Julia Angwin’s blog post today is incorrect. Stanford never promised not to use Google money for privacy research.
In 2014, the Center for Internet and Society (CIS) at Stanford Law School told a court considering a proposed cy pres distribution in a case where Google was the defendant that our 2013-2014 consumer privacy research was not funded by Google. The sentence in question says, “Since 2013, Google funding is specifically designated not be used for CIS’s privacy work.” As I told Julia, the designation to which we were referring is an internal SLS/CIS budgeting matter, not a policy change, and we very well may decide to ask the company for a gift for privacy research in the future. But in 2013, we had other funding sources for our consumer privacy work, and so we asked for, got, and designated Google money to be used for different projects.
Funding sources impose no restrictions on CIS researchers. Period. All donors to the Center--and to Stanford more generally--agree to give their funds as unrestricted gifts, for which there is no contractual agreement and no promised products, results, or deliverables. Our policies are crystal clear on that.
Specfically, CIS does not bar any of our people from working on any subject, including privacy. Such a ban would violate University policy. It would also be impossible to enforce. Julia asked me how we would deal with a situation where someone’s “work on net neutrality or copyright, for instance, could wind up in the field of privacy.” I told Julia: “No area of CIS research is ‘barred’. We are free to work on whatever we like, including privacy. That makes things easy.” Unfortunately, Julia did not include my statement in the piece.
So, neither “Stanford” nor CIS made any promise not to use of Google money for privacy research. We do promise that we follow strict guidelines for maintaining our academic autonomy and research integrity. These policies provide explicit protection against sponsors who might seek to direct research outcomes or limit the publication of research. That’s the way it is and the way it has always been.