Google slammed over pressuring foundation, reporters

Google slammed over pressuring foundation, reporters
Another journalist has joined the ranks of those speaking out about Google squelching content it disapproves of. The tech giant has been fined by the European Union for monopolist practices, while the US government is probing its labor practices.

Journalist Kashmir Hill, now at Gizmodo, said Google had the power to squash her Forbes magazine story on the search giant, back in 2011. The story was about Google promoting its Google Plus service by sending representatives to media organizations to encourage them to add “+1” buttons to their sites.

Hill was present at a meeting at Forbes, where Google representative suggested that the publication would be penalized in Google search results if it didn’t add the button.

“Stick Google Plus Buttons On Your Pages, or Your Search Traffic Suffers,” was the headline of the story Hill wrote, but had to unpublish. While the Mountain View-based company never challenged the accuracy of the reporting, a spokesperson said the meeting had been confidential and subject to a non-disclosure agreement.

Hill said she had identified herself as a reporter and never signed a non-disclosure agreement, but as she was new at her job at Forbes, she agreed to have the story pulled.

“Google started out as a company dedicated to ensuring the best access to information possible,” Hill told Ars Technica. “But as it’s grown into one of the largest and most profitable companies in the world, its priorities have changed.”

Her revelation was prompted by reports that pressure from Google was behind the firing of a researcher and his team at the New America Foundation, a left-leaning think-tank in Washington, DC.

Praising the recent decision by the EU to fine Google $2.7 billion for violating anti-trust laws by preferred its own subsidiaries to its rival companies in search results, the Open Markets team incurred the wrath of Google, a major donor whose executive chairman Eric Schmidt sits on the foundation’s board of directors.

“By requiring that Google give equal treatment to rival services instead of privileging its own, [the EU is] protecting the free flow of information and commerce upon which all democracies depend,” wrote the Open Markets team in its 150-word statement. 

Within 24 hours, Google reportedly called New America’s leadership to express displeasure. New America’s president Ann-Marie Slaughter quickly announced that the foundation would be “parting ways” with the Open Markets team and its leader, Barry Lynn.

While Slaughter publicly denied Google was involved in the decision, internal New America emails suggest otherwise, the Intercept reported.

The emails “clearly show the influence that Google wields over New America’s operations,” the Open Markets team told the Intercept.

“Google said it never urged New American to fire Lynn and his team,” said Hill, the former Forbes journalist. “But an entity as powerful as Google doesn’t have to issue ultimatums. It can just nudge organizations and get them to act as it wants.”

Earlier this month, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) was compelled to speak out over the banning of neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer, after back-end web infrastructure companies like GoDaddy and Google cut services to the site for political reasons.

The EFF, a major advocacy group for net neutrality, said it was defending the right of anyone to choose what speech they provide online, as it is protected under the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

The Daily Stormer tried moving to Google’s domain management service after it was blocked by GoDaddy. Google quickly informed them they were being rejected as a customer, and placed their domain on “Client Hold,” preventing the website’s owner from activating, using or moving the domain to another service.

Liberty Conservative, a libertarian online magazine, said this week that Google threatened to cut off its AdSense service to their site unless they removed one specific article. The post in question was explaining the difference between the “alt-right” and literal Nazis, written by a former contributor James Allsup, one of the participants in the controversial rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

AdSense said the article violated its policies on content “that threatens or advocates harm on oneself or others.” Faced with potentially crippling loss of advertising revenue, Liberty Conservative decided to remove the article.

Numerous YouTube authors have likewise complained that their work has been demonetized in this way by Google, which owns the video service.

In early August, Google fired software engineer James Damore after he wrote a memo accusing the company of silencing conservative political voices.

Damore’s 10-page memo argued that the shortage of women working in tech and leadership positions might be due to preferences and biological and psychological differences.

“I value diversity and inclusion, am not denying that sexism exists, and don’t endorse using stereotypes,” Damore wrote in the first sentence of the memo.

Google later announced he was fired for “perpetuating gender stereotypes.”