When tech pundits attack, who says sic ’em?

Happy Friday. Let’s talk war.

As today’s tech giants battle for supremacy, their weapons of choice vary from patent lawsuits to lobbyists. Then there are the academics, pundits and/or experts with fancy titles, and industry and advocacy organizations with dignified-sounding names, which are helping shaping public perception — and in some cases getting the attention of government officials. Take the fight between Google and Microsoft. The Merc’s Chris O’Brien has assembled quite a list of names and entities with skin in that game, “what he calls a vast shadow army” — and where they’re coming from.

What he found isn’t surprising: Microsoft has been behind many anti-Google efforts, and Google also has spent money to try to protect its interests and burnish its reputation. But it’s the extent and volume of the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that’s fascinating — and a troubling reminder to question the origins of viewpoints on issues we care about.

For example, GMSV has pointed out that the European antitrust investigation into Google was partly prompted by complaints from at least a couple of companies with ties to Microsoft, and eventually joined by Microsoft itself. (See Google and the law: It’s either too controlling or not enough and Microsoft joins the pile as Google hits keep coming.) The EU investigation, by the way, is reportedly close to being settled; the New York Times article on the development includes a quote from the president of the Association for Competitive Technology, which the newspaper says is “an industry group heavily financed by Microsoft.”

The involvement of Microsoft, which is no stranger to antitrust violations accusations itself, of course doesn’t by itself negate the case against Google. But knowing of Microsoft’s involvement could help paint a more complete picture about, among other things, who’s being affected and possibly harmed by accusations that Google is favoring its own services in its search results.

In addition, alliances tend to shift. O’Brien mentions that a longtime opponent to Google’s book-scanning project, the Open Book Alliance, is led by Gary Reback — the litigator who once helped the government’s antitrust case against Microsoft but who now is being paid by Microsoft. The Open Book Alliance, as Reback has pointed out, is made up of many other members besides Microsoft — including online bookseller (and more) Amazon.com.

On O’Brien’s list of pundits and organizations with ties to Google or Microsoft is Florian Mueller, a popular patent blogger/outspoken critic of Google with ties to Microsoft. Mueller often was and is still quoted in stories about those patent cases that are all the rage these days, including during the recent Oracle vs. Google trial over Android, when he was retained by Oracle as a consultant.

GMSV also has covered criticism about Google by Consumer Watchdog, an organization that at one point portrayed former Google CEO Eric Schmidt in a video as a creepy cartoon ice cream man stealing personal information from kids. (See Ice screaming for Google’s head in Times Square.) Cecilia Kang of the Washington Post profiled Consumer Watchdog and one of its prominent bulldogs, John Simpson, in 2010. The work of Simpson, a former journalist who calls himself a “hell-raiser,” was funded by the Rose Foundation, which seems to take no private foundation funds, at least according to audit documents on its website. But in the article, Simpson acknowledged he had “professional alliances” with Google’s competitors, with whom he said he shared common interests.

And then there’s Facebook‘s bungled attempt to fool the media into writing negative things about privacy and Google. Last year, the social network was found to have hired a PR firm to raise questions about a Google tool called Social Circle. (See Privacygate: Facebook’s smear campaign against Google.) The campaign unraveled when a blogger became suspicious when the PR firm refused to disclose what company hired it.

Deep-pocketed Google has also played the game. As O’Brien points out, the company has, for example, funded the work of a former Microsoft employee who is passionately against antitrust enforcement. But a Googler told O’Brien, not surprisingly, that the company only does so to defend itself.




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  • Markus Unread

    “Microsoft: If you can’t innovate, litigate!”

  • carlos silva

    Objectivity? what’s that?
    Only one group supporting Google for 10+ supporters of Microsoft?

    What about the Internet Society, ICANN and all the roles Vint Cerf has had and still has in that organizations lobbying for “net neutrality” as a distraction for Google’s own abuses of market power “at the edge”.