The Google Transparency Project is a research initiative of Campaign for Accountability, a 501(c)3 project that uses research, litigation and aggressive communications to expose how decisions made behind the doors of corporate boardrooms and government offices impact Americans’ lives.
In this initiative, CfA will focus on one of the most notable, yet least-examined examples of corporate influence in government today. Over the past decade, Googlei has transformed itself from the dominant Internet search engine into a global business empire that touches on almost every facet of people’s lives—often without their knowledge or consent.
The company has scanned millions of books, photographed homes and streets around the world and surreptitiously gathered information from unprotected Wi-Fi networks. It scans the content of people’s emails, tracks their activities online and their movements in the real world. It analyzes their search queries and behavior in ways many find troubling.ii
At the same time, the company has assiduously courted Washington. In 2015, Google spent more than $16.6 million on lobbyistsiii – more than any other technology company – and its lobbyists regularly meet with senior White House and agency officials to press the company’s agenda.
Google has been among the most vocal advocates for transparency and openness in government, corporate America and society at large, but does not subject itself to the same level of transparency. For all its calls for others to open up, the company is highly opaque about its own operations and dealings with government. From its relationships with elected and appointed officials to its lobbying and public policy operations, Americans know surprisingly little about how Google gets what it wants from their government.
For instance, the company doesn’t disclose how much it pays outside groups to promote its favored policies and business interests. It was ranked in the second-lowest scoring tier for political disclosure and accountability in a survey of the 500 largest US companies by an independent, non-partisan group.iv It also scored near the bottom of an international ranking of corporate transparency.v
Google has acknowledged the gap between its talk of transparency and its actions, but so far it has done little to make its dealings with government more visible to the public.vi
The Google Transparency Project is a comprehensive research initiative to help the public track the company’s influence on our government, policies and lives. It will assemble comprehensive materials cataloguing Google’s influence in a single place and make it searchable by any user.
We envision GTP as a crowd-sourced investigation to which anyone can contribute. Users can explore the data, add new information or suggest new lines of inquiry. To get in touch with us or submit tips or information, visit our contact us page. And check back often, as we’ll be rolling out new projects, features and articles every month.
ii As Google CEO Eric Schmidt said in 2010, “We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about.” See http://www.businessinsider.com/eric-schmidt-we-know-where-you-are-we-know-where-youve-been-we-can-more-or-less-know-what-youre-thinking-about-2010-10
iv The 2015 CPA-Zicklin Index of Corporate Political Disclosure and Accountability, available at http://files.politicalaccountability.net/index/CPA-Zicklin_Index_Final_with_links.pdf.
v Transparency International gave Google 2.2 out 10 in its 2014 report. See http://www.transparency.org/whatwedo/publication/transparency_in_corporate_reporting_assessing_worlds_largest_companies_2014.
vii Schmidt said in May 2014: “We need to be more transparent. And we’ve heard that from a number of other shareholders. Let us come back with some ideas.” Six months later, he had yet to do so. “I don’t know the status of [efforts to be more transparent], but we certainly promised. So maybe we can follow up on that one.” There has been no further public mention of any such efforts to date. See http://www.citizen.org/documents/Google-Political-Spending-Mission-Creepy.pdf.