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Why is Google picking a fight with the mafia?

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Most of the participants, me included, felt like we'd been invited to hang with the coolest kids on the block. So afraid of the popular kids were we, that Twitter activity around the event (#infosummit2012) was at a minimum and utterly devoid of the snarky and caustic commentary that makes covering such conferences so fun (almost to the point where we could have been our own case study in self-censorship).

Why is Google picking this fight?

But the underlying, and unspoken, question during the conference was just what is Google gaining from picking a fight with organized crime. And as it is for numerous Google initiatives (collecting information on us to hone their search engine, scanning books, etc.), the answer remains somewhat elusive.

For starters, Google Ideas is a strange entity. Google says it's a think/do tank, but it may be competing for attention within its own company. It is one of at least three Google outside initiatives, which also include Google for Nonprofits, and Google.org. It is populated with mostly non-engineers and has its offices in New York City.

Its top two, Jared Cohen and Scott Carpenter, are former US State Department officials who are more Beltway than Silicon Valley, and that is where they think their audience is. Cohen and Schmidt, for example, penned their platform editorial for the "Illicit Networks" campaign in the Washington Post.

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