Behind the chainmail curtains: Wacky interiors, tax breaks and big profits at Dublin headquarters of tech giant

The Google headquarters complex in Dublin is home to 6,000 employees, complete with a conference room set inside a giant fake tree, curtains made of chainmail, and an entire floor carpeted in a layer of fake grass. (Photo courtesy of Google)
Updated 07 November 2017
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Behind the chainmail curtains: Wacky interiors, tax breaks and big profits at Dublin headquarters of tech giant

The headquarters for Google in Europe, the Middle East and Africa is something else. A multi-hued complex with themed floors and wacky spaces – there is even a 25-meter swimming pool. That alone is enough to make you question previous career choices.
Home to 6,000 employees, the Dublin offices don’t look like a working environment at all. There’s a tiny conference room set inside a giant fake tree, curtains made of chainmail, and an entire floor carpeted in a layer of fake grass.
There are swings and reclining chairs, informal meeting rooms and alternative working zones. They have names such as The Forge and The Lab, and there’s even The Store, which sells everything from Google stationery to the latest merchandise. Here and there are communication hubs with micro-kitchens and gaming zones. Oh, and don’t forget the Soda Lab and the five restaurants, the largest of which can fit 1,000 people.
Traveling between the three main buildings (Gasworks House, Gordon House and the newly constructed Google Docks) involves walking across a glass hyperlink bridge, with Google Docks — at 14 storys — the tallest commercial building in Dublin. With panoramic views of the city below, you can see all of Dublin’s “Silicon Docks”, which are also home to the European headquarters of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
None of them would arguably be here, of course, if it weren’t for Ireland’s favorable tax laws, which have helped attract the world’s largest tech companies to Dublin.
The country’s low corporate tax rate (12.5 percent), which can be lowered even further by financial engineering, has fueled this tech and social media invasion. But not without controversy.
In January last year, Google agreed to pay £130 million in back taxes to the UK government following an open audit of its accounts. It stood accused, along with other multinational companies, of avoiding paying tax via complex international tax structures, in spite of making billions of pounds of sales in the UK.
Then there’s the EU. According to a report released in September by EU lawmaker Paul Tang, the bloc lost €5.4 billion in tax revenues from Google and Facebook between 2013 and 2015.
“Large digital platforms operate as a single unit in the EU internal market, but face a patchwork of tax jurisdictions competing for profits,” wrote Tang in the report, EU Tax Revenue Loss from Google and Facebook. “This enables them to minimize the overall tax burden in the EU by routing all revenues to low-tax member states such as Ireland and Luxembourg. Hence, the other member states are very likely being deprived of billions of euros of tax revenues.”
It’s a situation the EU is determined to counter. In September the European Commission said it was looking at ways to gather a larger amount of tax from companies such as Google and Facebook, which capitalize on their lack of office space in European countries to book their profits in low-tax states.
It is a strategy that could backfire, with the American Chamber of Commerce stating that plans to raise more tax revenue from the likes of Google, Facebook and Amazon would make Europe less attractive to investors.
What this would mean for Google’s Irish dream, remains to be seen.


Scientist in Facebook data scandal Aleksandr Kogan says he is being scapegoated

Updated 24 April 2018
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Scientist in Facebook data scandal Aleksandr Kogan says he is being scapegoated

  • Aleksandr Kogan teaches at Cambridge University
  • Kogan was behind the app that allowed consulting firm Cambridge Analytica to farm data

LONDON: The academic behind the app that allowed consulting firm Cambridge Analytica to farm the data of some 87 million Facebook users said Tuesday he was being scapegoated while the social network was being “mined left and right by thousands” of companies.
Aleksandr Kogan, who teaches at Cambridge University, told a British parliamentary committee that criticism of his work by Facebook showed the US social media giant was in “PR crisis mode.”
“I don’t believe they actually think these things because I think they realize that their platform has been mined left and right by thousands of others,” said the Russian-American scientist, who is now banned from Facebook.
“I was just the unlucky person that ended up somehow linked to the Trump campaign. It’s convenient to point the finger at a single entity,” he said, playing down his own work as of little political value.
Kogan created a personality prediction app through his company Global Science Research (GSR), which offered a small financial payment in return for users filling out a personality test.
Facebook says it was downloaded by 270,000 people, but it also gave Kogan access to their friends, giving him a wealth of information on 90 million users, according to the social media giant’s boss Mark Zuckerberg.
The data was sold to Cambridge Analytica’s parent company. Cambridge Analytica went on to work on Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
However, Kogan told MPs on Tuesday that the data was too imprecise to build up accurate profiles that could be used to effectively target political Facebook ads.
“One of the biggest points of confusion has been how accurate the personality scores we provided to SCL (CA’s parent company) were,” he said.
“The scores were highly inaccurate. We found that the scores were more accurate than a random guess, but less accurate than assuming everyone is average on every trait.”
Facebook’s own tools “provide companies a far more effective pathway to target people based on their personalities than using scores from users from our work,” he added.
Kogan said that CA assured him that what he was doing was “perfectly legal and within the terms of service” of the social media giant.
CA’s former chief executive Alexander Nix has denied using data collected by GSR, but Kogan called the claim “a fabrication.”
Clarence Mitchell, a CA spokesman told a press conference Tuesday that Kogan’s data “was shown to be virtually useless in that it was only just above random guessing.”
He reiterated CA did not use any of it on the Trump campaign and had broken no laws, while mistakes had been acknowledged.
“The company has been portrayed in some quarters as almost some Bond villain,” he said.
“Cambridge Analytica is no Bond villain.”
Kogan also accused Facebook of feigning ignorance of how their users’ data was being used, saying it was “well documented that Facebook collaborates with researchers.
“They gave me the data set without any agreement signed,” he explained. “Sometime later they came and we did have a signed agreement.”
When asked why Facebook would be so accommodating, Kogan replied that “this was something they gave their employees to stimulate them.”
Committee chairman Damien Collins asked if that meant Facebook let its employees give data to academics “and let them play with it?,” to which Kogan responded; “Yes.”
The scientist claimed in an earlier interview that “tens of thousands” of apps will have taken advantage of Facebook data rules.
It was, however, not part of Facebook’s terms for Kogan to sell data.
Born in Moldova and raised in Russia, before emigrating to the United States at the age of seven, Kogan studied at the University of California, Berkeley, and obtained his doctorate at the University of Hong Kong.
He joined the University of Cambridge’s Department of Psychology as a lecturer in 2012.
He has also conducted work funded by the Russian government with St. Petersburg University, but said that was irrelevant to the Facebook scandal.
The scientist also goes by the name Aleksandr Spectre, which he took when he married his Singaporean bride.
When an MP pointed out that the name was also the evil organization in James Bond films, Kogan said this was just an “unfortunate coincidence.”