“Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt has faced a backlash since Politico reported earlier this week that he indirectly funds and wields unusually heavy influence over an important White House office tasked with advising President Joe Biden’s administration on technical and scientific issues.
The ethical concerns surrounding this news are glaring: A tech billionaire with an obvious personal interest in shaping government tech policy is giving money to an independent government agency devoted to tech and science, albeit through his private philanthropic foundation.
The real scandal, however, is that a government office needed philanthropic aid to fund its work in the first place, creating an ethical quandary over potential conflicts of interest.
The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is responsible for advising the president on a vital and wide breadth of public policy — whether it’s “a people’s Bill of Rights for automated technologies” or the gargantuan effort of preparing for future pandemics. It also has a meager $5 million annual budget — which means it has to get creative to do its work.
“The use of staff from other federal agencies and the armed services, universities, and philanthropically funded nonprofits dates back five presidential administrations — but President Biden was the first to elevate the office to Cabinet level,” an OSTP spokesperson said in a statement to Recode.
According to the office, among the 127 people who currently work there, only 25 are OSTP employees. The remaining are a mix of temporary appointees from other federal agencies, as well as people from universities, science organizations, or fellowships that may be funded by philanthropy.”
“Both OSTP and Schmidt Futures maintain that their connection has been misconstrued as nefarious; they say this sort of partnership is par for the course.
In a statement, Schmidt Futures highlighted how the OSTP has been “chronically underfunded,” and said that it was proud to be among the “leading organizations” providing funding to OSTP. In other words, Schmidt Futures makes clear that it isn’t the only private organization to charitably provide much-needed monetary support to government agencies.”
““Outsiders are not subject to government ethics rules or the government’s transparency requirements,” Shaub continued. “They may put their own interests before the American people, and we have no way of knowing how that changes outcomes.”
It’s one thing for the public and private sectors to coordinate on and contribute to a project — it’s another when a government office accepts money from philanthropy that creates potential ethical conflicts. That signals a systematic underfunding of the public sector that all but guarantees some dependence on private interests, and accepting such money creates a problematic trade-off.
Speculating on the true motive behind Schmidt’s involvement in OSTP is almost beside the point. It seems inevitable that the money quietly flowing from him and his foundation to the office would apply pressure that favors Schmidt’s personal and business interests.”
“Government is expected to be fairly transparent and accountable to the public, while the philanthropy world is often opaque and subject to the whims of private, ultra-wealthy individuals”
“Beijing is heading for global dominance because of its advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning and cyber capabilities, he said. Compared to China’s advancement, US cyber defences in some government departments were at the kindergarten level.
Chaillan blamed the reluctance of Goggle to work with the US defence department on AI. Chinese companies, on the other hand, are obliged to work with Beijing, and were making “massive investment” into AI without regard to ethics, he said to Financial Times.”
“It’s called a “keyword warrant,” and it’s basically an open request for information on anyone who searches for particular terms online. Instead of the government saying, “I want all of arson suspect John Doe’s Google searches,” it’s, “I want information on all the people who searched Google for ‘arson.'”
The problem is evident. In the first scenario, investigators have already determined a suspect based on some evidence that they present to a judge, the typical standard for requesting a search warrant. In the second scenario, the government is asking search engines to provide data that they can use for whatever reason. It’s an open invitation for a fishing expedition. And many innocent people could get caught in the net.”
“Apple and Google shut down a voting app meant to help opposition parties organize against the Kremlin in a parliamentary election in Russia that’s taking place over the weekend. The companies removed the app from their app stores on Friday after the Russian government accused them of interfering in the country’s internal affairs, a clear attempt by President Vladimir Putin to obstruct free elections and stay in power.
The Smart Voting app was designed to identify candidates most likely to beat members of the government-backed party, United Russia, as part of a broader strategy organized by supporters of the imprisoned Russian activist Alexei Navalny to bring together voters who oppose Putin. In a bid to clamp down on the opposition effort, the Russian government told Google and Apple that the app was illegal, and reportedly threatened to arrest employees of both companies in the country.
The move also comes amid a broader crackdown on Big Tech in Russia. Earlier this week, a Russian court fined Facebook and Twitter for not removing “illegal” content, and the country is reportedly blocking peoples’ access to Google Docs, which Navalny supporters had been using to share lists of preferred candidates.”
“Apple’s aggressive lobbying efforts in Georgia, the extent of which were previously unreported, highlight a pattern that has played out with little national attention across the country this year: State lawmakers introduce bills that would force Apple and its fellow tech giant Google to give up some control over their mobile phone app stores. Then Apple, in particular, exerts intense pressure on lawmakers with promises of economic investment or threats to pull its money, and the legislation stalls.”
“It’s hard to see how either consumers or advertisers would benefit—or change their ways—just because Google apps didn’t come preloaded on some phones or as the default search in some browsers. Presumably, Google wouldn’t magically lose its huge name recognition and Bing or Yahoo wouldn’t suddenly have better results. The government can meddle around the market’s edges all it wants, but they can’t force consumers to choose inferior products just to equalize market share.
“The complaint makes a lot of hay out of Google’s deal with Apple to be the default search engine on Safari,” and “of course, being the default helps increase market share,” tweeted Alec Stapp, director of technology policy at the Progressive Policy Institute. “But Tim Cook has also said that Google is the best search engine. Should the default be an inferior product?””