Steve Jobs may have engineered the most audacious reverse-takeover in tech history when Apple "acquired" NeXT in 1996. Within a year, Jobs and his NeXT colleagues had purged Apple executives from all the key positions (although the chief accountant remained - which may tell you something about chief accountants). But that's small beer compared to Google's acquisition of the Obama Administration.
Andrew McLauglin, former ICANN bigwig and Google policy chief has joined the Obama administration as "deputy chief technology officer". McLauglin was a director at techno utopian think-tank the Berkman Centre, which had the hots for ICANN in the late 1990s, lauding it as a model of "emergent" global governance.
Other Googlites who have crossed the Potomac include two Web 2.0 types, Katie Stanton as "director of citizen participation" and economist Sonal Shah, who was head of Google's save-the-earth philanthropic arm Google.org, which manages the Google Foundation. Google boss Eric Schmidt advises the President on science and technology issues and was a member of the transition team.
It's bears comparison with the RAND Corp's influence on McNamara's foreign policy in the 1960s - if only to highlight the differences. As Fred Kaplan wrote in Slate, "every subculture, especially every bureaucratized subculture, has a set of unquestioned assumptions — bits of 'conventional wisdom', as John Kenneth Galbraith once called them. The key to preserving one's sanity and wisdom is not to fall prey to their assumptions." That's unlikely, since the posts were really created to suit the Googlers' special skills, in tapping into the "new democracy" of Web 2.0.
But RAND was a think tank, and Google is a for-profit corporation that wields disproportionate control over the internet.
"Mr. McLaughlin’s move is likely to renew concerns among some Google rivals and public policy groups about Google’s growing clout in Washington," the New York Times notes drily.
But that may miss the point.
Politicians have few big ideas any more, and are content to be administrators and process people. An eye for PR gimmickry helps. So you can see why a background in Google and ICANN holds so much appeal. ICANN turned out not be the "emerging private government" feared by Ralph Nader, so much as a cosy, undemocratic quango. ®