Google has paid millions of dollars to academics at British and American universities for research that it hoped would sway public opinion and influence policy in favour of the tech giant.
A watchdog identified 329 pieces of research funded directly or indirectly by Google since 2005 in key public policy areas where regulatory changes could cost it a fortune in fines and lost earnings. The authors, who received payments of between $5,000 and $400,000, did not disclose Google’s funding in two thirds of cases. Emails suggest that some researchers shared papers with Google before publication, seeking suggestions for changes….
Much of the research made arguments in Google’s favour. Authors argued that the internet search company and publisher did not use its market dominance improperly, for example, or concluded that collecting huge volumes of personal data was a fair exchange for its free services….
The number of studies funded by Google has risen sharply at times when the company’s business model was under threat. Google-funded academics wrote more than 50 papers on competition issues between 2011 and 2013 when the company was investigated by the Federal Trade Commission for alleged anti-competitive practices. Google subsequently agreed to change some business practices.
There was a second sharp increase two years ago when the European Commission filed formal antitrust charges against the company. Last month, European regulators issued a record $2.71 billion fine against Google for unfairly favouring its own services over those of rivals in its search results. The company denies the charge.
Former Google employees told The Wall Street Journal that the firm’s officials in Washington compiled wish lists of academic papers, then searched for authors. Other academics approached Google to pitch ideas, according to emails obtained by the newspaper.
The sources said that Google promoted the research papers to government officials and sometimes paid travel expenses for professors to meet policymakers.
On one occasion Eric Schmidt, Google’s former chief executive, cited a Google-funded author in written answers to Congress to back his claim that his company was not a monopoly — without mentioning that it had paid for the paper, the investigation found.
The Supreme Court of Canada released a landmark decision today ruling that Canadian common law courts have the jurisdiction to make global de-indexing orders against search engines like Google. In so, ordering, the Court in Google Inc. v. Equustek Solutions Inc., 2017 SCC 34 underlined the breadth of courts’ jurisdiction to make orders against search engines to stem illegal activities on the Internet including the sale of products manufactured using trade secrets misappropriated from innovative companies.
The decision arose from a lower court decision that ordered Google to block websites that were selling goods that violated the trade secrets of the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs obtained a default order against the defendants. But, the defendants continued to sell the offending goods over the Internet. The plaintiffs, unable to enforce their order, asked for Google’s help in blocking the websites. Google voluntarily de-indexed specific URL’s requested by the plaintiffs, but this “whac-a-mole” process was ineffective. When Google refused to de-index the offending websites from its search results, the plaintiffs brought a motion against Google for interim relief requiring Google to de-index the websites from all of its search engines worldwide.
Over Google’s objections, in Equustek Solutions Inc. v. Jack 2014 BCSC 1063 Madam Justice Fenlon of the British Columbia Supreme Court granted the injunction. Google subsequently applied for leave to appeal the decision to the British Columbia Court of Appeal and for an order staying the enforcement of the order. In Equustek Solutions Inc. v. Google Inc., 2014 BCCA 295, the court granted Google leave to appeal the decision but refused Google’s application to stay enforcement of the injunction order. Google’s appeal was later dismissed by the Court of Appeal in Equustek Solutions Inc. v. Google Inc., 2015 BCCA 265. For a summary of the prior proceedings, see Barry Sookman, Google ordered by BC court to block websites: Equustek Solutions Inc. v. Jack.
The Supreme Court of Canada, in a seven to two majority decision written by Justice Abella, affirmed the decisions below.
Google had argued that courts had no jurisdiction to make orders against it as a non-party to the litigation. It argued that any order against it should have been limited to the google.ca search engine. It also contended that the worldwide order would violate the principle of comity and rights of freedom of expression. The Court rejected each of these arguments and found that the balance of convenience favoured granting the order.
Admittedly this is an unscientific sampling. But it sure seems like Google search (especially in ex-USA markets) seems to return top search results for UGC (User “Generated” Content) videos instead of official videos. Often no royalties are paid on these UGC videos, and in the cases where royalties are paid, they are paid at a substantially […]
June 28, 2017, Toronto: Music Canada welcomes today’s landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision in Equustek Solutions v. Google upholding a ruling that Google can no longer provide search results anywhere in the world that point to a website that unlawfully sells the intellectual property of another company. Music Canada joined several other creative industry associations as interveners supporting Equustek in the case.
The case establishes principles that will guide the responsibilities of Internet intermediaries to reduce or eliminate harms amplified by their activities. In the case, Google admitted that it employs a team of more than 40 employees to remove search results to material that offend its company policies, but resisted a court order compelling it to do the same with respect to sites trafficking in goods created from stolen trade secrets.
The Supreme Court ordered Google to stop directing people to the illegal sites. It rejected Google’s approach of only de-listing individual pages within sites, which a lower court described as promoting a “Whack-A-Mole” approach to online infringement. It also rejected Google’s claim that, as a non-party, it was “immune” to court orders. It concluded that Google was “the determinative player in allowing the harm to occur” and suggested it had a “duty to assist the person wronged”.
Importantly, today’s decision also ensured that the order applies worldwide and across all of Google’s search engines, a crucial development given that the Internet has largely dissolved boundaries between countries and allowed virtual wrongdoers to move from jurisdiction to jurisdiction in search of the weakest enforcement setting.
In particular, the Supreme Court emphasized:
“The problem in this case is occurring online and globally. The Internet has no borders – its natural habitat is global. The only way to ensure the interlocutory injunction [order] attained its objective was to have it apply where Google operates – globally.”
The only way to protect the plaintiff was to prevent the search results from being displayed where they do the most harm: on Google’s global search results.
Last, the Supreme Court concluded that freedom of expression concerns raised by Google and its supportive interveners were at best theoretical. The speech contained on the sites did not engage any freedom of expression values, but rather violated multiple court orders. The Supreme Court found that “most countries will likely recognize… the selling of pirated products as a legal wrong” and that freedom of expression does not require Google to engage in “the facilitation of the unlawful sale of goods.”
Music Canada, together with the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), has been actively involved in this case since it was first appealed to the British Columbia Court of Appeal. Both the Supreme Court and the British Columbia Court of Appeal referred to their assistance in rendering their decisions.
“Today’s decision confirms that online service providers cannot turn a blind eye to illegal activity that they facilitate; on the contrary, they have an affirmative duty to take steps to prevent the Internet from becoming a black market,” said Graham Henderson, President and CEO of Music Canada. “This is welcome news for creators of all stripes who rely on the Internet as their primary market and for whom illegal online activity can instantly wipe out careers and destroy investment in new releases. Today’s decision provides a vital remedy to address illegal online activities and enforce the rights of creators.”
̶ Ends ̶
For more information:
Corey Poole, Music Canada
+1 (647) 808-7359
About Music Canada
Music Canada is a non-profit trade organization that represents the major record companies in Canada: Sony Music Entertainment Canada, Universal Music Canada and Warner Music Canada. Music Canada also works with some of the leading independent record labels and distributors, recording studios, live music venues, concert promoters, managers and artists in the promotion and development of the music cluster.
Beyond a headline-grabbing 2.4 billion euro ($2.7 billion) fine EU antitrust regulators have leveled against Google, the internet giant is likely to be shackled for years by Tuesday’s precedent-setting decision defining the company as a monopoly.
The ruling opens the door for further regulatory actions against more crucial parts of Google’s business – mobile phones, online ad buying and specialized search categories like travel – while easing the standard of proof for rivals to mount civil lawsuits showing Google has harmed them…
Yet another worry for the company could be a wave of lawsuits in the future.
“We can expect to see a series of damages claims brought by the rivals that were excluded from the market by Google’s conduct,” said Peter Wills, co-head of competition law for Bird & Bird in London, setting the stage for national court battles.
Google has been hit with a record antitrust fine of €2.42bn (£2.1bn) from the European Union today for promoting its own shopping search service over those of smaller rivals.
The regulator found that Google had abused its market dominance as a search engine “by giving an illegal advantage to another Google product, its comparison shopping service,” it said.
European regulators gave the tech giant 90 days to stop its illegal activities or face fines of up to 5 per cent of the average daily worldwide turnover of parent company Alphabet. That currently amounts to around $14m a day.
The commission has the power to fine Google’s parent up to 10 per cent of its annual revenue, which was more than $90bn (£70.8bn).
Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “What Google has done is illegal under EU antitrust rules… It has denied other companies the chance to compete on their merits and to innovate, and most importantly it has denied European consumers the benefits of competition, genuine choice and innovation.”
“Most importantly, today’s decision shows that in Europe companies must compete on the merits regardless of whether they are online, the high street, and whether they are European or not.”
She said since she had taken the helm as commissioner in 2014, she has given high priority to the case. During its probe, she said the commission sifted through terabytes of data, the equivalent of 1.7 billion search queries: “It’s a lot of data and it is of course needed because our decision has to be based on firm evidence. “
She said she has no reason to believe that Google will not comply, but said the commission intended to monitor Google’s compliance closely. “This means this issue will remain on our desk for some time. “
This decision was a very long time in coming–which means of course that Google have managed to operate illegally since at least 2010 with this fine hanging in the air (see my 2014 post “The Delay’s The Thing: April Fools and the Google Antitrust Case at the European Commission“).
Not surprisingly, the Computer and Communications Industry Association came out with one of those innovation based thingys defending Google, a fellow member of the MIC Coalition cartel.
Obviously more on this to come, but the real question is when will the EU go after Google for YouTube.
If you ever wondered just how arrogant the YouTube negotiators really are, realize that these geniuses decided that it would be a good time to alienate the WIN and Merlin labels–based in…where was that again…oh yes…Europe…right in the middle of the EU antitrust investigation. And how did they alienate the indies? By doing pretty much the EXACT SAME THING that Google was accused of doing in search–abusing their dominant position to benefit themselves.
To be continued…
According to MusicAlly, a Member of the European Parliament from Germany has called out Google’s non-display uses of music that are pure profit for Google. Christian Ehler has his eye on the right ball:
“The American platforms have been very successful as it’s a liar’s poker that suggested an alliance between the consumer and their commercial interests. We have heard the notion that it is free and for consumers. This is a pretension as [YouTube is] not for free. [YouTube] gets access to you and you are bombarded with advertisements. We are living now in the time of the second level of revenues – this is the data the consumers are giving to these platforms […] Consumer data becomes more and more important and it’s not well understood that this is not for free […] We are selling our future. Creativity is the USP of Europe. They [the digital companies] accumulate money. Why is Netflix producing TV series? Why is YouTube creating YouTube stars? They do understand that their business is content, not distribution […] We are simply selling our economic future if we are going to lose this battle.”
I have been banging the table for years about Google’s non-display uses of music and the fans that we drive to their various platforms so MEP Ehler’s view is very welcome. “Non-display uses” include data scraping but could mean virtually anything because Google cannot be trusted to disclose what they are really doing with any of their products because they have a long history of not telling the truth about their business practices.
Google’s business practices raises several important questions for artists that no one is asking. The first question is do you want your music and your fans to be used in this way in the first place?
And since this is all a byproduct of what Mr. Ehler correctly describes being “bombarded with advertisements”, it is important to understand that even if you use YouTube’s tools to block YouTube from selling advertising against your work, Google’s exploitation against your fans doesn’t stop there.
Google routinely captures data from every conceivable contact with your fans and they do it surreptitiously, in relative secrecy in the background. How they do it is not easy to discover, but a significant number of their techniques and implementing technology was disclosed in a recent class action brought against Google by consumers for privacy violations of Gmail.
As Jeff Gould wrote in a highly recommended article “The Natural History of Gmail Data Mining” Google’s plan is to be able to scrape as much information as possible in return for the “free” use of Gmail:
The most striking thing about the early Gmail patents is how exhaustive they were in attempting to anticipate every conceivable attribute of an email message that might one day be exploited for ad targeting purposes. In many cases it would be years before Google was actually able to make these ideas operational in Gmail. The first version of ad serving in Gmail exploited only concepts directly extracted from message texts and did little or no user profiling — this method would only be put into practice much later. Some attributes have still not been implemented today and perhaps never will be. For example, as far as I know, Google does not reach into your PC’s file system to examine other files residing in the same directory as the file you attach to a Gmail message, even though the patents explicitly describe this possibility.
Are you willing to bet that Google doesn’t scrape the same kind of behavioral data about your fans on YouTube? And what is stopping Google from scraping the same data from children attracted to YouTube?
As Mr. Gould reports, the data mining is what makes the real money for Google:
When Gmail was finally released to the public in April 2004, its ad serving system used a sophisticated data mining algorithm known as PHIL, the subject of another Google patent filed by Georges Harik and a colleague. Already implemented the previous year in Google’s AdSense program that serves ads to web sites operated by third party publishers, PHIL stands for Probabilistic Hierarchical Inferential Learner. Despite the forbidding name, the basic idea is straightforward.
Words in documents such as emails [or lyrics] occur not randomly but in certain clusters. When allowed to crunch through a vast number of such documents, simple software algorithms can identify clusters that are more or less likely to occur and group them together as “concepts”. For example, PHIL can learn to distinguish the entirely different meanings of two concepts such as “ski resort” and “lender of last resort” without being tripped up by the fact that the term “resort” occurs in both. [But Google can’t distinguish between “Fragile” and “Fragile (Live)” for address unknown NOIs].
In AdSense, PHIL matched concepts derived from sets of keywords provided by advertisers with concepts extracted from the web pages where publishers wanted Google to place ads. The idea was that the better the match, the more likely a visitor to the publisher’s site would be to click on the ad, which was the revenue generating event for Google.
MEP Ehler has put his finger right on one of the implied issues in the value gap and it’s a value that isn’t usually measured in these discussions. The fact is the gap is so wide that it’s hard to know the value of the income transfer.