David Smith confronts the Google myth for The Observer, including accounts of the pilgramages politicians take to Google HQ:
Shortly after Obama’s pilgrimage to the ‘Googleplex’, it was the turn of David Cameron. Cameron was accompanied there by Steve Hilton, his director of strategy, who has since moved permanently to California with his wife, Rachel Whetstone, Google’s vice-president of global communications and public affairs (she is also godmother to Cameron’s eldest son, Ivan). Andrew Orlowski, executive editor of the technology website The Register, says: ‘The web is a secular religion at the moment and politicians go to pray at events like the Google Zeitgeist conference. Any politician who wants to brand himself as a forward-looking person will get himself photographed with the Google boys.’
Washington, also, is keen to bathe in Google’s golden light. Al Gore, the former Vice-President, is a long-time senior adviser at the company. Obama has been taking economic advice from Google CEO Eric Schmidt and received generous donations from Google and its staff. Google will be omnipresent at the Democratic and Republican national conventions, providing software for delegates such as calendars, email and graphics. ‘Google has moved into the political world this year,’ says its director of policy communications, Bob Boorstin, a former member of the Clinton administration.
Google’s staff in Washington include five lobbyists, among them Pablo Chavez, former general counsel for John McCain. This year Google moved into new 27,000-square-foot headquarters in one of Washington’s most fashionable, eco-friendly buildings. Visiting senators and congressmen can now share in the famed ‘googly’ experience of free gourmet lunches, giant plasma screens and a game room, named ‘Camp David’, stocked with an Xbox 360 and pingpong.
None of this much impressed Jeff Chester, the executive director of the small but influential Center for Digital Democracy, when he was invited there. ‘It puts all the other lobbying operations to shame,’ he says. ‘They invite politicians into their Washington HQ to give advice on using Google to win re-election. It is the darling of the Democratic Party and there’s no doubt that a win by Obama will strengthen Google’s position in Washington.’
Undeterred by criticisms of his benefactor, Google’s professor of piracy rights, Larry Lessig, congratulates Google’s boys at the FCC for protecting the Google monopoly in a rare foray into the world of the written word. It’s quite amusing and utterly deranged.