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Eric Schmidt reportedly pressured think tank into firing Google critic

Eric Schmidt reportedly pressured think tank into firing Google critic

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Shortly after Google was fined a record €2.4 billion by the EU for manipulating search results, a foundation backed by Google posted a statement praising the penalty. This earned the ire of Eric Schmidt, which led him to pressure the New America Foundation (NAF) into firing the critic and his entire team, reports The New York Times. The NAF has reportedly received more than $21 million from Google, Schmidt, and Schmidt’s family foundation since 1999, the year NAF was founded. Google is still funding New America today.

In June, Google was fined following a seven-year investigation into the company’s algorithms. The judgement found that Google had “abused its dominant position by systematically favoring” its own shopping comparison service. Shortly after, Barry Lynn, a senior fellow at the NAF posted a statement that applauded the EU’s decision — but it was removed and reposted again a few hours later without explanation. Lynn looked after a department at the foundation called Open Markets, which has questioned the power of tech giants, including Google.

The New York Times reports that Schmidt — who is the executive chairman of Google parent company Alphabet — was displeased with the statement and told Anne-Marie Slaughter, the group’s president. In an email, Slaughter is reported to have later told Lynn that “the time has come for Open Markets and New America to part ways.”

“People are so afraid of Google now.”

The email implied Lynn and his team would be banished from the foundation. The decision however, was said to be “in no way based on the content of your work,” though Slaughter said Lynn did “imperil the institution as a whole.” Lynn claims that Slaughter was under pressure from Google and Schmidt, and told The New York Times that “people are so afraid of Google now.”

The Open Markets team organized a 2016 conference, and in the lead-up, when Google expressed worry over representation of its views, Slaughter wrote an email to Lynn, saying, “We are in the process of trying to expand our relationship with Google on some absolutely key points ... just THINK about how you are imperiling funding for others.”

In a Twitter post however, Slaughter shot down the report from the Times, saying, “This story is false,” and that a statement from NAF would be issued soon. At press time, a statement had not yet been issued. Google also told the Times that it wasn’t involved in Lynn’s ouster. “We don’t agree with every group 100 percent of the time, and while we sometimes respectfully disagree, we respect each group’s independence, personnel decisions and policy perspectives,” the company said.

Lynn has since started his own nonprofit group with the same team from Open Markets called Citizens against Monopoly. The website states, “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. We’re continuing the fight.”