You are browsing the archive for Congress.

Bipartisan Privacy Caucus Asks Important Privacy Questions About Google Glass

1:33 pm in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

Sergey Brin Wearing Google Glass Eight members of Congress have sent a letter to Google CEO Larry Page asking tough and necessary questions about the Internet giant’s new wearable computing device, Google Glass.

The letter from members of the Bipartisan Privacy Caucus, whose Co-chair is conservative Joe Barton, (R-TX), says, “As members of the Congressional Bipartisan Privacy Caucus, we are curious whether this new technology could infringe on the privacy of the average American.”

It’s great to see that in a largely dysfunctional Congress some members can reach across the aisle and demonstrate that privacy is not a partisan issue. Besides Barton others signing the letter are Rep. John Barrow (D-GA), Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH), Rep. Henry C. “Hank” Johnson Jr. (D-GA), Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), Rep. Richard Nugent (R-FL), Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) and Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA).

The letter also poses several questions intended to make sure consumers’ rights are protected. They include:

  • When using Google Glass, is it true that this product would be able to use Facial Recognition Technology to unveil personal information about whomever and even some inanimate objects that the user is viewing? Would a user be able to request such information? Can a non-user or human subject opt out of this collection of personal data? If so, how? If not, why not?
  • In Google’s privacy policy, it states that the company “may collect device-specific information (such as your hardware model, operating system version, unique device identifiers, and mobile network information including phone number).” Would Google Glass collect any data about the user without the user’s knowledge and consent? If so, why? If not, please explain.
  • Will Google Glass have the capacity to store any data on the device itself? If so, will Google Glass implement some sort of user authentication system to safeguard stored data? If not, why not? If so, please explain.

Read a copy of the Bipartisan Privacy Caucus letter here.

John M. SimpsonThe Representatives want answers to their questions by June 14. I’m betting that Google stalls. Ultimately I think the Representatives will need a Congressional hearing where CEO Page has to answer queries under oath.

As word of the Privacy Caucus’s letter was being reported, Google was holding its annual meeting with developers. Google Glass product director Steve Lee claimed in a “fireside chat” that the Glass team takes privacy seriously.

What a joke! The fact is that Google has become a serial privacy violator. It’s executives just don’t understand what privacy means and there is no reason to expect that they will. For instance, asked about whether Glass will offer facial recognition technology, Lee said, “We’ve definitely experimented with it but it is not in the product today. I can imagine that existing…”

Posted by John M. Simpson, Director of Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project. Follow Consumer Watchdog online on Facebook and Twitter.

Congressional Hearings Called For In Hyundai MPG Sticker Scandal

1:32 pm in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

Hyundai

Consumer Watchdog today called upon leaders of the House and Senate Commerce committees to hold hearings into the revelation by the EPA that for the first time in American history large numbers of vehicles carried window stickers with false MPG claims.

The nonprofit consumer group wrote the EPA one year ago calling for retesting of the Hyundai Elantra after Hyundai’s self-tested MPG estimates were far different than many consumers’ experiences. Earlier this month, just prior to the presidential election, the EPA announced it had revised MPG claims and window stickers on many Hyundai and Kia vehicles. Consumer Watchdog today asked Congressional leaders to delve into whether the misstated mileage estimates were a direct result of a marketing strategy by Hyundai to advertise four of its vehicles, including the Elantra, as “40 Miles Per Gallon” cars.

“Americans deserve to know the whole truth when the fuel economy claims of a large number of vehicles have been misstated by one of the world’s largest automakers for the first time in American history,” wrote Consumer Watchdog president Jamie Court to Senators Jay Rockefeller and Kay Bailey Hutchison of the Senate Commerce Committee and Representatives Fred Upton and Henry Waxman of the House Commerce Committee.

The letter requests that the companies’ chief executive officers be called to testify under oath and that relevant documents be subpoenaed.

The letter, which can be downloaded here, continues:

“One year ago, in response to consumer complaints, Consumer Watchdog sent a letter to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) expressing concerns about the fuel economy MPG (miles per gallon) estimates advertised on the EPA window sticker of the Hyundai Elantra and requesting that the EPA re-test the Elantra. In January 2012, after it appeared that the EPA would not perform the testing, Consumer Watchdog then called upon the White House to direct the EPA to conduct such an audit. Earlier this month, on the Friday before the presidential election, the EPA issued a brief press release announcing that it had required Hyundai and Kia to lower MPG estimates and change the window stickers for the Elantra and ‘for the majority of their model year 2012 and 2013 models after EPA testing found discrepancies between agency results and data submitted by the company.’

“According to the EPA announcement, ‘EPA’s audit testing occasionally uncovers individual vehicles whose label values are incorrect and requires that the manufacturer re-label the vehicle. This has happened twice since 2000. This is the first time where a large number of vehicles from the same manufacturer have deviated so significantly.’

“As we wrote to President Obama in January, Hyundai’s deceptive MPG estimates has greatly disadvantaged American automakers, as well as the American taxpayer, whose full faith and credit have financially sustained those companies.

“We call upon you to hold hearings to give the American people more information about the Hyundai-MPG scandal.

“Unbeknownst to most Americans, automakers self-test their vehicles to determine the EPA MPG claim that appears on the EPA-mandated window sticker. Elantra drivers alerted us to the fact that their MPG experience was very different than the promised ‘EPA’ numbers.”

The “40 Mile Per Gallon Elantra” was the centerpiece of a massive television, print and radio advertising campaign aimed at convincing drivers that they would save money with $4 per gallon gasoline, when in fact drivers were routinely getting ten miles per gallon less than advertised. Hyundai widely advertised and promoted its four vehicles that received 40 miles per gallon — the Elantra, Sonata Hybrid, Accent and Veloster – but all were reported by the EPA as having falsified MPG estimates on their window stickers.

“We urge you to hold hearings in order to ascertain how Hyundai arrived at its ‘40 Mile Per Gallon’ claims and whether the South Korean company’s business strategy led to falsified mileage estimates submitted to the EPA and incorrect window stickers. The consequence of the incorrect window stickers has been a loss in sales by American car manufacturers whose MPG window stickers have not been found to be false and who played by the rules,” continued the letter.

“We believe the companies’ chief executive officers should be put under oath and documents related to the testing should be subpoenaed in an effort to understand the cause of the false mileage estimates and window stickers. The false testing that led to the conveniently round “40 mile per gallon” numbers on the window stickers of four vehicles is very likely to have its roots in a marketing decision at the highest levels of the company. Hyundai/Kia drivers and the American people deserve to know the truth and have those involved answer questions on the matter.”

Google CEO Page Should Testify To Congress As News Corp. CEO Murdoch Had To Answer To Parliament

2:22 pm in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

Photobucket
Washington, DC – In an opinion piece published in POLITICO today, Consumer Watchdog’s Jamie Court and John M. Simpson compare the treatment of News Corp CEO Rupert Murdoch – who was called before Parliament in Britain to answer for hacking into the private phone records of families – and the kid glove treatment Google CEO Larry Page has received in America after a much larger privacy breach in which the new media giant collected personal information from millions of Wi-Fi networks around the world.

Consumer Watchdog called for a Congressional hearing to require CEO Page to answer questions under oath about what he knew and when he knew it regarding “Wi-Spy,” Google’s massive invasion of the privacy of home Wi-Fi networks.

Google Street View cars collected information – including private emails, bank account information and passwords – from the unsecured wireless networks of millions of people in 30 countries. Much as Murdoch blamed the phone hacking at its newspapers on a few rogue reporters, Google has insisted that a lone engineer was responsible for the company’s collection of years worth of private information from the public.

Read the opinion piece below, or at Politico:

POLITICO
Opinion Contributor
Congress needs to search for Google transparency
By JAMIE COURT and JOHN M. SIMPSON | 6/18/12 10:15 PM EDT

A billionaire media mogul is forced to take responsibility after his employees hack into the private communications of families and use the information for his media empire’s profit. He insists top executives did not know and a few rogue employees were to blame. But the evidence contradicts him.

The government committee investigating these actions grills the plutocrat and concludes he is “not fit“ to lead. His top underlings now face arrest.
That’s the Rupert Murdoch story in London. On this side of the Atlantic, however, Google Chief Executive Officer Larry Page is overseeing privacy invasions far wider than Murdoch’s. Yet his corporation is still avoiding serious scrutiny.

The Murdoch hacking scandal affected many lives, but Google’s map-making Street View cars hacked into millions of private Wi-Fi Networks in 30 countries around the world. They sucked up personal data — email, banking information and passwords and other information. The Federal Communications Commission has fined Google a mere $25,000 for impeding its investigation of Google’s Wi-Spying.

While Google tried to blame this entire enterprise on a rogue engineer, the FCC found that the engineer told many others at the company about the wireless data collection — despite the company’s denials that anyone else knew. The scheme was even outlined in Street View project design documents.

Read the rest of this entry →

Group Welcomes Sen. Grassley’s Probe Of Google’s Use Of NASA Airfield

4:43 pm in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

Photobucket

Consumer Watchdog Report Revealed How Google Bases Jet Fleet At Moffett Field

Consumer Watchdog today welcomed an investigation by Sen. Charles Grassley, (R-Iowa) into Google’s use of NASA’s Moffett Federal Airfield in Santa Clara County, California, near Google headquarters.

Grassley, ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote Charles F. Bolden Jr., NASA Administrator, expressing concern about “troubling allegations regarding the Google fleet of aircraft housed at Moffett Airfield.”

In January 2011 Consumer Watchdog released a report, Lost in the Cloud: Google and the US Government, detailing how Google has inappropriately benefited from its ties to the Obama Administration, including how NASA’s Moffett Airfield, near Google’s world headquarters, was turned into a taxpayer-subsidized private airport for Google and their corporate junkets.

“Whistleblowers have questioned the benefit to the U.S. government from the Google fleet being housed at Moffett Airfield,” wrote Grassley. “Additionally, my office received allegations that Google has purchased jet fuel from the government at a discounted price, a price allegedly well below the market price due to its tax treatment.”

“Sen. Grassley is finally asking the right tough questions about Google’s sweetheart deal with NASA,” said John M. Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project.

Read Sen. Grassley’s letter here:

Consumer Watchdog’s study found that a growing fleet of jets and helicopters based at Moffett stand ready to ferry the company’s top executives near or far, for business or pleasure, for vacations or schmoozing. The trips included at least three wintertime jaunts to the Caribbean and a trip by Google’s then chief executive Eric Schmidt to the Cannes Film Festival. Humanitarian groups, by contrast, have been denied access to the airport.

Read Consumer Watchdog’s report, Lost in the Cloud here:

Grassley asked Bolden to respond to these questions by May 25:

  1. How did NASA arrive at the lease amount of $3.7 million per year? Does that represent a fair market rate for the lease? Which individuals at NASA and Google negotiated the lease amount?
  2. As of the date of this letter, how many aircraft owned or operated by Google are present at Moffett Airfield? Provide detailed descriptions of all aircraft.
  3. Why does Moffett Airfield house Google aircraft and when did this arrangement begin? Provide all contracts between Google, NASA, and/or the military related to aircraft and aircraft fuel at Moffett Airfield.
  4. Please describe the agreements by which Google obtains fuel for its aircraft at Moffett Airfield and provide fueling records for each aircraft over the past five years.
  5. Are any of the aircraft used to support NASA research? Provide a specific explanation regarding the Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet.4
  6. Have any NASA officials flown on the Google aircraft? Please provide a list of each official and describe the nature and purpose of each trip in detail.
  7. For each aircraft owned or operated by Google, provide all flight plans and passenger manifests for each flight originating and landing at Moffett Airfield in the last five years.
  8. In the last five years, have any other aircraft owned by private companies or individuals housed aircraft at Moffett Airfield? If yes, provide a detailed description of the aircraft, the ownership of the aircraft.

Consumer Watchdog had brought its report to the attention of Congress by sending it to Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and had asked him to investigate.

Greater inequality on Wall Street than in Egypt or Tunisia

6:36 pm in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

Photobucket

After spending some time at Occupy LA last week, and seeing the worldwide protests the occupation inspired this weekend, I have a firm sense that the cold of winter will not freeze the passion at the heart of the movement. This is no flash mob. It’s a movement about occupying space to stand against gross inequality, pitching a tent and asking the like-minded to stand together.

The New York Times’ Nicolas Kristof hits the nail on the head by calling out the inequality at the heart of the protests, and what it shares with protests in the Middle East.

The frustration in America isn’t so much with inequality in the political and legal worlds, as it was in Arab countries, although those are concerns too. Here the critical issue is economic inequity. According to the C.I.A.’s own ranking of countries by income inequality, the United States is more unequal a society than either Tunisia or Egypt.

Three factoids underscore that inequality:

- The 400 wealthiest Americans have a greater combined net worth than the bottom 150 million Americans.

- The top 1 percent of Americans possess more wealth than the entire bottom 90 percent.

- In the Bush expansion from 2002 to 2007, 65 percent of economic gains went to the richest 1 percent.

As my Times colleague Catherine Rampell noted a few days ago, in 1981, the average salary in the securities industry in New York City was twice the average in other private sector jobs. At last count, in 2010, it was 5.5 times as much. (In case you want to gnash your teeth, the average is now $361,330.)

More broadly, there’s a growing sense that lopsided outcomes are a result of tycoons’ manipulating the system, lobbying for loopholes and getting away with murder. Of the 100 highest-paid chief executives in the United States in 2010, 25 took home more pay than their company paid in federal corporate income taxes, according to the Institute for Policy Studies.

Such inequality cannot withstand the force of public opinion in America, no more than it could in the Middle East. The only questions are ones of timing and tactics.
—————–
Posted by Jamie Court, author of The Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell and President of Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing an effective voice for taxpayers and consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Visit us on Facebook and Twitter.

Why are Mr. Schmidt and Mr. Page Afraid of Congress?

3:39 pm in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

PhotobucketNo CEO ever likes to testify before Congress, but Google’s CEOs, past (Eric Schmidt) and present (founder Larry Page), are going so far out of their way to avoid testifying in Congress that they are begging for a subpoena.

Bloomberg is reporting that, “In a letter dated June 10, the Democratic chairman and leading Republican on the antitrust subcommittee asked Google to provide one of the company’s two senior executives before Congress’ August recess. The letter urged a resolution ‘by agreement’ to avoid ‘more formal procedures.’

“The threat of subpoenas is one of a number of ways the committee pressure Mountain View, California-based Google to send Page or Schmidt, according to two people familiar with negotiations between the panel and the company. The possibility of subpoenas was discussed with Google in connection with the letter, the people said. Google still hasn’t formally responded to the request, which had a deadline of June 15, they said.”

It’s ironic that a company whose mission is to open information to the world would dodge an opportunity for openness and transparency with the American people and their Congress.

Kohl wants Google to answer anti-trust questions about Google’s dominance in the search engine market, but Google has a lot to answer for on other accounts. For three years, Google street view cars collected wireless data from tens of millions of homes in 30 nations. It was the largest wire-tapping scandal in world history.

Consumer Watchdog has pushed hard since 2010 for Mr. Schmidt to testify before Congress. We created a satirical animated video, “Mr. Schmidt Goes To Washington,” using Schmidt’s real quotes to create mock testimony and drove it around Washington on a moving billboard to get policymakers’ attention.

It’s time that Mr. Schmidt and Mr. Page face Congress on serious questions about how the company uses its market dominance to steer search results to its affiliated businesses and its intentions about online privacy. A company that prides itself on openness and transparency should practice those values with Congress and the American people. It looks like it will take subpoenas to get that type of cooperation from Google’s executives. We are now one step closer to seeing the first of many subpoenas fly at Mountain View.
—————-
Posted by Jamie Court, author of The Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell and President of Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing an effective voice for taxpayers and consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Visit us on Facebook and Twitter.

Our Revolution

1:18 pm in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

The largely peaceful revolution in Cairo and Americans’ celebration of it raises the question:

What would it take to mount a peaceful revolution in America against the Wall Street and corporate powerhouses that have turned the government against the best interests of our people?”

In America, the corporation is king and the abuses of corporate power are the subject of our people’s greatest grievances.

The 2008 election was supposed to settle the score with Wall Street and the corporate elite that have ransomed, ransacked and run over the average American. The change never came, and it’s even less likely in 2012.

At Consumer Watchdog we build populist revolutions one spark at a time where the public has spoken but the rich and powerful won’t listen. While our work cannot compare to the heroism of the Egyptian people, we are inspired by their example.

Photobucket

The revolution in Cairo showed the power of online platforms like Twitter and Facebook to authentically air outrage and connect change makers. In Washington, DC, Consumer Watchdog is fighting to protect individuals’ freedom online, which is being threatened in the name of greater profit, by some of the very corporate innovators that created these platforms.

On Friday, the “Do Not Track Me Online” revolution began with the introduction of legislation by Congressional Rep. Jackie Speier (HR 654) to force corporations to respect our right to keep personal information and online habits private. You can weigh in with your Congressional Representative to pass the legislation here.

Our freedom to be revolutionaries in America depends on how well we can maintain the online commons as free, open, and in the service of the individual, and our privacy needs, rather than the corporation and its commercial needs. This is an American battlefield that begins with online privacy, the right not to tracked online, extends to net neutrality and evolves to the greater notion that online technology should be in the service of individuals not corporate robots (in spirit of the teaching of Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not A Gadget.

If there is a nonpartisan street revolt brewing in America today it is against the staggering health insurance premium increases that insurance companies are foisting on Americans. I was in the streets against Blue Shield’s 59% rate hike two weeks ago with angry patients and the California Nurses Association. Blue Shield actually agreed to delay the hike when we showed up.

Consistent premium hikes and the pending mandatory health insurance law to take effect in 2014 are bound to continue a growing rebellion.

Health insurance companies like Blue Shield and Anthem Blue Cross thumb their noses at our democracy daily. They hijacked health reform to give themselves a guaranteed market, even as they fight daily to erode the consumer protections in the new federal law. Consumer Watchdog is working with regulators to force the health insurance companies to live by the new rules and with California legislators for “Do Not Gouge Me” legislation — giving government the right to stop unnecessary premium hikes. (You can weigh in for AB 52, if you have not already, here. )

Ultimately, the 24 states with ballot initiative processes will be a vehicle to get the people what Congress will not deliver – a public insurance alternative to the private market. Consumer Watchdog is already drafting such a ballot measure for California.

What happens after a revolt is as important as the uprising itself. Insurance companies like Mercury Insurance, Allstate and Farmers have been fighting for two decades against the ballot box revolution of insurance reform Proposition 103. Consumer Watchdog’s lawyers fight back daily to protect and further that voter revolt, which has saved motorists $62 billion on their auto insurance, and to show that even the biggest and most powerful companies have to respect the people’s will.

Revolutions in America today take place in the corporate suites, not the streets. CEOs are generally the ones deposed, not presidents, which is the first clue to who really holds the power in our nation… But if a governmental revolution were to come, how would it unfold?

Bob Herbert in his New York Times column Saturday artfully makes the case of the price we have paid for the sins of Wall Street and self-serving interest of those at the very top of the economy. America will never be the same, nor will our schools, parks, colleges, social programs and deficit, without a major re-rewrite of how our government works to divorce it from the state of corporate capture that is its numbing existence.

Elections are not tools of revolutions in America anymore. What will it take to get Americans in the streets?

Higher prices for everything coming with growing inflation, higher unemployment, no jobs for our youth, the closing down of public services and public assistance?

The powerful in America have too much to lose and usually buckle when they smell the whiff of a revolution. That’s why it’s worth putting that smell in the air and in the streets again when the moment calls for it.

Dramatic changes in ideas and practices are the results of long, hard marches toward freedom and accountability. We need to start marching together in America again.

————–

Photobucket Posted by Jamie Court, author of The Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell and President of Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing an effective voice for taxpayers and consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Visit us on Facebook and Twitter.

“Do Not Track Me” Gains Traction in Washngton

4:28 pm in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

I’m just back from a sweltering week in Washington, DC, convinced that those of us who care about protecting consumers’ online privacy have reason for optimism. There is growing interest in creating a "Do Not Track Me" list and mechanism to implement it.

Sure, it could be that the 95-degree-plus temperatures coupled with humidity nearly as high fried my brain, but I don’t think so. My analysis is based on meetings with Congressional, Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission staff members, as well as others who follow the issue closely.

Congress is clearly beginning to focus on online privacy. Rep. Rick Boucher, D-VA, has been circulating a draft bill for discussion. His colleague, Rep. Bobby Rush, D-IL, has introduced an online privacy bill.

Meanwhile, the Senate Commerce Committee, chaired by Jay Rockefeller, D-WV, just held hearings on the subject. Those sessions seemed to draw more than token attention from members, perhaps because of the Wall Street Journal’s series "What They Know" that has revealed in great detail just how much of our activity on the Web is monitored by online companies like Google.

At that Senate hearing, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz mentioned the possibility of a "Do Not Track" function.

Why I’m encouraged after last week is that the idea — something that would be to analogous the tremendously popular and successful "Do Not Call" list run by the FTC — is more than just talk. There is action. Indeed, one reason I was in Washington was to join representatives of organizations like USPIRG, Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America and Consumer Action, to meet with staff members for Sen. Mark Pryor, D-AR. They are gathering information because the senator is considering the possibility of introducing a "Do Not Track Me" bill this fall.

A knowledgeable FTC staff member confirmed that the staff is working on how Do Not Track could be implemented. And a meeting with a key FCC aide left me convinced that the commission is putting new emphasis on consumer privacy. Recall that at the Senate hearing Chairman Jules Genachowski testified that the FCC and the FTC have formed a joint task force to develop "effective and coordinated approaches to protecting online privacy."

With the election rapidly approaching can meaningful comprehensive online privacy legislation be passed before the end of the year?

That’s probably unlikely. But a significant step forward — simple "Do Not Track" legislation — that would authorize the FTC to administer a list and implement the mechanism is completely doable.

"Do Not Call" is tremendously popular. People understand it. It’s the same with "Do Not Track." Our recent national poll shows 80% support.

I think it has a good chance of winning bipartisan support. It will take awhile to get comprehensive privacy legislation through Congress, but based on what I saw and heard in Washington last week the time for "Do Not Track" has come and momentum is growing.

–John M. Simpson
Director, Inside Google Project
Consumer Watchdog

Google Moves to Profit from Its “Crown Jewels” — Your Data

10:09 am in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

A Wall Street Journal article this week details how Google is increasingly moving to maximize profits from the vast amount of personal data it has amassed in its global network of servers at the expense of consumers’ privacy.

The article by Jessica Vascellaro, part of the Journal’s excellent series about online privacy called "What They Know," shows how commercial expediency overcame the reluctance of founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin to exploit users’ data.

Google chairman Eric Schmidt once claimed Google put its money "where our principles are." The Internet giant’s attempted joint redefinition with Verizon this week of "net neutrality" and the Journal’s revealing article showing how profits are triumphing over privacy demonstrate the stark new reality: Google puts its principles where the money is.

So much for "don’t be evil," but then that’s how corporations really are.

Vascellaro begins her piece like this:

"A confidential, seven-page Google Inc. ‘vision statement’ shows the information-age giant in a deep round of soul-searching over a basic question: How far should it go in profiting from its crown jewels—the vast trove of data it possesses about people’s activities

"Should it tap more of what it knows about Gmail users? Should it build a vast ‘trading platform’ for buying and selling Web data? Should it let people pay to not see any ads at all?"

Some possibilities like using search data to target display ads Google sells or exchanging data with marketers for ad targeting, are still under discussion. Others, such as behavioral targeting, which Google prefers to call "interest-based advertising," are rapidly becoming routine. Or as Vascellaro puts it:

"Google is pushing into uncharted privacy territory for the company. Until recently, it refrained from aggressively cashing in on its own data about Internet users, fearing a backlash. But the rapid emergence of scrappy rivals who track people’s online activities and sell that data, along with Facebook Inc.’s growth, is forcing a shift."

No matter what the founders’ original values, corporations as they grow and mature act like, well, corporations. And Google is now a $23 billion global corporate giant. Yes, there apparently has been angst around the Googleplex as the company started to act like all other companies. According to the Journal:

"Tensions erupted during a meeting with about a dozen executives at Google’s Mountain View, Calif., headquarters about 18 months ago when Messrs. Page and Brin shouted at each other over how aggressively Google should move into targeting, according to a person who had knowledge of the meeting. ‘It was awkward,’ this person said. ‘It was like watching your parents fight.’

"Mr. Brin was more reluctant than Mr. Page, this person said. Eventually, he acquiesced and plans for Google to sell ads targeted to people’s interests went ahead."

But that dynamic will continue to play out again and again whether the roles are filled by Page and Brin, or their successors. Google is sitting on a potential gold mine of data. The Journal puts it like this:

"The vision statement describes the company’s immense search database as ‘the BEST source of user interests found on the Internet,’ during a discussion of ways to make ads more relevant to users. ‘No other player could compete,’ it says. Later, the document warns that some ideas range from ‘safe’ to ‘not’ safe.

"The most aggressive ideas would put Google at the cutting edge of the business of tracking people online to profit from their actions. A data-trading marketplace, for instance, would allow personal information from many sources—including Google—to be combined and used for highly personalized tracking of individuals."

So, at the end of the day and the internal debate, Google has our data and will exploit in increasing intrusive and profitable ways as a result of natural corporate pressures.

What’s the solution? Google, I’m sure, would say, "Trust us." Clearly that won’t work. People have and after some "angst" at the Googleplex and reports of raised voices in meetings, Google is putting principles where the money is.

The real answer: Regulation of online advertising. Congress, perhaps because of things like the revelations in the Journal’s "What they Know" series, is the mood. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Il, has introduced a privacy bill and Rep. Rick Boucher, D-VA, is circulating the draft of another.

The Senate Commerce Committee just held hearings on the topic where FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz discussed the idea of creating a "Do Not Track" list similar to the FTC’s "Do Not Call" list.

In fact I’m in Washington this week and am meeting with Senate staff members to discuss the possibility of legislation to create just such a list.

Such an approach has overwhelming popular support. Our recent national poll conducted by Grove Insight Ltd. found 90 % favor "more laws that protect the privacy of your personal information; " 80% backed creation of a "Do Not Track" list.

No matter their beginnings, companies ultimately put their principles where the money is. It’s the responsibility of legislators and regulators to act in the marketplace to protect consumers. The good news now is that as Google is rapidly — even cynically — adjusting its principles in pursuit of profits, there are signs that Congress and the FTC will act to protect consumers privacy.

– John M. Simpson
Director, Consumer Watchdog’s Inside Google Project

Follow Inside Google on Twitter.

Follow John M. Simpson on Twitter.

Why we need to demand a Congressional hearing on Google’s Wi-Spying

3:00 pm in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

For the last three years, Google cars and vans have been trolling the world’s cities and towns taking pictures of our houses, businesses and neighborhoods for Google Street View.

As it turns out, the whole time, they have also been Wi-Spying. They gathered data from private WiFi networks — including, quite possibly, the one you’re using right now.

We need your help. Sign our petition and demand that Google comes clean about the Wi-Spy scandal. Demand that Congress hold hearings immediately into the question of why Google thinks it’s OK to gather our private data and what they plan on doing with it. Google must also explain its relationship with the National Security Agency.

Sixty-nine percent of those responding to our national poll on Internet privacy agree on the need for a hearing.

Congress needs to act on what is potentially the biggest illegal wiretapping violation of all time. Just as BP’s CEO Tony Hayward had to testify before Congress to explain the Gulf oil spill, Google CEO Eric Schmidt must testify about the information spill the Internet giant caused.

Google claims its Wi-Spying was a "mistake." They claim they did nothing illegal. But they’re also spending millions of dollars to lobby Congress.

Are those lobbying dollars stopping Congress from doing the right thing? Please sign our petition.

Google refuses to reveal the nature of the private data they collected. Even worse, they refuse to say what they did or are planning on doing with it. Instead Google just keeps saying: Don’t worry. Trust us.

Do you trust a company that has been secretly collecting our private data to do the right thing?

It’s time for Google to come clean! It’s time for Congress to take action and investigate potentially the biggest wiretapping scandal of all time.

Please sign our petition.

John M. Simpson, director Consumer Watchdog’s Inside Google project