who is a member. I doubt it necessary to provide any further corporate examples of pernicious lobbying.

One possible way to fix this with two steps:

First, major foreign companies should have to submit a public UK Affairs Annual Report, that consolidates the activities of their UK operations as though they were a UK listed company. Nice level playing field there, there's some additional costs, but all of the necessary information already exists, so all we're talking about is some staff time for aggregating the data and writing the verbiage. Maybe require that they be "plain text" in the manner of most US SEC reports, so that they don't become overly expensive, puffy marketing documents.

The second, and more significant change is that my mooted "UK Affairs" companies, all UK listed companies and all NGO's should have to have a section on "Lobbying and political interactions" in their respective reports, that has to be (by law, and with penalties) a list of all political interactions, including summary levels of contact, names of MP's, regulators, civil servants entertained, spoken to, invited to any kind of events, and including "proxy lobbying" as in Google's incitement of the Shoreditch roundabout event junkees, NGO's actively encouraging members to write to MP's etc. Admittedly that's more red tape, but it doesn't impact those who don't actively lobby, and those with the biggest lobbying activities (Google, BAe etc) are rightly not going to get much sympathy. There's a few details would need ironing out, but all of this is feasible and straightforward.

However, who reckons that this stands any chance of being enacted - will MP's give up free lunches with lobbyists, and dedicate themselves to working for the country?

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Alert

Alternatively...

Lets focus on removing powers from politicians and stop worrying about who Google is lobbying for the meantime?

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Re: Alternatively...

> Lets focus on removing powers from politicians and stop worrying about who Google is lobbying for the meantime?

Google could hardly have phrased it better

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Happy

@Fats

Just because politicians are at the front of the queue for a swift kick in the balls google should not be sniggering at the back

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Anonymous Coward

Corporate lobbying

If one single thing has the capacity to change the world for the better, it would probably be putting an end to the cancer of corporate lobbying, in all its forms, for good. The only difference between "first world" lobbying and the more belt and braces corruption of the developing world is that its legal and apparently acceptable; perhaps the traditional "brown envelope" variety is actually less odious as it only treats the majority of the population as powerless, rather than gullible powerless idiots.

Funny how the world ordered on the whims of corporate lobbyists looks just as bland, soulless and crushing to the individual as the Soviet union ever did, gulags aside.

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Anonymous Coward

Why DOES Google lobby so much?

Because everyone else does it.

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Anonymous Coward

Why single out Google?

This is a problem that is also evident in other so called "promoting entrepreneurship" not-for-profit organizations. Just take a look at, for example, StartupBritian. Their website claims: "The campaign was founded by eight entrepreneurs and launched on 28th March 2011 by the Prime Minister, with the full support of the Chancellor and HM Government, although it is completely funded by our private-sector sponsors (AXA, Dell, Intel, Intuit, PayPal and X.commerce)." Do you seriously think these "private-sector sponsors" are for charity? They use these "promoting entrepreneurship" mask to get back-door entry to 10 Downing Street. And the politicians who have this mess of unemployment in front of them are dancing around these "private-sector sponsors" to generate some news, be it Google opening its London Campus or Intel announcing its social-something(attaching "social" to anything nowadays gets lots of attention!) research in London! These are just sweeteners that these companies are providing to the government to extract their pound of flesh from the country, even if that means changing or circumventing the law of the land.

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Also their search engine is not what it was

On Thursday evening I took the dogs for a walk up Wittenham Clumps. When I got there (about 9 p.m). the car-park seemed suspiciously full of cars with people in. Given the nature of the clumps (the name being a clue) I came to the obvious conclusion and, on my Android phone, googled 'dogging Wittenham' (quotes in this message, not in the search). Clearly the words dogging and wittenham are SEO'd up to the hilt because none of the first 3 pages of hits looked (from the excerpts of text shown) as though they would have anything useful - clearly just designed to get hits - I imagine much the same pages would appear for dogging Abingdon, dogging Wallingford, dogging Didcot etc.

So, none the wiser, the dogs and I went for our walk.

As it happens, for those wondering, I kind of suspect it isn't, as when I got back at 22:15 there was only one white van left in the car-park (not obviously rocking or steamed up), but this is one of the many occasions I have found recently where Google has been so gamed as to be useless.

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