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Google-funded think tank fires tech giant’s critic

Already mired in several controversies, Google once again was at the receiving end of condemnation after a tech giant-funded think tank ousted a group of scholars who hailed European antitrust regulators’ decision to fine the company $2.7 billion in late June.

The New America Foundation, headed by Anne-Marie Slaughter, has received more than $21 million from Google that helped New America establish as an elite voice in policy debates on the American Left and helped Google shape those debates, a report in the New York Times said on Wednesday.

The foundation ran an initiative called Open Markets which was headed by scholar Barry Lynn, who in June praised the European Union’s penalty against Google in a statement posted on the foundation’s website.

“The Open Markets Team congratulates European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager and the European competition authority for this important decision,” Lynn wrote on the website.

“Google’s market power is one of the most critical challenges for competition policymakers in the world today. By requiring that Google gives equal treatment to rival services instead of privileging its own, Vestager is protecting the free flow of information and commerce upon which all democracies depend,” Lynn added.

He called upon US enforcers, including the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Justice and states Attorney Generals, to build upon this precedent — both in respect to Google and to other dominant platform monopolists including Amazon.

“US enforcers should apply the traditional American approach to network monopoly, which is to cleanly separate ownership of the network from ownership of the products and services sold on that network, as they did in the original Microsoft case of the late 1990s,” Lynn wrote.

Google’s parent company Alphabet’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt communicated his displeasure over the statement to Slaughter, following which the statement was removed, only to be posted again without explanation a few hours later.

“But word of Schmidt’s displeasure rippled through New America, which employs more than 200 people, including dozens of researchers, writers and scholars, most of whom work in sleek Washington offices,” the report said.

The episode left some people concerned that Google intended to discontinue funding, while others worried whether the think tank could truly be independent if it had to worry about offending its donors, the report added.

Amid these fears, Slaughter summoned Lynn and told him that “the time has come for Open Markets and New America to part ways”.

An email sent in this regard suggested that the entire Open Markets team, including nearly 10 full-time employees and unpaid fellows, would be exiled from New America Foundation.

Slaughter asserted that the decision was “in no way based on the content of your work,” but was taken because Lynn imperiled the institution as a whole.

Lynn alleged Slaughter caved to pressure from Schmidt and Google.

“Google is very aggressive in throwing its money around Washington and Brussels, and then pulling the strings. People are so afraid of Google now,” Lynn said.

Meanwhile, Google rejected any suggestion that it played a role in New America’s split with Open Markets.

Earlier this month, an anti-diversity “manifesto” went viral inside the company and damaged the company’s reputation.

This came following a case in which Google emerged victor in its fight with the US Department of Labour over supplying pay gap data. The department alleged that the tech giant tried to restrict media coverage of the gender discrimination case.

The Department of Labour had accused Google of systematically underpaying women.

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