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EXPOSED: Google, Obama caught doing it once a week

Who's in charge, here? The White House, or an advertising company in California?

Google and the White House manage to hook up more than the majority of married couples, having met up once a week for the past five years.

That's the latest indicator of the powerful internet giant's worrying cosy relationship with the Obama administration, pulled from logs requested by the Wall Street Journal.

The disclosure comes hot on the heels of last week's revelations that US watchdog the FTC very nearly pursued an antitrust lawsuit against Google for unfairly burying rivals in its search results, but ultimately gave up the chase. Google denies any wrongdoing.

The relationship between the rich California corporation and the Obama administration has been going on for some time, and has resulted in a string of troubling situations – a few of which we documented in a report over the weekend.

The Journal today highlights that as the FTC neared its decision not to prosecute Google for abusing its dominant search and online advertising position, its senior executives had a sudden run of meetings both with the watchdog and the White House.

It also points out that Google spent $16.8m (£11.3m, AU$14.4m) on lobbyists in Washington DC last year, more than any other company except American telco giant Comcast. Google execs met senior White House officials 230 times since President Obama was elected. By comparison, Comcast has had 20 such meetings.

And while the story points out that the Chief Technology Officer of the US, Megan Smith, is a former Google vice president, it neglects to mention that former Deputy CTO Andrew McLaughlin is also an ex-Google employee, and was even reprimanded for using his personal email address to discuss official White House matters with former colleagues.

Tip of the iceberg

The ties run broad and deep. Google chairman Eric Schmidt personally oversaw Obama's cutting-edge voter analysis software in 2012, which is widely acknowledged as contributing heavily to Barry's re-election. Another high-level power broker is Vint Cerf, the so-called "father of the internet" for his pioneering work on TCP/IP and who has been Google's "chief internet evangelist" for nearly 10 years.

Cerf lives in Washington DC, and has repeatedly met the President as well as senior White House officials to discuss topics ranging from net neutrality to NSA spying. Cerf was selected by President Obama to be a member of the National Science Board in 2013.

Cerf was repeatedly included in the emails [PDF] sent by McLaughlin from his personal account while in the White House, many concerning domain name overseer ICANN where both of them had previously worked together.

That early collaboration led ultimately to ICANN getting the green light to make significant changes to the agreement it held with the US Department of Commerce (ICANN oversees the highest level of the world's DNS under contract from Uncle Sam.)

No direct linkage between Google's relationship with the White House and the broader machinery of the US government is visible, but there is one eyebrow-raising example of the corporation's strong influence on American policy: its role in shaping the nation's radical net neutrality regulations.

Google – and Cerf in particular – have been outspoken proponents of net neutrality, and the search giant was involved in numerous meetings with White House officials trying to persuade them to come out in favor of the idea.

The lobbying campaign led to a surprise video by President Obama in which he gave specific instructions on how net neutrality should be implemented, including using so-called Title II provisions in law.

That intervention led to FCC chair Tom Wheeler scraping his so-called "hybrid plan," and coming all out in favor of Title II: a situation furious Republicans in Congress are threatening to dig into.

Funny goings-on

Even more striking was a last-minute change made during backroom negotiations over net neutrality that saw the FCC's staff pull 15 pages from its rules, and completely ditch a proposal to include interconnections under Title II following a letter on exactly that topic from, you guessed it, Google.

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai even remarked on the unusual turnaround, specifically referencing "a last-minute submission from a major California based company."

Quite how Google was able to not only discover the precise details of that proposal but also perfectly pitch its letter to force the change is a matter of speculation. The FCC was known to be especially tightlipped when it came to its proposed rules, leading many to believe Google had used its White House connections to get at the documents by the backdoor.

There are numerous other connections: from Eric Schmidt and other Google execs appearing on special White House advisory panels with alarming regularity, to former Google employees – who often continue to refer to themselves as 'Googlers' and frequently refer to ideas and concepts as being 'Googly' – working at many levels within the administration and almost always being called upon whenever there is a technical issue to fix (Healthcare.gov being a good example).

With major policy decisions repeatedly going in Google's favor, and with the search giant growing increasingly brazen in its direction to both the White House and independent regulators, a spotlight on Google's influence is long overdue. Today's story will hopefully serve as a wakeup call. ®

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