Lobbying as a business strategy
The range and depth of global lobbying undertaken by Google is now so formidable, it may be more accurate to describe the company as a political organisation with a legacy tech business attached. It sponsors "citizen" campaign groups and it funds think tanks such as the Berkman Center. It throws cash at academic departments and creates academic posts.
The Google founders oil the wheels of non-profits including Wikipedia and Creative Commons with family cash – and Wikipedia appears to reflect the Google party line on copyright and other regulatory issues, while Google ensures these viewpoints are unmissable on its own popular web pages. (In 2008, Google promised that the power of the mob could alter those results.)
Given all that, it may be tempting to conclude that Google is some kind of omniscient global superpower that we are helpless to resist. But such a reaction, a paranoid one, invites fatalism. Microsoft was once perceived like SPECTRE - a global terror group led by James Bond's nemesis Blofeld - and look where Microsoft is now. Google's obsessive political interference is a sign of desperation, not confidence or strength.
Google is uniquely vulnerable for two reasons. Firstly, the economic vision it offers us (and our children) is an impoverished one. Google's ad-based economy doesn't unlock value or satisfy consumers in the way a really vibrant, market-based internet economy could.
An economy based on real money changing hands makes the pie we have much larger, stimulating new investment in all kinds of areas. However, the best Google can offer today is to gather the world under its advertising umbrella, where a few crumbs may be found. Under this umbrella, individual property rights and privacy rights don't mean what they do in the real world, and – judging by the way things are going – could eventually be discarded completely to fuel Google's continuing growth.
Secondly, Google has now committed itself to the lobbying route to the detriment of forging the constructive industry partnerships it needs for real growth. As the saying goes, when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Every problem looks like a political one to Google, to be fixed by lobbying politicians and regulators.
Noam Chomsky, in Manufacturing Consent, argues that the media are subtly biased towards business because they're driven by the profit motive themselves. You don't have to buy the argument (I don't), but bear it in mind as we consider Google. The company has its own "consent manufacturing" engine that subtly ensures technology interests are aligned with its own particular view of the world. It has views of privacy, property and creative rights, and economics that are sub-optimal.
The problem is, the world may be far more interesting than Google wants us, or dares us, to think it is. ®