Tag Archives: Public Policy

The U.S. and Europe should launch a trade and technology council

Two decades ago, countries saw global trade in technology goods and services as an on-ramp to the economy of the 21st century. International agreements to eliminate barriers to trade in technology goods and services helped enable dramatic increases in technology trade, while countries looked to promote foreign investment in the cutting-edge technologies of the future.  Consumers everywhere got access to new, lower-priced technology, millions of jobs were created and businesses from Paris to Pittsburgh have been able to reach new customers around the world, generating trillions of dollars in sales.

Times have changed: We’re all using digital tools, and recognizing the risks of abuse and the need for responsible innovation. But while well-crafted regulation can help unlock the benefits of technology, an explosion in national policies is detering trade in technology. Those barriers include not just tariffs (which have also beset other sectors), but also trade controls, discriminatory taxes, investment restrictions and novel digital regulations aimed straight at foreign-headquartered companies. In short, we’re seeing the erosion of a carefully nurtured global trading system that has contributed to progress and prosperity in the U.S. and around the world.  

This erosion of trade norms isn’t limited to the U.S.-China relationship. Even more concerningly, the technology trade relationship between the U.S. and Europe — once one of the closest in the world — is fraying.  

In Washington, in recent years, “transatlantic tech policy” has been largely reduced to pressing Europe to follow U.S. supply chain initiatives. Meanwhile Europe has undertaken a broad series of unilateral initiatives in areas ranging from digital taxes to market regulation. Transatlantic coordination has largely become an afterthought, if it’s thought of at all. 

These policy trends hurt both the U.S. and European economies, risking the 16 million jobs on both sides of the Atlantic linked to transatlantic trade and investment. They also make it harder for the U.S. and the EU to address new global technology challenges and partner with emerging economies in Asia.

But there’s a better path forward. Coming out of the pandemic, with new momentum behind bilateral cooperation, we have a chance to revitalize the transatlantic technology trade relationship.

The European Commission recently proposed an EU-US Trade and Technology Council (TTC).  The United States should accept the invitation — and build on it. An expedited high-level trade dialogue on technology issues is critical to avoid unilateral approaches on pressing issues like data flows that are essential to commerce, regulation of digital platforms that we all use every day, and other essential components of a modern economy. A TTC could also prevent divergence on emerging areas like artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies and promote cooperation on third-country technology challenges. 

Of course a TTC needs to be set up for success. When entering trade negotiations, each side typically avoids preemptive or unilateral actions that might foreclose meaningful alignment. In entering a TTC, both sides should commit to meaningful consultation before taking any further actions harming transatlantic tech trade. The U.S. should not enact new privacy or technology trade control regulations without consulting with the EU; the EU should pursue bilateral consultation to ensure technology initiatives like the Digital Markets Act reflect the EU-U.S. values-based alliance. Quickly forming a TTC can help drive a consistent and non-discriminatory approach on these challenging new areas of technology regulation.

The need for alignment has never been greater or more urgent. An aligned approach will promote more tech-enabled economic growth; tech-supported measures to tackle other shared challenges like climate change; and new norms to ensure that technology will — in the words of  U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken — “protect your privacy, make the world safer and healthier, and make democracies more resilient.” 

The historic partnership between Europe and the U.S. faces a profound challenge — but also an opportunity to re-build based on shared values of openness and connectivity. As European Commission Executive Vice-President Dombrovskis said recently: “The bottom line is simple: whatever challenges the EU and U.S. face, there is no stronger values-based alliance in the world … So, even if the current crisis feeds the temptation to look inward, this is not the answer.” We couldn’t agree more.

Google’s €25 million contribution to media literacy

While navigating the uncertainty and challenges of the last year, it has proven more important than ever for people to access accurate information, and sort facts from fiction. That’s why Google is contributing €25 million to help launch the European Media and Information Fund to strengthen media literacy skills, fight misinformation and support fact checking. Our goal is to ensure that you and your family get the information you want, the answers you need and the accuracy you deserve.

Our five-year commitment will support the work of the European University Institute, the European Digital Media Observatory and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation to fund organizations seeking to address key challenges:

  • Help adults and young people strengthen their media literacy skills
  • Support and scale the critical work of fact-checkers 
  • Strengthen the expertise, research and resources to help fight misinformation

As the first to contribute to the European Media and Information Fund, we welcome and encourage other organizations to follow our lead and support this important work. It is clear there is an unmet demand for funding and research, with fewer than one in 10 Europeans having participated in any form of online media literacy training, according to a recent report.  

In the coming weeks, the Fund will open for proposals from academics, nonprofits and publishers based in the European Union, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Independent committees made up of industry experts will select the winning ideas and Google won't be involved in any decision making related to the Fund. 

Our commitment today builds on our previous grants to fact checkers and nonprofits, including those related to the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccines, and our work to tackle misinformation in the run up to other major events, such as elections. Since 2015, we’ve provided funding and technical support to organizations focused on misinformation, including innovative new models like CrossCheck in France, and provided digital verification training to 90,000 European journalists, receiving over 400,000 visits to our training website

And we’re of course continuing our other efforts to support media literacy for young people, with Be Internet Legends and Be Internet Citizens providing digital skills to help schoolchildren and teenagers verify and fact-check. Through our philanthropic arm, Google.org, we’ve provided €3.2 million in funding since 2018 to programs like Newswise, The Student View and Weitklick, and through the Google News Initiative additional funding to support Students for President and Zeit für Lehrer.

If you represent an organization with an idea, you can learn more about the Fund and find out when applications open by registering on this website.

Sundar Pichai’s testimony before the U.S. House Committee on Energy & Commerce

Editor’s Note: Today our CEO Sundar Pichai testified along with the CEOs of Facebook and Twitter at a hearing hosted by the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce focused on social media’s role in promoting misinformation. In his opening written statement, Sundar highlighted Google and YouTube’s efforts to provide trustworthy content and opportunities for free expression across our platforms, while combating harmful misinformation around the U.S. 2020 elections, the COVID-19 pandemic and more. Read it in full below.

Chairman Doyle, Ranking Member Latta, Chairwoman Schakowsky, Ranking Member Bilirakis, Full Committee Chair Pallone and Full Committee Ranking Member McMorris Rodgers, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today.

This month, the worldwide web turned 32. Over the past three decades, we’ve seen the web inspire the best in society, by expanding knowledge, powering businesses, and providing opportunities for expression, discovery, and connection — no matter who you are, or where you live.

I joined Google in 2004 because I believed the internet was the best way to bring the benefits of technology to more people, and I believe that still today. 

I am proud that Americans can turn to Google for help in moments that matter, whether they’re looking for COVID vaccine information on Search and Maps, working and learning from home using Google Workspace or Google Classroom, learning new skills on YouTube, or using our digital tools to grow their businesses. In 2020, our products helped 2 million U.S. businesses, publishers, and others generate $426 billion in economic activity. And we helped billions of people find comfort and connection in an otherwise awful year. 

Beyond our products, we were proud to announce last week our plans to invest over $7 billion in data centers and offices across 19 states, and create at least 10,000 full-time Google jobs in the U.S. That’s in addition to the 84,000 employees we currently employ across the country. And according to an Oxford Economics report, YouTube's creative ecosystem supported the equivalent of 345,000 full time jobs in 2019. 

We are energized by the opportunity to help people at scale, and we are humbled by the responsibility that comes with it. We have thousands of people focused on everything from cyber attacks, to data privacy, to today’s topic: misinformation. 

Our mission at Google is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Core to that mission is providing trustworthy content and opportunities for free expression across our platforms, while limiting the reach of harmful misinformation.

It’s a large, dynamic challenge without easy answers. More than 500 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, and approximately 15% of the searches on Google each day are new to us. Eighteen months ago most people hadn’t heard of COVID-19; sadly, coronavirus was the top trending search of 2020.

Responding to the events of January 6

Staying ahead of these challenges and keeping users safe and secure on our platforms is a top priority. We saw how high those stakes can be on January 6, 2021, when a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol. This was an unprecedented and tragic event, and Google strongly condemns these violent attacks on our democracy, and mourns the lives lost. 

In response, our teams worked to raise up authoritative news sources across our products. Teams at YouTube quickly took down any live streams or videos that violated our incitement to violence policies, and on January 7, we began issuing strikes to those in violation of our presidential election integrity policy. In the Play Store, we removed apps for violating our policies on inciting violence. We also prohibited advertisers from running ads that referenced the 2020 election or topics related to the Capitol riots in the scope of our Sensitive Events policy. 

Doing our part to contribute to the integrity of the U.S. 2020 election

We were able to act quickly because of the investments we made to prepare for the 2020 elections. Last year, teams across Google and YouTube worked around the clock to contribute to election preparedness, by helping voters find authoritative information about the election; by working with campaigns to equip them with best-in-class security features and helping them connect with voters; and by protecting our platforms from abuse. 

Helping voters find authoritative information on our services

This U.S. election cycle saw all-time highs in searches on Google for civics-related topics. Anticipating that need, we worked to launch features that would help people find the information to participate in the democratic process, including how to register and how to vote in their states. 

Consistent with our approach to prior election cycles, we showed “how to register” and “how to vote” reminders to all our U.S. users directly on Google Search, Maps and YouTube. These reminders were seen over 2 billion times across our products. As the election neared, we helped people find polling and ballot drop off locations: From mid-October through Election Day, we added more than 125,000 voting locations in Google Maps. Across our products, these features were seen nearly 500 million times. 

Finally, starting on Election Day, we worked with the Associated Press to provide real-time election results for relevant searches on Google. These results had over six times more views in 2020 than in 2016. Similarly, on YouTube, we launched an election results information panel that showed on top of search results and under videos with election-related content. It pointed to our election results page on Google, and over time, we expanded it to include an additional link pointing to a page on the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) website that debunked incorrect claims made about the integrity of the elections. Once the safe harbor deadline for state certification passed, we updated this YouTube Election Results Information Panel again to point to the National Archives Office of the Federal Register page of record for the 2020 electoral college vote. Collectively, our election information panels on YouTube have been shown over 8 billion times. 

Working with campaigns

We also helped campaigns and elected officials effectively use Google and YouTube products to reach voters and enhance their election security. As part of our Civics Outreach Virtual Training Series, Google held 21 training sessions for over 900 candidates, campaigns, public officials, and nonprofit leaders. Overall, we held 45 group and individual trainings to help more than 2,900 election workers learn to use Google tools to amplify their message and better connect with voters through events like digital town halls, debates and virtual campaign rallies.

In addition, as a part of our Election Cybersecurity Initiative with the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School, nearly 4,000 elected officials, secretaries of state, campaign staffers, political party representatives, and state election directors in all 50 states received training on ways to secure their information and protect their campaigns against cyberattacks. 

At the start of the 2020 election season, we partnered with Defending Digital Campaigns (DDC), a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization, to give any eligible federal campaign access to free Titan Security Keys — the strongest form of two-factor authentication. This collaboration is a part of our Advanced Protection Program, which protects high-risk individuals, such as election officials, campaigns, and journalists, who have access to high visibility and sensitive information. In the lead-up to the 2020 elections, DDC distributed more than 10,000 Titan Security key bundles to more than 140 U.S. federal campaigns. We recently expanded our support for DDC to provide eligible campaigns and political parties, committees, and related organizations, at both the federal and state levels, with knowledge, training and resources to defend themselves from security threats.

Protecting our platforms from abuse

In the years leading up to the 2020 election, we made numerous enhancements to protect the integrity of elections around the world and better secure our platforms. Among them, we introduced strict policies and processes for identity verification for advertisers who run election-related advertising on our platform; we launched comprehensive political ad libraries in the U.S. and in other countries around the world; we developed and implemented policies to prohibit election-related abuse such as voter suppression and deceptive practices on platforms like YouTube, Google Ads, Google Maps and Google Play; our Threat Analysis Group (TAG) launched a quarterly bulletin to provide regular updates on our work to combat coordinated influence operations across our platforms and flagged phishing attempts against the presidential campaigns; and we worked closely with government agencies, including the FBI’s Foreign Influence Task Force, and other companies to share information around suspected election interference campaigns. 

On YouTube, throughout 2020, we identified and removed content that was misleading voters about where or how to vote, to help ensure viewers saw accurate information about the upcoming election. After December 8, which marked the "safe harbor" deadline for states to certify their election, in accordance with our Presidential Election Integrity policy we began to remove content uploaded on or after December 9 that misled people by alleging that widespread fraud or errors changed the outcome of the 2020 U.S. presidential election. In addition, we continued to enforce our broader policies — for instance, from October to December 2020, we removed 13,000 YouTube channels for promoting violence and violent extremism; 89% of videos removed for violating our violent extremism policy were taken down before they had 10 views. 

This work was in addition to improvements in the ranking systems we use to reduce the spread of harmful misinformation on YouTube: In January 2019, we announced that we would begin reducing recommendations of borderline content or videos that could misinform viewers in harmful ways but that do not violate YouTube Community Guidelines. Since then, we've launched numerous changes to reduce recommendations of borderline content and harmful misinformation, and we continue to invest in this work: Our models review more than 100,000 hours of videos every day to find and limit the spread of borderline content.

Our work is never done, and we continue to learn and improve from one election cycle to the next, and continue to evolve our policies. That principle has guided our approach to new and evolving challenges, including COVID-19 misinformation.

Addressing the challenge of COVID-19 misinformation

This past year we’ve also focused on providing quality information during the pandemic. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, teams across Google have worked to provide quality information and resources to help keep people safe, and to provide public health, scientists and medical professionals with tools to combat the pandemic. We’ve launched more than 200 new products, features and initiatives — including the Exposure Notification API to assist contact tracing — and have pledged over $1 billion to assist our users, customers and partners around the world. 

Today, when people search on Google for information for COVID-19 vaccines in the United States, we present them with a list of authorized vaccines in their location, with information on each individual vaccine from the FDA or CDC, as relevant. We also provide them with information about vaccination locations near them in Google Search and Google Maps, when that information is available. On YouTube, we launched COVID-19 information panels directing viewers to the CDC’s information about the virus and, later on, about vaccines. These information panels are featured on the YouTube homepage, and on videos and in search results about the pandemic. Since March 2020, they have been viewed over 400 billion times. And we continue to work with YouTube creators to pair them with health experts who can get the facts to a wide range of audiences — we promote this content in our “ask the experts” feature.

Another way we’ve been helping is by offering over $350 million in Ad Grants to help more than 100 government agencies and non-profit organizations around the world run critical public service announcements (PSAs) about COVID-19. Grantees can use these funds throughout 2021 for things like vaccine education and outreach campaigns. 

In parallel to our efforts to elevate authoritative information about the pandemic and vaccines, we have worked across our services to combat harmful misinformation about these topics. Across our products, we’ve had long-standing policies prohibiting harmful and misleading medical or health-related content. When COVID-19 hit, our Trust and Safety team worked to stop a variety of abuses stemming from the pandemic, including phishing attempts, malware, dangerous conspiracy theories, and fraud schemes. We took quick action to remove content that promoted inaccurate or misleading claims about cures, masks, and vaccines; our teams have removed 850,000 videos related to dangerous or misleading COVID-19 medical information, and in total, we blocked nearly 100 million COVID-related ads throughout 2020. Our teams have also been planning for new threats and abuse patterns related specifically to COVID-19 vaccines. For example, in October, we expanded our COVID-19 medical misinformation policy on YouTube to remove content about vaccines that contradicts consensus from health authorities, such as the Centers for Disease Control or the World Health Organization (WHO). 

Developing clear and transparent policies

We were able to act quickly and decisively because of the significant investments we have made over years, not only to make information useful and accessible, but also to remove and reduce the spread of harmful misinformation. Across all of this work, we strive to have clear and transparent policies and enforce them without regard to political party or point of view. We work to raise up authoritative sources, and reduce the spread of misinformation in recommendations and elsewhere. Teams across the company work in a variety of roles to help develop and enforce our policies, monitor our platforms for abuse, and protect users from everything from account hijackings and disinformation campaigns to misleading content and inauthentic activity. And we don’t do this work alone; we work closely with experts to stay ahead of emerging threats.

Supporting innovation in journalism and the development of new business models

At Google, we believe that a vibrant news industry is vital to tackling misinformation on a societal scale. We invested millions to support COVID-19 related fact checking initiatives, providing training or resources to nearly 10,000 journalists. In addition to helping journalists tackle misinformation, we have long been committed to supporting newsrooms and journalists in the United States and abroad. Over the past 20 years, we have collaborated closely with the news industry and provided billions of dollars to support the creation of quality journalism in the digital age. 

We share a strong interest in supporting a diverse and sustainable ecosystem of quality news providers. Our products are designed to elevate high quality journalism and connect consumers to diverse news sites — from global media companies to smaller digital startups. 

We are proud that our services help people all over the world find relevant, authoritative news about issues that matter to them. Each month, people click through from Google Search and Google News results to publishers' websites more than 24 billion times — that’s over 9,000 clicks per second. This free traffic helps new publishers increase their readership, build trust with readers and earn money through advertising and subscriptions. We also recently announced a new investment in Google News Showcase and committed $1 billion over the next three years to pay publishers to produce editorially curated content experiences and for limited free user access to paywalled content. In less than one year, we have been able to partner with over 500 publications across more than a dozen countries, spanning global, national, regional, metro and local publications.

Our commitment to the future of news extends beyond our products and services. We launched the Google News Initiative to support journalistic innovation and the emergence of new business models. Since 2018, we have committed $61 million in funding to support more than 2,000 news partners across the United States and Canada. As part of this initiative, we have also helped more than 447,200 journalists develop knowledge and skills in digital journalism through in person and online trainings through the Google News Lab. And when the pandemic hit, we turned our resources to support local news organizations and fact-checkers — contributing $10.6 million to over 1,800 local newsrooms across the U.S. and Canada through our Journalism Emergency Relief Fund and committing $6.5 million to combat Covid-19 misinformation. We look forward to continuing this work with our partners in the news industry to ensure a thriving and healthy future for journalism.

The role of Section 230 in fighting misinformation

These are just some of the tangible steps we’ve taken to support high-quality journalism and protect our users online, while preserving people’s right to express themselves freely. Our ability to provide access to a wide range of information and viewpoints, while also being able to remove harmful content like misinformation, is made possible because of legal frameworks like Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. 

Section 230 is foundational to the open web: It allows platforms and websites, big and small, across the entire internet, to responsibly manage content to keep users safe and promote access to information and free expression. Without Section 230, platforms would either over-filter content or not be able to filter content at all. In the fight against misinformation, Section 230 allows companies to take decisive action on harmful misinformation and keep up with bad actors who work hard to circumvent their policies.

Thanks to Section 230, consumers and businesses of all kinds benefit from unprecedented access to information and a vibrant digital economy. Today, more people have the opportunity to create content, start a business online, and have a voice than ever before. At the same time, it is clear that there is so much more work to be done to address harmful content and behavior, both online and offline.

Regulation has an important role to play in ensuring that we protect what is great about the open web, while addressing harm and improving accountability. We are, however, concerned that many recent proposals to change Section 230 — including calls to repeal it altogether — would not serve that objective well. In fact, they would have unintended consequences — harming both free expression and the ability of platforms to take responsible action to protect users in the face of constantly evolving challenges. 

We might better achieve our shared objectives by focusing on ensuring transparent, fair, and effective processes for addressing harmful content and behavior. Solutions might include developing content policies that are clear and accessible, notifying people when their content is removed and giving them ways to appeal content decisions, and sharing how systems designed for addressing harmful content are working over time. With this in mind, we are committed not only to doing our part on our services, but also to improving transparency across our industry.

I look forward to sharing more about our approach with you today, and working together to create a path forward for the web’s next three decades.

The 2012 FTC staff papers

A recent D.C. parlor game has been to second-guess the Federal Trade Commission’s 2012 decision to close its antitrust investigation into Google. (That investigation looked at search design, similar to the case filed last year by various state attorneys general.) In response to recent speculation in the press about the FTC’s decision, we wanted to set the record straight.

In a unanimous, bipartisan decision, all five FTC Commissioners concluded that the evolution of Google Search was designed to “improve the quality” of search results and “likely benefited consumers.”

Now, the staff papers and memos that helped inform this decision have been made public. 

These documents show why, after a comprehensive review, the Federal Trade Commissioners all voted to close their investigation nearly a decade ago. The memos conclusively confirm that the decision to not bring an antitrust case against the design of Google’s search engine was supported by clear and unambiguous recommendations by all sections of the FTC who reviewed it, including the Bureau of Competition, the Bureau of Consumer Protection, the Bureau of Economics and the Office of the General Counsel. 

It’s also clear from the papers how actively Microsoft and other rivals were encouraging these complaints. The FTC put consumers' interests in higher-quality search results over the interests of a powerful commercial rival, which has since grown even further, to become the second-biggest company in the U.S. by market capitalization.  

The memos also show that the FTC and its staff looked in detail at our Android and Apple distribution agreements (the subject of the Department of Justice’s current case) and, after uncovering evidence that people can readily choose alternatives but “overwhelmingly” prefer Google, declined to challenge them.

Some highlights:

People choose to use Google.

  • One click away:“The argument that competition is just ‘one click away’ is a compelling one.” (Bureau of Competition staff memo)

  • Users prefer Google: “Like the wireless carriers, Apple states [Google] is the overwhelming preference of its customers.” (Bureau of Competition staff memo)

  • Partners prefer Google:“The companies have made it apparent to Staff that they have no interest in being released from their current contracts, and little interest in pursuing negotiations with alternative search providers.” (Bureau of Competition staff memo)

Google Search benefits users.

  • Universal Search was indisputably a product improvement:“First, I endorse the staff’s recommendation not to bring a case on search preferencing. To bring such a case would intrude deeply into product design, an area into which courts have been extremely reluctant to go unless the design feature in question has no legitimate justification. … Universal Search was indisputably a product improvement…”(General Counsel memo)

  • Universal Search benefits users: “Google's documents show that Universal Search was a procompetitive response to pressure from vertical sites and general search sites and an improvement for users.”(Bureau of Economics staff memo)

  • Substantial benefit for users:“Universal Search is a ‘product improvement’ that has resulted in substantial benefit to its users...Google's organization and aggregation of content from other websites adds value to the product for consumers.”(Bureau of Competition staff memo)

  • Google’s search practices benefit users:“Google can legitimately claim that at least part of the conduct at issue improves its product and benefits users.”(Bureau of Competition staff memo)

Google’s distribution agreements

  • Our search distribution agreements with web browsers, like Apple’s Safari browser, aren’t exclusive: “[W]e find strong reasons for doubting that ... default status on web browsers (both desktop and mobile) can be properly viewed as ‘exclusives’ in the sense that users are unable, with relatively low cost, to access rival search engines.” (Bureau of Economics staff memo) 

  • Our Android agreements aren’t exclusive:“As an initial matter, recall that Google’s agreements with smartphone manufacturers do not actually require exclusivity. Rather, they are contracts that require Google search to be the initially installed default search engine. Consumers are free to switch to other search engines, or even to replace Google as their default search engine, should they wish to do so.”(Bureau of Economics staff memo)

Google faces competition from specialized search engines.

  • Search and vertical search compete:“[S]ubstantial documentary evidence that Google competes against specialized search engines for certain types of queries. Google's competition with specialized search engines is similar to a supermarket's competition with a convenience store.” (Lead staff economists)

Google’s Apple agreement

Lead staff economists on the Google investigation:

  • Apple chooses Google because it’s the “best”:“Apple stated... ‘Apple's focus is offering its customers the best products out of the box while allowing them to make choices after purchase. In many countries, Google offers the best product or service.’” 

  • The agreement is not exclusive: Additionally, similar to the desktop Safari agreement, both Microsoft and Yahoo are preloaded alternatives to Google in mobile Safari. According to Apple, to change the default, go to "Settings> Safari > Search Engine."

  • Switching search engines is trivial:"[C]hanging the default search option on mobile browsers involves a few taps and downloading other search apps can be achieved in a few seconds. These are trivial switching costs."

Overall conclusion

  • No antitrust violation:“[I]n my judgment at least, the weight of the available evidence...indicates that Google's conduct has not risen to the level of an antitrust violation.” (Deputy Director in the Bureau of Economics)

  • Consensus:“I agree with both [Bureau of Competition] and [Bureau of Economics] staff recommendations that the Commission not issue a complaint or pursue remedies for discriminatory ‘search preferencing’ by Google.”(Head of the Bureau of Economics)

  • Staff raise doubts about the case: “We have identified throughout this memorandum the many substantial risks associated with bringing a case against Google. On a global level, the record will permit Google to show substantial innovation, intense competition from Microsoft and others, and speculative long-run harm.“ (Bureau of Competition staff memo)

Let’s finalize an international tax deal

For several years, governments around the world have been meeting at the OECD to reform the international corporate tax system. Not surprisingly, success hasn’t come quickly. This isn’t an easy task – but it remains a critical one. As the world economy seeks to recover from the global pandemic and governments face new fiscal pressures, an agreed solution is needed now more than ever to ensure a durable framework for cross-border trade and investment.

Tomorrow’s meeting of G20 finance ministers represents an important opportunity to give this process new momentum. For the new Biden Administration, the meeting represents a chance to underscore its commitment to the OECD-led multilateral process and to fair, comprehensive, and coordinated changes to corporate tax policies. And it represents an equally important opportunity for finance ministers from France, the UK, India, Indonesia, and other leading economies to commit to end the headlong rush to discriminatory tax measures that we’ve seen in recent years and work with the U.S. on a durable agreement.

The central question is less about how much corporate income tax companies pay than where they pay it. For Google’s part, our effective tax rate over the past decade has exceeded 20% of our profits, in line with average statutory tax rates. While we’re one of the largest corporate taxpayers in the world, roughly 80% of our corporate income tax has been due in the United States, where Google was founded and where most of our products are developed. The concentration of our tax obligations in our home market mirrors many other multinational companies spanning various industries and countries; foreign firms operating in the U.S. and other countries, for example, also pay the majority of their corporate income taxes in their home countries.

These tax practices are the product of international rules – specifically, international tax treaties that historically have attributed a smaller share of profits to the countries where products and services are consumed, leaving the bulk of taxing rights to the countries where products and services are created.

We have long supported efforts to update international tax rules to arrive at a system where more taxing rights are shifted to countries where products and services are consumed. So, U.S. exports, including a range of technologies, might incur more income tax abroad, while foreign companies exporting to the U.S. would pay more to the U.S. public purse. Like any good agreement, this will require a healthy amount of give-and-take.

Unfortunately, in the absence of multilateral consensus, the world has seen the growth in recent years of taxes targeted at foreign companies. Most prominently, we have seen the growth of so-called “digital services taxes” that aim to raise revenue from a small subset of firms, narrowly defined by revenue thresholds and business models. This selective approach has sparked tensions between the U.S. and some of its allies, pushing countries toward trade disputes that could further damage fragile economies.

Some of the countries imposing these targeted taxes claim they help build momentum for broader international tax reform. But these digital services taxes are complicating efforts to reach a balanced agreement that works for all countries – they’re simply laying claim to income that would otherwise be taxed in the U.S. We encourage these governments to roll back what are essentially tariffs or, at a minimum, suspend them while negotiations continue.

The next few months will test commitments countries have made to reinvigorate international cooperation. Left on the current trajectory, tax discord could quickly yield beggar-thy-neighbor protectionism that would weaken cooperation on many issues. But serious steps forward – starting with the rescission or suspension of existing unilateral taxes – could create new momentum for multilateralism, supporting collaboration on many other important fronts. We urge countries to work together on this critical project, building a firmer foundation for international cooperation in the 21st Century.

GSEC Dublin: A content responsibility center for Europe

Protecting people from harmful content and making our products safer for everyone is core to the work of many different teams across Google and YouTube. When it comes to the content on our platforms, we have a responsibility to safeguard the people and businesses using our products, and to do so with clear, transparent policies and processes.

Today, we’re announcing our second Google Safety Engineering Center (GSEC)—and our first focused on content responsibility—to be located in our European headquarters in Dublin, Ireland. Our first GSEC opened in Munich in 2019 and builds tools to protect users’ privacy and security. The new Dublin center will be a regional hub for Google experts working to tackle the spread of illegal and harmful content and a place where we can share this work with policymakers, researchers, and regulators.

Dublin is already a hub for our Trust and Safety teams in the region, comprising many different policy experts, specialists and engineers working to keep people safe online by using the latest technology and artificial intelligence. Europe has been leading many different safety efforts globally, and is home to teams working on everything from ad transparency and child safety to botnet research and violent extremism.

The new GSEC will provide additional transparency into this work and make it easier for  regulators, policymakers and researchers to gain a hands-on understanding of how we deal with content safety. It will also help everyone understand how we develop and enforce policies, how our anti-abuse technologies and early threat detection systems work, how we work with trusted flaggers, as well as our incident management processes and content moderation practices. Specifically:

  • Regulators: Through GSEC, regulators will be able to access more information about how our content moderation systems and other technologies work in practice, in a secure location that safeguards the confidentiality of user information. When fully operational, this will enable regulators and policymakers (under existing or upcoming legal frameworks like the Digital Services Act) to conduct inquiries, evaluate processes and engage in official fact finding.

  • Academics: GSEC Dublin will work with the wider academic community and civil society groups promoting safety online. This new center will enable us to engage more closely with researchers, NGOs and other external stakeholders about emerging trends and risks with the aim of improving safety for people online. This work will be done with the appropriate safeguards on confidentiality, user privacy and security. With the announcement of GSEC Dublin we’re also announcing our first partnership with the Irish Research Council funding academic scholarship and research into online safety.

  • Civil society: GSEC will build on existing initiatives within Google that bring to life our responsible-by-design approach. We will share this knowledge more widely through the publication of reports and insights on content responsibility. This work is already underway, and we recently published our white paper on content moderation and information quality.

Our Trust and Safety teams sit around the globe, and we have more than 20,000 people working in a variety of roles to help enforce our policies and moderate content. We also continue to invest in initiatives like transparency reports, proactive disclosures around coordinated influence operations and disinformation, as well as sharing information with researchers and supporting collaborations like Project Lumen to help users, academics and policymakers better understand how we manage content at scale.

We have a responsibility to keep people safe online and to protect our platforms and products from abuse. As we continue to invest and scale these efforts, we are committed to providing additional transparency into our processes and policies. The work of the GSEC for Content Responsibility will begin virtually, and we plan to open the physical center in Dublin as soon as it is safe to do so and COVID-19 restrictions allow.

AG Paxton’s misleading attack on our ad tech business

In December, Texas Attorney General Paxton filed a complaint about our ad tech business and hired contingency-fee plaintiff lawyers to handle the case. We look forward to showing in court why AG Paxton’s allegations are wrong. But given some of the misleading claims that have been circulating—in particular, the inaccurate portrayal of our well-publicized “Open Bidding” agreement with Facebook—we wanted to set the record straight.  

About our ad services 

Ad tech helps websites and apps make money and fund high-quality content. It also helps our advertising partners—most of whom are small merchants—reach customers and grow their businesses.  

AG Paxton tries to paint Google’s involvement in this industry as nefarious. The opposite is true. Unlike some B2B companies in this space, a consumer internet company like Google has an incentive to maintain a positive user experience and a sustainable internet that works for all—consumers, advertisers and publishers.

For example, as we’ve built our ad tech products, we have given people granular controls over how their information is used to personalize ads and limited the sharing of personal data to safeguard people’s privacy. We’ve invested in detecting and blocking harmful ads that violate our policies. We also build tools that load content and ads faster; block scammy ad experiences like pop-ups; and reduce the number of intrusive, annoying ads through innovations like skippable ads. Those tools not only help people, but by building trust, promote the sustainability of the free and open internet. 

We’ve worked to be open and upfront with the industry about the improvements we make to our technologies. We try to do the right thing as we balance the concerns of publishers, advertisers, and the people who use our services. Our ad tech rivals and large partners may not always like every decision we make—we’re never going to be able to please everybody. But that’s hardly evidence of wrongdoing and certainly not a credible basis for an antitrust lawsuit.

Here are just a few of the things AG Paxton’s complaint gets wrong:

Myth: Google “dominates the online advertising landscape for image-based web display ads.”
Fact: The ad tech industry is incredibly crowded and competitive.

Competition in online advertising has made ads more affordable and relevant, reduced ad tech fees, and expanded options for publishers and advertisers.

The online advertising space is famously crowded. We compete with household names like Adobe, Amazon, AT&T, Comcast, Facebook, Oracle, Twitter and Verizon. Facebook, for example, is the largest seller of display ads and Amazon last month surpassed us as the preferred ad buying platform for advertisers. We compete fiercely with those companies and others such as Mediaocean, Amobee, MediaMath, Centro, Magnite, The Trade Desk, Index Exchange, OpenX, PubMatic and countless more. A growing number of retail brands such as Walmart, Walgreens, Best Buy, Kroger and Target are also offering their own ad tech.

Myth: Google “extracts a very high ... percent of the ad dollars otherwise flowing to online publishers.”
Fact: Our fees are actually lower than reported industry averages.

Our ad tech fees are lower than reported industry averages. Publishers keep about 70 percent of the revenue when using our products, and for some types of advertising, publishers keep even more—that’s more money in publishers’ pockets to fund their creation of high-quality content.

Myth: We created an alternative to header bidding that “secretly stacks the deck in Google’s favor.”
Fact: We created Open Bidding to address the drawbacks of header bidding.

Header bidding refers to running an auction among multiple ad exchanges for given ad space. You won’t read this in AG Paxton’s complaint, but the technology has real drawbacks: Header bidding auctions take place within the browser, on your computer or mobile phone, so they require the device to use more data in order to work. This can lead to problems like webpages taking longer to load and device batteries draining faster. And the multilayered complexity of header bidding can lead to fraud and other problems that can artificially increase prices for advertisers, as well as billing discrepancies that can hurt publisher revenue.

So we created an alternative to header bidding, called Open Bidding, which runs within the ad server instead of on your device. This solves many of the problems associated with header bidding. Open Bidding provides publishers access to demand from dozens of networks and exchanges. This helps increase demand for publisher inventory and competition for ad space, which enables publishers to drive more revenue. In fact, our data shows that publishers who decide to use Open Bidding on Ad Manager typically see double-digit revenue increases across our partners and exchange—and they can measure this for themselves. 

Additionally, our publisher platform has always integrated with header bidding, so publishers have the choice to use their preferred bidding solution. Publishers can and do bring bids from non-Google header bidding tools into our platform.

Since we launched Open Bidding, traditional header bidding has continued to grow. In fact, a recent survey shows about 90 percent of publishers currently use header bidding for desktop and 60 percent use header bidding for mobile in-app or in-stream video. Amazon also launched an entirely new competitive header bidding solution, which uses the same server-side approach that we do. Header bidding is an evolving and growing space—and now, as a result of our work, there are alternatives to header bidding that improve the user experience.

Myth: Our Open Bidding agreement with Facebook harms publishers.
Fact: Facebook is one of over 25 partners in Open Bidding, and their participation actually helps publishers.

AG Paxton also makes misleading claims about Facebook’s participation in our Open Bidding program.  Facebook Audience Network (FAN)’s involvement isn’t a secret. In fact, it was well-publicized and FAN is one of over 25 partners participating in Open Bidding. Our agreement with FAN simply enables them (and the advertisers they represent) to participate in Open Bidding. Of course we want FAN to participate because the whole goal of Open Bidding is to work with a range of ad networks and exchanges to increase demand for publishers’ ad space, which helps those publishers earn more revenue. FAN’s participation helps that. But to be clear, Open Bidding is still an extremely small part of our ad tech business, accounting for less than 4 percent of the display ads we place.

AG Paxton inaccurately claims that we manipulate the Open Bidding auction in FAN’s favor. We absolutely don’t. FAN must make the highest bid to win a given impression. If another eligible network or exchange bids higher, they win the auction. FAN’s participation in Open Bidding doesn't prevent Facebook from participating in header bidding or any other similar system. In fact, FAN participates in several similar auctions on rival platforms.

And AG Paxton’s claims about how much we charge other Open Bidding partners are mistaken—our standard revenue share for Open Bidding is 5-10 percent.

Myth: AMP was designed to hurt header bidding.
Fact: AMP was designed in partnership with publishers to improve the mobile web.

AG Paxton’s claims about AMP and header bidding are just false. Engineers at Google designed AMP in partnership with publishers and other tech companies to help webpages load faster and improve the user experience on mobile devices—not to harm header bidding.

AMP supports a range of monetization options, including header bidding. Publishers are free to use both AMP and header bidding technologies together if they choose. The use of header bidding doesn’t factor into publisher search rankings. 

Myth: We force partners to use Google tools.
Fact: Partners can readily use our tools and other technologies side by side. 

This claim isn’t accurate either. Publishers and advertisers often use multiple technologies simultaneously. In fact, surveys show the average large publisher uses six different platforms to sell ads on its site, and plans to use even more this year. And the top 100 advertisers use an average of four or more platforms to buy ads.

All of this is why we build our technologies to be interoperable with more than 700 rival platforms for advertisers and 80 rival platforms for publishers.

AG Paxton’s complaint talks about the idea that we offer tools for both advertisers and publishers as if that’s unusual or problematic. But that reflects a lack of knowledge of the online ads industry, where serving both advertisers and publishers is actually commonplace. Many firms with competing ad tech businesses, such as AT&T, Amazon, Twitter, Verizon, Comcast and others, offer ad platforms and tools like ours that cater to both advertisers and publishers. We don’t require either advertisers or publishers to use our whole “stack,” and many don’t. Ultimately, advertisers and publishers can choose what works best for their needs.

Myth: “Google uses privacy concerns to advantage itself.”
Fact: Consumers expect us to secure their data—and we do.

AG Paxton misrepresents our privacy initiatives. We're committed to operating our advertising business in a way that gives people transparency into and control over how their data is used. Consumers also increasingly expect, and data privacy laws require, strict controls over ad tracking tools like cookies and ad identifiers. So we’re focused on meeting those expectations and requirements. As we do so, we’ve created privacy-protecting solutions that enable other ad tech companies to continue to operate and introduced an open and collaborative industry initiative called the Privacy Sandbox, which is working on alternatives to cookies that preserve privacy while protecting free content. Other web browsers have likewise taken similar steps to limit the use of cookies and protect user privacy.

More information

There are many other things this complaint simply gets wrong. You can read more about our ad tech business by visiting our competition website.

We look forward to defending ourselves in court. In the meantime, we’ll continue our work to help publishers and advertisers grow with digital ads and create a sustainable advertising industry that supports free content for everyone.

Our continuing support for Dreamers

For generations, talented immigrants have helped America drive technological breakthroughs and scientific advancements that have created millions of new jobs in new industries, enriching our culture and our economy.

That’s why we have long supported the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. This was established in 2012 and allows “Dreamers” who came to the United States as children to request deferred action and work authorization for a renewal period of two years. Google proudly employs Dreamers who work to build the products you use every day. And we’ve defended their right to stay in the United States by joining amici briefs in court supporting DACA.

Unfortunately, DACA’s immediate future is uncertain. At the end of 2020, a U.S. District Court indicated that it could soon issue a ruling against DACA and bar new applications and ultimately renewals as well, leaving countless Dreamers in limbo during this uncertain time.

We believe it’s important that Dreamers have a chance to apply for protection under the program so that they can safeguard their status in the United States. But in the middle of a global pandemic that has led to economic hardship, especially for the many immigrants playing essential roles on the front lines, there is concern that many Dreamers cannot afford to pay the application fee

We want to do our part, so Google.org is making a $250,000 grant to United We Dream to cover the DACA application fees of over 500 Dreamers. This grant builds on over $35 million in support that Google.org and Google employees have contributed over the years to support immigrants and refugees worldwide, including more than $1 million from Googlers and Google.org specifically supporting DACA and domestic immigration efforts through employee giving campaigns led by HOLA (Google’s Latino Employee Resource Group).

We know this is only a temporary solution. We need legislation that not only protects Dreamers, but also delivers other much-needed reforms. We will support efforts by the new Congress and incoming Administration to pass comprehensive immigration reform that improves employment-based visa programs that enhance American competitiveness, gives greater assurance to immigrant workers and employers, and promotes better and more humane immigration processing and border security practices.

Dreamers and other talented immigrants enrich our communities, contribute to our economy, and exemplify the innovative spirit of America. We’re proud to support them.

Redesigning Search would harm American consumers and businesses

Our response to today’s lawsuit about the design of Google Search by state attorneys general:

Google Search is designed to provide you with the most relevant results. We know that if you don’t like the results we’re giving you, you have numerous alternatives—including Amazon, Expedia, Tripadvisor and many others just a click away.

So we keep working to improve our results, designing and rolling out helpful features in Search—including maps, links to products and services you can buy directly, flight and hotel options, and local business information like hours of operation and delivery services.

Look at how our search results have evolved and improved over the years. This is what our search results looked like in 2000—10 blue links, but no other useful features:

Search results page for bread in 2000 showing 10 blue links

And this is what they look like today—more useful information, more direct connections to businesses, more links to websites. Our rigorous testing tells us that you far prefer these types of rich results.

GIF showing a search result for bread on Google in 2020 with rich results

Other search engines like Microsoft’s Bing seem to have heard the same feedback because they have also evolved to provide these kinds of direct results.

Search for Bread on Microsoft Bing in 2020

To get more specifically to the issues raised in today’s lawsuit: it suggests we shouldn't have worked to make Search better and that we should, in fact, be less useful to you. When you search for local products and services, we show information that helps you connect with businesses directly and helps them reach more customers. This lawsuit demands changes to the design of Google Search, requiring us to prominently feature online middlemen in place of direct connections to businesses.   

Redesigning Google Search this way would harm the quality of your search results. And it would come at the expense of businesses like retailers, restaurants, repair shops, airlines and hotels whose listings in Google help them get discovered, and connect directly with customers. They would have a harder time reaching new customers and competing against big commerce and travel platforms and other aggregators and middlemen. 

The data shows that our local results in Search drive more than 4 billion direct connections for businesses every month (such as visits to businesses’ websites, people calling merchants, getting directions to stores, ordering food from restaurants). 

Even as we have added content and features to our search results, the volume of traffic we send to non-Google sites has increased every year since Search was created. Our search results page, which used to show 10 links, now shows an average of 26 outgoing links on mobile devices. 

We drive billions of visits to sites across the web every day and the volume of traffic we’ve sent to non-Google sites has increased every day since Search was created. On average, local results in Google Search drive more than 4 billion connections for businesses every month. This includes more than 2 billion monthly website clicks, as well as other connections like phone calls, directions, ordering food and making reservations. Each month Google connects people with more than 120 million businesses that don’t have websites.

The claims being made have been closely examined and rejected by regulators and courts around the world, including the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, competition authorities in Brazil, Canada and Taiwan, and courts in the United Kingdom and Germany, who all agreed that our changes are designed to improve your search results. It’s also well established that the most important driver for our search results is the specific query—not your personal data.

A gif showing quotes from regulators: “[Google’s changes to Search] could be seen as providing convenience to users and in line with users’ benefits.” - The Taiwan Fair Trade Commission “Google innovated in order to improve the quality and the experience of Internet searches of users, which is considered pro-competitive conduct.” - The Brazilian Competition Authority (CADE) “[I]t is indisputable that the display of a thumbnail map on the [search engine results page (SERP)] in response to a geographic query indeed enhances the quality of the Google SERP.” - The England and Wales High Court (Chancery Division) In a 5-0 bipartisan decision, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission said our product changes were designed to “improve the quality” of search results and “likely benefited consumers.”  “Google’s changes [in Search] are generally made to improve user experiences.” - Competition Bureau Canada

We know that scrutiny of big companies is important and we’re prepared to answer questions and work through the issues. But this lawsuit seeks to redesign Search in ways that would deprive Americans of helpful information and hurt businesses’ ability to connect directly with customers. We look forward to making that case in court, while remaining focused on delivering a high-quality search experience for our users. 

The lawsuit also contains allegations that have previously been made about how we distribute Search, and about our advertising technologies. On those topics, you can read our blog post, and see more specifics on our competition site.

A more private web can help businesses grow

Ads play a major role in sustaining the free and open web. They support great content and services from a diverse range of creators and publishers. They help companies of all sizes reach customers more efficiently than ever before. 

Yet people’s expectations for the collection and use of data are changing, which means the web as we know it—free, open and ad-supported—is changing, too. Internet platforms, web browsers and ad-blocking features are promising more privacy by blocking common technologies like cookies. This takes a toll on the funds that content creators, newsrooms, web developers and videographers depend on to support their work. It also means that companies that rely on these technologies must respect the demand for a more private web in order for the web itself to remain dynamic and vibrant over the long term. 

We strongly believe that advertising and privacy can coexist. Helping businesses adapt to a privacy-safe web isn’t just good business practice—if done right, and done collaboratively, it can be an engine for economic recovery and growth.

The importance of online advertising 

When you see ads online, they’re usually placed with the support of widely available tools, often called ad technology or “ad tech,” that help companies get the most out of the money they spend on ads. Google competes with a range of companies large and small to provide these tools to the platforms, publishers, and advertisers that need them. 

All this competition drives us to innovate and improve our tools. Millions of publishers use Google advertising services to help make the digital advertising process easy and effective, and publishers retain about 70 percent of the revenue that’s generated (and for many, it’s even more). We’re constantly working to help them earn more: In 2019, we made nearly 80 product improvements aimed at improving publisher revenue, which generated revenue increases of more than 9 percent in total for publishers using Google Ad Manager.

What cookies do 

Much of online advertising makes use of a basic, widely available technology called cookies, which are part of the basic architecture of the web. They help with things like measuring the effectiveness of a company’s ad campaign or enabling a particular advertiser to reach the consumers it wants to reach.

However, cookies were conceived for an earlier era. It’s clear from privacy laws in Europe and around the world that citizens and governments want a greater understanding of how they work and more control over their use. And efforts by platforms, browsers and ad-blocking companies are already putting new limits on them.

In this changing landscape, the funds that web publishers rely on to support their operations are increasingly at risk. For example, an analysis of the 500 largest Google Ad Manager customers found that when third-party cookies are disabled, publishers receive on average 52 percent less programmatic ad revenue. Like others, Google also uses third-party cookies for ads we serve on other sites (for example, Google Ad Manager and AdSense) so Google will also be affected as the industry moves away from cookies.

The Privacy Sandbox 

The question today is whether the web can keep people’s information safe and private while also supporting the advertising that keeps so much of the web free. 

That’s why, as part of a larger initiative with the web standards community called the “Privacy Sandbox,” the engineers behind Google’s browser, Chrome, are working on ways to underpin a healthy, ad-supported web without third-party cookies. Privacy Sandbox aims to provide space for experimentation and input from technologists, businesses, publishers, regulators and more. Among the proposals being tested are privacy-safe ways to do things like predict and protect against fraud, properly measure if an ad campaign has “worked,” and find the right audience for an ad. One such proposal, Federated Learning of Cohorts, uses machine learning algorithms that run on individual devices to model groups of people by their browsing behaviors without creating individual ad profiles at all.

Coming up with these new technologies involves complicated trade-offs, but we believe that the decision to phase out support for third-party cookies is the right thing for privacy and the industry as a whole. That’s why we’re working with the industry in forums like the W3C, and are in active discussions with independent authorities, such as the Competition and Markets Authority and the Information Commissioner’s Office in the UK, to help us find the best approach. 

Responsible use of data

We’re committed to having privacy-preserving mechanisms in place that address the industry’s critical needs before discontinuing support for third-party cookies. We think this will not only promote business growth for numerous companies, but could also increase competition in the sector overall by making it a healthier place to advertise and grow while still meeting consumers’ expectations.

Alongside our efforts to promote privacy, we’re increasing transparency on the data we use, and are investing in products to help people and businesses to understand, protect, move and benefit from data in new ways

Protecting people's personal data doesn’t have to be at odds with business growth. By focusing on the people who use our products and investing in new technologies to connect advertisers and publishers with users safely, we can create more value and promote a thriving future on the web—for everyone.