Google’s Fellows Program Could Help Its Lobbying Efforts

Google has chosen 17 students to participate in the firm’s three-year-old Policy Fellowship program. While Google stresses the program’s purpose of pairing advocacy groups with students to work on “policy issues fundamental to the future of the Internet and its users,” the program could help the future of Google’s business, too.

The organizations matched with scholars this year play important roles in the realm of government regulation of several business sectors in which Google operates and deal with issues that are often subjects of the company’s government lobbying. From data privacy and net neutrality to online ad targeting and digital copyrights, the groups’ staffers and directors often brief regulatory bodies, speak during congressional hearings, and generally influence how state and federal governments intervene on these issues.

Students from 13 schools including Howard University, University of Pennsylvania, and Nebraska College of Law – in addition to two each from University of California at Berkeley and The George Washington University Law School, and three from Harvard, were accepted into the program.

The Center for Democracy and Technology – one of this year’s fellowship hosts – often deals with issues related to digital media and marketing, and its staff have appeared as witnesses at congressional hearings on such subjects. For instance, in February, the CDT’s general counsel spoke at a congressional hearing on location-based mobile targeting and its data privacy implications. The organization has also posted on its site statements about Google’s AdSense network and its behavioral targeting capabilities.

Another host group, The Progress and Freedom Foundation, also monitors online advertising and privacy policy topics. The organization plans to hold a Capitol Hill briefing on May 24 titled, “Nuts & Bolts of Online Privacy, Advertising, Notice and Choice.”

Free enterprise think tank Competitive Enterprise Institute will also accept a Google fellow into its ranks this summer. The group’s site says it “seeks to reframe the online privacy debate in terms of the potential benefits to consumers of greater information sharing, transparency, and individualized marketing.” It also pushes policies that promote a free-market approach to competition in Washington, D.C. and Europe.

Google’s merger and acquisition activities often come under scrutiny by regulators in the U.S. and Europe. Another host organization, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, states on the Google blog that its 2010 Google Policy Fellow “will undertake research and analysis of national implementations of the Council of Europe’s Cybercrime Convention, data retention obligations, and trans-border data flows in support of our international privacy and civil liberties agenda.”

Google has gradually increased the amount of money it puts toward its Capitol Hill lobbying efforts. There is no direct indication that the student program is an extension of Google’s overall lobbying efforts – a way for it to foster positive viewpoints and relationships among organizations and future leaders dealing with issues that could affect the company’s business. Yet, it may come as little surprise to company observers that one of Google’s key Hill lobbyists, Pablo Chavez, director of public policy for the firm, wrote the post about the 2010 fellowship winners published on the Google Public Policy Blog on May 17.

In Q1 2010, Chavez visited Capitol Hill lawmakers as a lobbyist to discuss issues including regulation of online advertising, online ad privacy and competition issues surrounding online advertising, net neutrality, and other issues.

When asked by ClickZ News about a possible connection between the fellowships and its government lobbying efforts, Google responded, “Our policy fellowship program was inspired by our Summer of Code. Much like the Summer of Code, which was created to give students more exposure to real-world software development, the Google Policy Fellowship is designed to give young policy minds access to a diverse group of organizations working on complicated tech policy issues.”

This year’s fellows will work with their host organizations for 10 weeks this summer and receive a stipend of $7,000. According to a description of the program on Google’s site, the students are “expected to make substantive contributions to the work of their organization, including conducting policy research and analysis; drafting reports and analyses; attending government and industry meetings and conferences; and participating in other advocacy activities.”

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