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The Launch Of Google Politics

Joe Lewis
Staff Writer
Published: 2006-10-25

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Last month, Google announced that it would form a political action committee to act in the political realm on behalf of the company's interests. The group, labeled netPAC, is already beginning to endorse candidates running for office in the upcoming November elections.

Why does Google need a political action committee? More importantly, will the company's presence in the political domain have any affect on its existing products and services?

One of these questions, at least, can be immediately answered.

Ricardo Reyes, Google's senior manager of global communications, answers in The Guardian, "We started this NetPAC in order to be able to support office-holders and candidates who share our vision of promoting and preserving the Internet as a free and open platform for information, communication and innovation."

"Google probably learned that to be successful, you have to make campaign contributions," adds Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies, in a San Francisco Chronicle article covering netPAC's activity.

And that's exactly what netPAC is doing. The San Jose Mercury News reports that the group has already starting handing out contributions and hosting fund raisers for various candidates.

One campaign contribution in particular bears signification mention. The Mercury News goes on to add that in its piece that netPAC is supporting Debbie Stabenow, the incumbent candidate for U.S. Senate in Michigan.

Of course, this comes as unexpected news to her opponent, Mike Bouchard, who has made heavy use of Google Video to promote his own campaign.

"I was surprised to see netPAC not support a candidate which has fully embraced Google," comments David All, Communications Director for the Bouchard campaign.

In reflecting on this scenario, certain questions are brought to light as Google begins employ netPAC as a conduit to exert influence throughout the political arena.

What criteria does netPAC enlist in determining which candidates to support? Currently, there is no official website outlining the committee's mission, goals or political platform. So with no clearly defined agenda as of yet, questions arise as to netPACs rationale in choosing the candidates it is already endorsing.

Assuming that netPAC does have a standard set of criteria for endorsing candidates, what would happen if, hypothetically, both opponents in a political race fulfill those criteria? What then serves as the netPAC tiebreaker? Could potential influence from Google's advertising partners tip the scales, becoming a deciding factor in endorsing a candidate?

Further, will netPAC endorsement have a positive effect on a candidate's rankings in Google web and video searches? Conversely, will the opponent of a netPAC-endorsed candidate suffer a negative effect to his or her rankings in similar searches?

Google has long perched itself upon a pillar impartiality when it comes to delivering information to its users. Could rising commercial and political interests jeopardize the company's legacy of informational integrity?

What could this mean for Google's future as the company looks to become more deeply interwoven in the realms of technology, advertising and politics?

Will the company be able to juggle these facets of its involvement in the socio-economic landscape, while at the same time trying to avoid potential conflicts of interest between its commercial and political endeavors?

Questions upon question surface when it comes to netPAC, but Google has been conspicuously silent in offering any answers. Attempts at contact with Google representatives have been met with no response thus far.

… but how long will Google choose to remain silent on these issues?

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