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Law School refutes accusation that it segregates Google funding from privacy research

Barbara van Schewick, faculty director of Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society (CIS), denied accusations from a ProPublica article by Julia Angwin that Stanford accepts money from Google under the condition that it not be used for privacy research.

“The ProPublica story is inaccurate and we have notified the reporters of this fact,” Schewick wrote in a statement to The Daily. “Neither Stanford nor the Center for Internet and Society made any promise not to use Google money for privacy research, and Google-funded researchers at CIS/Stanford are not barred from working on any subject, including privacy.”

In her article, published on Sept. 23, Angwin cited a legal filing which stated that “Since 2013, Google funding is specifically designated not to be used for CIS’s privacy work.”

In a written statement, Jennifer Granick, the director of civil liberties at CIS, responded that the “designation” referred to an internal CIS budgeting matter and not a policy change. She added that, in 2013, CIS had other funding sources for consumer privacy research, so the Google money was designated for other projects.

“We very well may decide to ask the company for a gift for privacy research in the future,” she wrote.

One of the sources quoted in the article, University of Maryland law professor James Grimmelmann, later retracted his comments about CIS after reading the details of the legal filing, attributing the misunderstanding to “ambiguous and unfortunate” phrasing.

The ProPublica article noted incidents where CIS work may have hurt Google. In 2012 the center helped uncover the company’s circumvention of privacy settings in Apple’s Safari browser, which led to a lawsuit against Google that ended in a $22.5 million fine. CIS work on a “Do Not Track” standard in 2011 and 2012 also made it more difficult for advertisers to track Internet users’ activity, which may have hurt Google’s ad revenue.

However, CIS representatives have denied that these affect their policies and research decisions in any manner. “The article was wrong and misleading, and it gave people the wrong information,” Granick said to The Daily. “I spoke back [in response to the post], and eventually the record was corrected.”

She also said that the reporters weren’t very quick with correcting their story and called the headlines “click-baiting.”  Although she believes that some people will inevitably still be persuaded by the inaccurate information, she also praised the efficiency of online media, which enabled her to respond quickly in her own post on the CIS website.

Granick wrote, “Funding sources impose no restrictions on CIS researchers. Period.”

 

Manu Chopra contributed to this report.

 

Contact Victor Xu at vxu ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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