Anorak

Anorak | The world shrugged: how does Google get away with it?

The world shrugged: how does Google get away with it?

by | 2nd, June 2013

PA-16595751

THE elite love Google. It’s hard to pick just one example that epitomises the love the rich and powerful have for the big internet search advertising firm. It might be the sight of Eric Schmidt, Google’s billionaire chairman, nipping into Downing Street to talk business with David Cameron. They don’t talk about how via Google you can access images of paedophilia and all manner of abuse. They talk money and influence. And they know each other well:

Rachel Whetstone is Global head of communications and public policy at Google and is married to David Cameron’s former chief of staff, Steve Hilton. Naomi Gummer was formerly adviser to Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, but is now a public policy adviser to Google. Amy Fisher Was a press officer for Google, and is now a special adviser to the Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman.

Also, Amy Fisher, once Google’s European PR supremo, works for justice secretary Chris Grayling. Sarah Hunter, once Tony Blair’s advisor on media policy, and Lord Derry Irvine’s god-daughter, works  as UK’s had of public policy.

The Guardian, which has focused on News International’s chumminess with the Tory Party, reported on Gummer thus:

Row after Tory peer’s daughter is given job in culture secretary Jeremy Hunt’s department. Naomi Gummer, daughter of Cameron ally Lord Chadlington, appointed in a ‘highly unusual’ move

The Guardian also noted in January 2013, that George Osbourne had been a dinner guest of Rupert Murdoch:

George Osborne and Rupert Murdoch enjoyed private dinner in Mayfair

Private meetings with newspaper proprietors are not disallowed under any parliamentary or party rules, but Hacked Off, the group campaigning on behalf of phone-hacking victims for a Leveson law for press regulation, said social occasions like this smacked of “sleazy” deals behind closed doors

Google also meets the Government often. Why is it that a foreign media company is exempt from the kind of scrutiny dished out to others? The News of the World shut in light of its staff hacking phones, one of which belonged to murdered girl Milly Dowler. But Google is allowed to act as a conduit to images of hideous things. Why is it not criticised? Would Murdoch be allowed to publish a paper that featured links to child porn? Why can Google?

And oddly the Guardian sees fit to portray Mr Schmidt as a champion for children:

Schmidt told the MediaGuardian Edinburgh international TV festival: “Over the past century, the UK has stopped nurturing its polymaths. You need to bring art and science back together.”…

The technology veteran, who joined Google a decade ago to help founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin build the company, said Britain should look to the “glory days” of the Victorian era for reminders of how the two disciplines can work together.

As Ed Miliband noted:

“If everyone approached their tax affairs as some of these companies have approached theirs we wouldn’t have a health service, we wouldn’t have an education system.”

As we go back to basics, the Guardian had more on Google and tax:

Miliband told the Google-hosted conference: “When Google does great things for the world, I applaud you. But when Eric Schmidt says, its current approach to tax is just capitalism, I disagree. And it’s a shame Eric Schmidt isn’t here to hear me say this direct: when Google goes to extraordinary lengths to avoid paying its taxes, I say it’s wrong… And it’s not just me that thinks it. It is crystal clear from your own founding principles.”

A few days before that, Schmidt wrote in the Guardian:

Google we aspire to do the right thing. So we welcome a debate on international tax reform..

At a time when families are having to tighten their belts and funding for vital public services is under pressure, corporate taxation is rightly a hot topic. And as a company that has always aspired to do the right thing, we understand why Google is at the centre of that debate.

Join the debate. It’s the champion call of Tony Blair politics. Never do anything other than say you’re listening to the great unwashed. Meanwhile cosy up to the rich and carry on regardless.

Google’s UK unit paid just £6m to the Treasury in 2011 on UK turnover of £395m.

Matt Brittin of Google was told by Margaret Hodge, sitting on the public accounts committee, that Google was “devious, calculated and, in my view, unethical… You are a company that says you ‘do no evil’. And I think that you do do evil.”

Google’s founding principals are akin to all of those in Silicon Valley: make money. The “do no evil” thing is palpable nonsense. But Google is beyond questioning. Its supreme position is epitomised by the Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger’s interview with Schmidt. The article was headlined:

The future according to Mr Google. Eric Schmidt is worth $8.2bn, he runs one of the most powerful companies in the world – and he knows what you’re going to do next. Google’s executive chairman tells all

Well, not quite “all”. He can only tell what he’s asked to repsond to. Rusbridger never once asked him about tax avoidance. Not once. As one reader put it:

I suspect Russbridger won’t question Google’s tax avoidance, their role in the destruction of traditional media and dodgy attitudes to other people’s intellectual property because he’s too busy cosying up to Schmidt knowing he’ll need a job when he’s got nothing left to edit! 

Also, no word on how electronic media affects climate change, another of the Guardian’s causes. What about hacking? This is, of course, Schmidt, who opined in 2009:

“If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

Google is watching you.  Sod privacy. That’s for paedos. When former News of the World journalist Paul McMullen said “Privacy is the space bad people need to do bad things in. Privacy is for paedos; fundamentally nobody else needs it” he was lambasted. When Schmidt says a principal of individual freedom is up for grabs, he becomes a member of the Government’s top level Business Advisory Group.

Brian Appleyard has been watching Google. He writes in the Sunday Times: 

Talking casually to journalists, [Larry] Page had said, “Law can’t be right if it’s 50 years old. Like, it’s before the internet.” He also suggested that “we should set aside some small part of the world” that would be free of regulation so the Googlers could get on with some hardcore innovation…

Perhaps not coincidentally, Page’s words seemed to echo those of Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, who is backing the Seasteading Institute in its attempt to build floating cities in international waters where the cyberelites can find fulfilment free of regulation. Thiel described the scheme as an “open frontier for experimenting with new ideas for government”.

Google certainly has trouble with pesky regulators in almost every territory in which it operates, but this is a crazy hook on which to hang its brand. The fantasy of a soi-disant intelligentsia deciding it is too good to be contained by mere government is as old as it is idiotic. Page was displaying, as Schmidt often does, a sinister impatience with government, which means, in a liberal democracy, with tried and trusted ways of doing things…

Google is just another company with just another bottom line. We should take note of it, but we should not demean ourselves by ushering it into our centres of democratic power and we should certainly not succumb to its delusions. 

Such are the facts.



Posted: 2nd, June 2013 | In: Key Posts, Technology Comment | Follow the Comments on our RSS feed: RSS 2.0 | TrackBack | Permalink