Internet giant Google is so rapidly expanding both its data collecting and its political clout that it may become too powerful to be held accountable, according to a new study by our friends at Public Citizen.
The 69-page report from the public interest group, titled Mission Creep-y: Google Is Quietly Becoming One Of the Nation’s Most Powerful Political Forces While Expanding Its Information-Collection Empire reveals the ways Google is accruing power in terms of the information it collects about the public and the sway it has over federal and state governments, as well as civil society.
“Google is becoming exponentially more powerful in federal and state governments. At the same time, it’s pushing boundaries in technology, and it has shown that it can’t always be trusted to do the right thing with people’s information,” said Sam Jewler, author of the report and communications officer for Public Citizen’s U.S. Chamber Watch. “When we see such massive influence, it raises the question, will regulators and lawmakers be reluctant to rein in Google?”
Mission Creep-y is a chilling report and I couldn’t agree more with its concluding warning:
“Both information collection and lobbying increase the power of this company, which openly states its ambitions to change the world. It is important to make sure that such a company is ideologically consistent when it claims to value transparency and access to information. As Google’s forays into new technologies far outpace the relevance of existing regulations, Google is seizing the opportunity to influence what new regulation will look like. Citizens must ensure that new technologies are designed and regulated through open, democratic processes, not to further empower dominant entities like Google, but to protect and empower consumers.”
Noting that Google has recently moved its Washington, DC lobbying operation in to offices as big as the White House, Mission Creep-y gives examples of the Internet giant’s growing influence:
• Over the first three quarters of 2014, Google ranked first among all corporations in lobbying spending, according to OpenSecrets.org, and is on pace to spend $18.2 million on federal lobbying this year. In fact, it has spent $1 million more on lobbying than PhRMA, the powerful trade association of the pharmaceutical industry.
• Since 2012, no company has spent more money on federal lobbying than Google.
• Of 102 lobbyists the company has hired or retained in 2014, 81 previously held government jobs. Meanwhile, a steady stream of Google employees has been appointed to high-ranking government jobs – an indication of the company’s growing influence in national affairs.
• Google’s political action committee (PAC) spent $1.61 million this year, according to Federal Election Commission records. That surpasses, for the first time, PAC expenditures by Wall Street bank Goldman Sachs.
• Google funds about 140 trade associations and other nonprofits across the ideological spectrum – including some working in issue areas relevant to Google’s practices on privacy, political spending, antitrust and more.
“Google has essentially responded to concerns about its practices by saying ‘just trust us,’” said Taylor Lincoln, research director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division and editor of the report. “But Google is gaining so much power that regulators may find it difficult to act if it turns out that the public’s trust has been misplaced.”
Mission Creep-y makes clear the need to to keep Google’s growing power in check. “The amount of information and influence that Google has amassed is now threatening to gain such a stranglehold on experts, regulators and lawmakers that it could leave the public powerless to act if it should decide that the company has become too pervasive, too omniscient and too powerful.”
Actually, on second thought, I’d argue that Google isn’t merely “threatening to gain such a stranglehold on experts, regulators and lawmakers…” I think they’ve got it.