In interesting but ultimately not very shocking news, Google has signed on as a major sponsor of the Conservative Political Action Conference, which is more or less what it sounds like. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just a little odd seeing Google, which is becoming increasingly political, listed next to such organizations as the Koch Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the NRA.
But this isn’t the moment Google comes out as a closet Republican. It’s actually quite in keeping with Google’s position of aggressive neutrality.
Google says that it’s there because it’s a great place to promote their election-tracking site, push Google+ as a platform for sharing and collaborating, and because the conference is fairly young and tech-savvy. Hard to accuse them of pandering, or of partisan pandering anyway.
And that’s sort of the point. Google will no doubt be sponsoring similar events on the left side of the political spectrum as well (they say as much, but haven’t announced anything specific). The message is: hey, we just provide a service. No agenda here.
Not that Google is totally apolitical, but their fierce opposition to SOPA was more like a mother bear defending its cubs than a deliberate political decision. On the other hand, they did go out of their way to take an official stance against Proposition 8. By and large, though, they have avoided taking a stance on hot-button issues.
Can Google actually remain neutral? SOPA was the product of bipartisan ignorance and greed, not just left or right, but what if the next bill threatening a Google territory were to be led by one party or the other? Or what if Google refuses to support, say, a communications embargo with a terrorist-harboring country, or such like? The dance they’re doing will become increasingly difficult if they insist on putting their neutrality on a pedestal for much longer.
On the other hand, this may be overthinking it. Why can’t a company spend a little cash to have a ring in the political circus, and not choose sides overtly? No reason. But, as has been observed in other contexts, sometimes the only winning move is not to play.