They’re coming. The “Google Policy Fellows” to help staff an array of public interest groups and policy think-tanks. “As lawmakers around the world become more engaged on Internet policy,” says Google, “a robust and intelligent public debate around these issues becomes increasingly important…The Google Policy Fellowship program offers undergraduate, graduate, and law students interested in Internet and technology policy the opportunity to spend the summer contributing to the public dialogue on these issues…Fellows will… work at public interest organizations at the forefront of debates on broadband and access policy, content regulation, copyright and trademark reform, consumer privacy, open government, and more. Participating organizations… include: American Library Association, Cato Institute, Center for Democracy and Technology, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Internet Education Foundation, Media Access Project, New America Foundation, and Public Knowledge.”
It’s wrong for public interest and consumer organizations to take Google’s money and especially provide a “Fellowship” in its name. We need to build more consumer advocacy capacity to address Google’s growing power, especially its threat to privacy. No matter what these groups say (and some already take money from Google; others receive broad media industry support), there are digital strings attached, as subtle as they may be. The Fellowship program is just another lobbying and PR effort coming from a company that has a broad policy agenda. Many of the groups above should be training people to represent the public versus companies such as Google, and other big online advertisers and new media conglomerates. Giving Google a say on the training of policy advocates, let alone a funding role, undermines the public interest movement.