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In recent months Google Inc. has been hit with a series of high-profile lawsuits, public relations battles, and looming legislation that could dramatically affect its fortunes. How the Internet company responds to these challenges � and, in particular, whether it can learn to play the Washington power game � may go a long way in determining whether Google truly becomes the next tech titan. Perhaps the most pressing headache for the Mountain View, California � based company is its current fight with the U.S. Department of Justice. In January the agency sued Google for refusing to comply with a subpoena requesting, among other things, a random sample of 1 million search queries submitted to Google over a one-week period. Federal prosecutors contend that they need the information in order to enforce a controversial Internet pornography law. Google refused to comply with the subpoena, citing customers’ privacy rights and the broad scope of the data requested. In addition, Google could be affected by telecom reform legislation currently under discussion on Capitol Hill if the company decides to offer Internet phone service. Plus, The Authors Guild, Inc., and The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., have sued Google over its controversial program to scan books from major libraries. Finally, the company has been criticized for its recent decision to self-censor its search results in China. As a result, Alan Davidson has his work cut out for him. Last spring Google hired Davidson as its first full-time lobbyist in Washington. Previously associate director at the Center for Democracy & Technology, a D.C. � based advocacy group, Davidson is well-known in the tech community as a policy wonk specializing in privacy issues. Since joining Google, Davidson has slowly expanded the company’s operations in Washington. “Was public policy on the minds of our founders in the garage when they founded Google? Probably not,” Davidson says. But now, he continues, “Google takes the policy issues very seriously.” Although Google has morphed from a two-man start-up into a multibillion-dollar company, its profile in D.C. has been almost invisible. Before bringing on Davidson, Google’s investment in K Street was limited to a $100,000 retainer with Furman “Trey” Barnes of Public Policy Partners. Barnes has represented Google since 2003 on issues including privacy, copyright, and patent reform. Last year the company also brought on Andrew McLaughlin as a full-time senior policy associate working out of New York. With Davidson’s hiring, however, Google decided to increase its Washington operations. In addition to opening an office at a prime Pennsylvania Avenue address last summer, Davidson has also hired Capitol Tax Partners and PodestaMattoon as outside lobbying counsel. Davidson’s other efforts have been relatively low-key. He’s made the expected rounds at the tech associations. And last fall he engaged in a debate on Capitol Hill with Allan Alder, the GC for the Association of American Publishers, which opposes Google’s plan to scan library books. But Davidson hasn’t launched the typical meet-and-greet sessions with lawmakers, hired any additional in-house help, or even set up a political action committee � actions that are typically viewed as elementary steps in the lobbying community. Tech companies have long viewed Washington with suspicion. The most famous example, of course, is Microsoft Corporation, which publicly shunned D.C. for years � and paid the price when it failed to ward off the Justice Department’s 1998 antitrust law suit. But since then Microsoft has substantially beefed up its D.C. operations, spending $6.2 million on lobbying in the first six months of 2005 alone. So is Google taking a lesson from Microsoft and trying to stay ahead of trouble? Davidson only says, “This has been an evolution and will continue to be an evolution as Google gets more involved in policy issues.” � Anna Palmer

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