Liberal think tank cuts ties with researcher who criticized Google

Liberal think tank cuts ties with researcher who criticized Google
The New America Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based liberal think tank, cut ties with a researcher after he posted a statement criticizing its corporate mega-donor, Alphabet, the parent company of Google. (Image source: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A liberal Washington, D.C., think tank employee is out of a job after he wrote an article critical of Google.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that Barry Lynn no longer works at the New America Foundation, which has received a combined $21 million from Google; Eric Schmidt, who serves as executive chairman of Google’s parent company, Alphabet; and Schmidt’s family foundation since 1999.

Lynn oversaw New America’s Open Markets project, where he led a team of other researchers, all of whom departed New America along with Lynn.

The Times reported that Lynn’s departure came after he issued a statement “congratulating” the European Commission for slapping Google with a record $2.7 billion fine. In April, the European Commission accused Google of violating anti-trust laws in a number of areas, including by “giving financial incentives to manufacturers and mobile network operators on condition that they exclusively pre-install Google Search on their devices.”

Lynn issued the following statement on June 27, more than two months after the European Commission announced the fine for Google:

By requiring that Google give equal treatment to rival services instead of privileging its own, [European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe] Vestager is protecting the free flow of information and commerce upon which all democracies depend. We call upon U.S. enforcers, including the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Justice, and states attorneys general, to build upon this important precedent, both in respect to Google and to other dominant platform monopolists including Amazon.

According to the Times, Lynn’s statement was temporarily removed from New America’s website just hours later. It was later reposted.

Two days after the statement went online, New America Foundation President Anne-Marie Slaughter reportedly called Lynn into her office and told him that “the time has come for Open Markets and New America to part ways.” She reportedly claimed that Lynn was “imperiling the institution as a whole” but added that the decision was “in no way based on the content of your work,” the Times reported.

Lynn’s ousting raised questions over just how much influence Google and it’s parent company, Alphabet, exert at New America in key policy crafting areas, which Democratic lawmakers sometimes adopt and advocate for during debates over federal legislation. Tyra Mariani, executive vice president of the New America Foundation, denied to the New York Times that any corporation influences or dictates policy proposals coming out of the liberal think tank.

“New America financial supporters have no influence or control over the research design, methodology, analysis or findings of New America research projects, nor do they have influence or control over the content of educational programs and communications efforts,” Mariani said.

She further stated that Lynn’s departure from New America was “a mutual decision for Barry to spin out his Open Markets program.” Lynn plans to launch a nonprofit of his own, along with his former team at the think tank, that will continue the work they did.

In the meantime, Lynn created a website called Citizens Against Monopoly, where he urges Google, “don’t be evil.”

“Our mission was to protect liberty and democracy from gigantic corporate monopolies. When we criticized Google for its monopoly practices, our program’s funding was cut,” the website states on its homepage. Lynn went on to say that New America “instantly caved in to Google’s power, shutting down our program and cutting all ties to our team.”

Citizens Against Monopoly vows to keep fighting against what it sees as Google’s and Alphabet’s attempt to “censor journalists and researchers who fight dangerous monopolies.” The website provides a pre-written letter for visitors to send to Google as a form of protest.

“Google’s attempts to shut down think tanks, journalists and public interest advocates researching and writing about the dangers of concentrated private power must end,” the letter reads. As an immense corporation, it’s wrong for Google to wield its vast financial and political power to try to silence the writers and researchers working to promote sensible antitrust enforcement.”

In a statement to the Times, Lynn accused Google of “throwing its money around Washington and Brussels, and then pulling the strings.”

“People are so afraid of Google now,” Lynn added.

Google spokeswoman Riva Sciuto addressed the criticism in a statement of its own to the Times: “We don’t agree with every group 100 percent of the time,” Sciutto said, “and while we sometimes respectfully disagree, we respect each group’s independence, personnel decisions and policy perspectives.”

The Times report came just weeks after Google faced widespread criticism for the firing of 28-year-old James Damore.

Damore was the author of a controversial internal diversity memo calling out the technology giant for its liberal bias.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai said that “much of what was in that memo is fair to debate, regardless of whether a vast majority of Googlers disagree with it.” But, Pichai added, “portions of the memo violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.”

Damore said during an interview after his firing that “the whole culture [at Google] just tries to silence any dissenting view.”

“We really need some more objective ways of looking at these things,” Damore said, referring to the employment gender gap in the technology sector.