Over the last ten years, Google (er, um, Alphabet) has paid thousands of dollars to people in the academic community working on research that directly involves the company’s business, The Wall Street Journal reported earlier Tuesday. Dollar amounts ranged from $5,000 to $400,000, and Google’s financial contributions to the research were often not disclosed in the finished products, the Journal also reported. A former Google employee said the company had assembled a list of research papers, complete with “working titles, abstracts and budgets,” Google wanted to see produced and then used that list to find academics willing to work with them on those projects. Around 100 such papers have been funded by Google since 2009.
From the Journal:
University of Illinois law professor Paul Heald pitched an idea on copyrights he thought would be useful to Google, and he received $18,830 to fund the work. The paper, published in 2012, didn’t mention his sponsor. “Oh, wow. No, I didn’t. That’s really bad,” he said in an interview. “That’s purely oversight.” The money didn’t influence his work, Mr. Heald said, and Google issued no conditions: “They said, ‘If you take this $20,000 and open up a doughnut shop with it — we’ll never give you any more money — but that’s fine.’”
Heald is one of a dozen professors the Journal identified for taking Google’s money. Leslie Miller, Google’s director of public policy, responded to the story in a blog post later on Tuesday, characterizing the report from the Campaign for Accountability, an advocacy group that compiled data used by the Journal, as “highly misleading.” “Our support for the principles underlying an open internet is shared by many academics and institutions who have a long history of undertaking research on these topics — across important areas like copyright, patents, and free expression,” Miller wrote. Frankly, shady ethics aside, the bigger takeaway here is if you’re a professor doing Google-related research, don’t take the paltry $5,000 bait. They’ve got the big bucks, make them pony up.