Profile image
By NLPC (Reporter)
Contributor profile | More stories
Story Views

Last Hour:
Last 24 Hours:

Freedom House Challenged On Net Freedom Index; Google Influence Permeates Project

Thursday, November 19, 2015 6:43
% of readers think this story is Fact. Add your two cents.

(Before It's News)

The National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC) is challenging the independence and objectivity of Freedom House in its recently-released Freedom on the Net Index.

Today, NLPC President Ken Boehm sent Freedom House President Mark Lagon a letter detailing the following points:

  • Google is a major funder of the Index
  • Authors of several country reports have financial ties to Google
  • The Index is annually released at Google headquarters
  • The criteria used to rate nations seem to reflect Google business priorities

Below is the full text of the Boehm letter:

As one of the premier independent watchdog organizations dedicated to the protection of freedom and democracy around the globe, Freedom House has a special responsibility to shine the light on examples of governments undermining the causes of freedom, human rights, and civil liberties.

At the same time, Freedom House has a special and indeed unique challenge to avoid even the appearance of conflicts of interest in championing the advancement of freedom globally. In this regard, we think you would agree that Freedom House has a duty to carefully safeguard the integrity of its scholarship and brand from those who may wish to hijack them for their own self-serving purposes.

That’s why the National Legal and Policy Center was alarmed to discover what appears to be an unusually high degree of influence laundering by Google, one of your major corporate sponsors, in the drafting of your annual Internet Freedom Index.[1],[2]

According to our research, Google has been a major financial contributor to every Freedom on the Net Index since at least 2011.[3] Moreover, several of the launch events for Freedom on the Net have been hosted at Google’s Headquarters. Google’s global head of free expression and international relations, Ross LaJeunesse, has given the opening remarks and spoken at several of these events.

Far more concerning than Google’s financial contributions to Freedom House, however, is the degree to which individuals with financial ties to Google appear to have even been responsible for the actual drafting of many of the country reports of Freedom on the Net.

For example, and as outlined below, our cursory research of the Freedom on the Net 2015 report finds that at least seven of the country reports were drafted by authors with financial ties to Google.[4]

Lastly, NLPC is also troubled by what appears to be Freedom House’s equating the self-interested corporate policy goals of its funders with legitimate digital civil rights issues in arriving at its annual net freedom rankings as outlined in the examples below.

United States

As you know, New America’s Open Technology Institute drafted the Freedom on the Net report section for the United States.[5] As you may be aware, Google is a substantial financial contributor to New America. Additionally, Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, serves as the chairman of the board at New America and is a $1 million-plus contributor to the organization.[6]

More concerning, however, is that the conclusions of the United States report appear to closely mirror Google’s public policy and lobbying priorities. Google for instance, has been one of the staunchest corporate advocates of so-called net neutrality, a vague and amorphous concept that has now been hijacked by government regulators to treat the Internet as a government regulated public utility.

We find it highly concerning that the Freedom on the Net section for the United States justifies a higher freedom ranking in the U.S. for 2015 based in part on the Federal Communications Commission approving unprecedented and highly controversial new rules allowing it to regulate the Internet as a public utility for the first time in history.[7]

This is particularly curious (but perhaps not surprising given New America’s substantial financial ties to Google) when one considers that in several other sections of the Freedom on the Net report, Freedom House scores “government regulation” or “Internet regulation” as a negative indicator of a country’s Internet freedom.[8]

Parenthetically, this is not the first time New America has been charged with influence laundering. Recently, The Register reported an example in which New America released its “Ranking Digital Rights” report, which gave Google’s parent company Alphabet, Inc. its highest award for “protecting your digital rights.”[9]

As The Register pointed out, however, the Ranking Digital Rights report was highly selective in its analysis:

The RDR’s narrow definition of “digital rights” is also problematic. For example, being able to own and control your own stuff is a human right, one that requires no corporate entity, no registration process (in most of the world) and no expensive guru to interpret. That’s a right recognised in the UN's Declaration of Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, and many other declarations. Similarly, the right to protect your reputation is widely recognised, and highly valued in Europe. Google, and other large Silicon Valley consumer data processing giants, don’t like these. So these rights are excluded from the Project’s remit.


According to Freedom House, the 2015 Freedom on the Net country report for Argentina was written by Eduardo Bertoni, the Director of the Center for Studies on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information (CELE) at the Palermo University School of Law.[10]

Mr. Bertoni filed an Amicus brief in 2014 in an Argentina court case in which Maria Belen Rodriguez, an Argentine model, sued Google for linking her modeling images to escort services and pornographic websites. Ms. Rodriguez was neither an escort nor porn actress and demanded that Google remove the images.

What neither the Freedom House nor Mr. Bertoni disclose is that Mr. Bertoni acknowledged in his 2014 Amicus brief that he had received financial support from Google Inc. and Google Argentina.[11]

Perhaps not surprisingly, given Google’s financial support, Mr. Bertoni has been an outspoken opponent of so-called “right to be forgotten” laws, a key public policy challenge for Google globally in 2015.

Mr. Bertoni has called such laws an “insult to Latin American history”[12], and devotes significant attention to discussion of the Rodriguez case in the Argentina section of the Freedom on the Net report.

Ultimately, the Argentina Supreme Court found for Google in the “right to be forgotten” case by striking down intermediary liability. Mr. Bertoni called the Supreme Court precedent “a valuable precedent for freedom of expression” in the Freedom on the Net report and included a footnote to an op-ed he wrote with the same title.[13]


One of the authors for the Brazil country report was Carolina Rossini according to Freedom House. Rossini is currently the Vice President of International Policy at Public Knowledge.

According to Google’s U.S. Public Policy Transparency page, Public Knowledge is also a recipient of Google funding.[14] Google has also been highlighted as a “Platinum Sponsor” of Public Knowledge’s annual IP3 Awards in years past.[15]

In addition to serving as a vice president at Public Knowledge, Rossini also served as a Project Director at Google-funded New America from 2013 to 2014.[16] She also currently serves as an advisory board member at a non-profit called Americans for an Affordable Internet (A4AI)[17]. A4AI is a State Department initiative managed by USAID and founded by Ann Mei Chang, a former Google executive. Google is the largest corporate supporter of A4AI and its parent organization the World Wide Web Foundation with contributions totaling $1 million.

As with the United States and Argentina examples above, Ms. Rossini devotes considerable attention to key Google priorities such as “net neutrality” and “right to be forgotten”/intermediate liability issues.


According to Freedom House, Fundacion Karisma and the Law, Internet & Society Group wrote the Colombia section of the Freedom on the Net report.  Google’s “Policy Fellowship” home page lists Fundacion Karisma as a fellowship recipient to focus on issues such as “copyright reform, net neutrality, and Internet governance among other issues.[18]

Fundacion Karisma also lists Google on its “Apoyos y aliados” (Supporters and allies) page as the organization’s only corporate sponsor.[19] The group has also received financial support from Google previously in the form of sponsorships for Fundacion Karisma’s “Human Rights in the Digital Era” conferences.[20]

Fundacion Karisma’s Colombia report touts an important ruling concerning the 2013 case of Guillermo Martinez v. Google as a positive precedent in Colombia’s Net Freedom ranking. As with the case in Argentina, Colombia’s courts ruled that Google was not liable for the content of newspaper articles the search engine linked to accusing Mr. Martinez of being part of a mafia group.

Ukraine, South Africa, Nigeria

Additionally, based on our research the authors of the Ukraine, South Africa and Nigeria reports also appear to have either direct or indirect Google financial ties. 

The author of the Ukraine report, Tetyana Lokot, is a contributing editor at Global Voices, which receives financial support from Google.[21]

Alex Comninos, the author of the South Africa report, is now an independent researcher, but previously was employed by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC). Google has been a financial supporter of APC projects, including funding APC projects related to infrastructure sharing, universal access and broadband projects in Africa.


Report abuse


Your Comments
Question   Razz  Sad   Evil  Exclaim  Smile  Redface  Biggrin  Surprised  Eek   Confused   Cool  LOL   Mad   Twisted  Rolleyes   Wink  Idea  Arrow  Neutral  Cry   Mr. Green

Top Stories
Recent Stories



Email this story
Email this story

If you really want to ban this commenter, please write down the reason:

If you really want to disable all recommended stories, click on OK button. After that, you will be redirect to your options page.