Google facing criticism over relationship with US government, privacy

Don’t be evil. Google claims that’s their company motto but consumer and taxpayer advocacy group, Consumer Watchdog has accused the Internet giant of committing misdeeds last week.

According to it started last Monday when Consumer Watchdog debuted an animated satirical video on the streets of Washington DC, called “Mr. Schmidt Goes to Washington”. The video was displayed on a mobile video screen attached to a truck and it is part of the case for why the group thinks Congress should call Google CEO Eric Schmidt to testify under oath.


The video shows Google’s CEO testifying before Congress using real-life, creepy quotes from Schmidt about privacy. Consumer Watchdog believes that he should have to answer questions about the Wi-Spy controversy and other privacy issues, and they also said the company’s close ties to the National Security Agency should be investigated.


The group sent a letter out last Monday pleading with Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA), the new chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, to examine the nature of the relationships between Google and several government agencies.


In their letter, the group asks Issa to investigate contracts at many US agencies for Google technology and services, the “secretive” partnership between Google and the NSA, and the company’s use of a National Aeronautics and Space Administration airfield in California.


They also say in the letter that federal agencies have taken “insufficient” action in response to admissions last year that Google Street View cars were gathering data from open Wi-Fi connections they passed, Consumer Watchdog said in the letter.


“We believe Google has inappropriately benefited from close ties to the administration,” they said in the letter. “Google is most consumers’ gateway to the Internet. Nonetheless, it should not get special treatment and access because of a special relationship with the administration.”


Consumer Watchdog might have some luck with Issa. In July, he mailed a letter to Google where he raised concerns that White House Deputy Chief Technology Officer Andrew McLaughlin, former chief of global public policy for Google, had improper email communication with company workers.


A mouthpiece for Google questioned Consumer Watchdog’s motives. Some people have questioned the organization’s connections to Microsoft, and its complaints about online privacy efforts have also zeroed in on Google, with the group hardly mentioning other online portals, including Microsoft, Facebook, and other Web-based businesses in the last two years.


“This is just the latest in a long list of press stunts from an organization that admits to working closely with our competitors,” said the Google spokesperson according to PC World.


But Consumer Watchdog receives no funds from Microsoft or any other business enemy of Google, John Simpson, consumer advocate with the group, told PC World. “We don’t have any relationship with Microsoft at all … We don’t take any of their money,” he said.


Simpson said his organization has decided to focus on Google’s privacy practices because the Internet kingpin’s services act as an entry point to the Internet for many people. If the organization can push Google, “without a doubt the dominant Internet company,” to change its privacy customs, other companies will follow suit, he said.

“Google’s held itself to be the company that says its motto is, ‘don’t be evil,’ and they also advocate openness for everyone else,” Simpson said. “We’re trying to hold them to their own word.”


In January 2009, Consumer Watchdog said that Google was trying to get Congress to authorize the sale of electronic health records. Google said those accusations were “100 percent false and unfounded.”


Consumer Watchdog’s most recent beef is about the relationship of Google and the Obama administration and it is detailed in a 32-page report.


The report questions a decision by NASA that allowed Google executives to use its Moffett Federal Airfield near Google base of operations. Although H211, a company run by Google upper level executives, pays NASA rent, they enjoy permissions to the airfield that other mega companies or influential groups don’t have, Simpson said.


The paper also questions Google contracts with the US Department of Defense and other federal agencies, suggesting that, in a lot of cases, Google contracts were fast-tracked. It also questions Google’s dealings with the NSA and calls for the company to be more open about what consumer information it shares with the spy agency.


The advocacy group says that Google spends millions of dollars lobbying (bribing?) Congress to leave them alone. They want to use Issa’s authority to force Google to address the troubling questions that many technology consumers want answered.