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Google’s Page Clueless When It Comes to Privacy Concerns About Glass

4:34 pm in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

Google CEO Larry Page simply doesn’t get it when it comes to privacy concerns about the Internet giant’s new computerized eyewear, Google Glass. He made that crystal clear at the annual shareholders’s meeting Thursday.

Google GlassI made my annual trek to Mountain View to attend the Internet giant’s shareholder meeting and pose some questions directly to Google’s top executives. I said Glass is one of the most privacy invasive and Orwellian devices ever made because it allows a user to surreptitiously photograph or video us or our kids. “It’s a voyeur’s dream come true,” I said, before noting the hypocrisy in unleashing a device that enables massive violations of everyone else’s privacy, but operating under rules that barred cameras and recording devices from the meeting. Take a look at a video from the meeting.

“Obviously, there are cameras everywhere, ” responded Page. “”People worry about all sorts of things that actually, when we use the product, it is not found to be that big a concern.”

“You don’t collapse in terror that someone might be using Glass in the bathroom just the same as you don’t collapse in terror when someone comes in with a smartphone that might take a picture. It’s not that big a deal. So, I would encourage you all not to create fear and concern about technological change until it’s actually out there and people are using it and they understand the issues.”

John SimpsonPage tried to compare the video cameras on ubiquitous smartphones with Google Glass. That’s exactly the point. There is a huge difference. I don’t collapse in fear that I’ll be videoed in the bathroom by a smartphone camera precisely because it’s obvious that someone is using the camera. I can politely ask them to stop, or escalate my protests as appropriate if necessary. Indeed, consider this satirical video, “Supercharge”, featuring Page and Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt if you don’t understand what I mean. It’s obvious Schmidt is invading the privacy of the gentleman in the next stall. Take a look at the video. You’ll see what I mean.

It doesn’t work that with Glass and that’s what is so creepy. There’s an app that snaps a photo with a wink. People have no idea that they are being photographed or videoed. That’s what people are worried about and they want the ability to delete videos and photos from Google’s database when they discover their privacy has been invaded.
Page says we shouldn’t worry about “technological change until it’s actually out there and people are using it.” He’s wrong. You need to to think about the impact before the technology is implemented. That’s what’s entailed in the concept of privacy by design, something that Google just doesn’t seem to get.

And here’s another point to ponder: As Google was holding its annual meeting, The Washington Post was breaking the details of NSA’s overreaching, intrusive snooping on users of some of the biggest Internet companies including Google with its PRISM program. Can’t you imagine a billion Glass users and a billion winks and the data that would flow to NSA?

Posted by John Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project. Follow Consumer Watchdog online 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.
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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.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt Goes to Washington — THE VIDEO!

10:13 am in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

Google got honorable mention in the State of the Union as an innovator, but the flip side of corporate “innovation” is sometimes an offense to society’s core values, like privacy, and then the government has to step in to demand answers.

It’s high time that Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt was called to Congress to testify about Google’s big offense — when its Google Maps “street view” cars collected wireless data from tens of millions of homes in 30 nations. The “Wi Spy” scandal was the largest wire-tapping scandal in world history, yet Congress has not held a single hearing. With the help of animators, that hearing has been digitally mastered using Schmidt’s actual words.

Consumer Watchdog’s new animated satire, “Mr. Schmidt Goes to Washington,” debuted today on the streets of Washington, DC, to make the case for why Congress should call Google CEO Eric Schmidt to testify under oath about the Wi-Spy scandal and other online privacy issues.

WATCH THE VIDEO HERE.

The avatar-style animation is being displayed on a mobile digital advertising truck equipped with stereo sound that will travel for one week across Capitol Hill, downtown, and busy District thoroughfares. The animation shows Google’s CEO testifying before Congress using real-life, creepy quotes from Schmidt about privacy to make the case for why Congress should question him.

Schmidit is expected to be in Davos this week where Google is throwing a lavish party for hundreds of the world’s economic elite. Innovation and Obama’s bow to the company, with which his administration and campaign treasurer have cozy ties, will no doubt be the toast of Davos. The bar rooms in Washington will get their treat as well with “Mr. Schmidt,” the sequel to a wildly popular animation, “Don’t Be Evil,” that had about 400,000 views online after making its debut on a Times Square Superscreen.

In the new animation, CEO Schmidt dons “Wi-Spy” glasses that allow him to see the personal details of the Senator questioning him. The animation was donated by artists and consultants concerned about Google’s practices who want to remain anonymous out of concern about retribution against them.

Google spent $5.2 million lobbying last year – up from $4.03 million in 2009 — to convince Congress that nothing is wrong. The company has repeatedly refused to answer questions about its activities – making no response to Consumer Watchdog reports, rejecting multiple invitations appear at our recent privacy conference with officials representing the Federal Trade Commission and Commerce Department, and even failing to comply with a subpoena by the state attorneys general. Clearly Google’s executives won’t answer tough questions until they come from Congress.

What does the public deserve to know? Questions like: Why did Google gather data from the Wi-Fi networks? What plans were there to use the data? Who authorized the project and supervised it? Who at Google has used, analyzed or otherwise accessed payload data and for what purpose? If the data was collected “by accident,” why did Google seek a patent on the process that was used to gather the data?

If you agree Congress should act, take a moment and send a free message to Congress at this page. It’s one thing to innovate by being creepy with tens of millions of people’s private information. It’s another thing when Congress refuses to find out the truth.

And, yes, “Mr. Schmidt” was posted on YouTube just to see what owner Google might do with it.

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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.

NASA Base Has Become Google Executives’ Private Landing Strip

10:19 am in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

In these days of deep governmental budget cuts, one tech company has received some remarkable sweetheart deals from Uncle Sam.

Consumer Watchdog’s six-month investigation has produced a 32-page report detailing how Google has inappropriately benefited from its close ties to the Obama administration, including how NASA’s Moffett Airfield, near Google’s world headquarters, has been turned into a taxpayer-subsidized private strip for Google executives used for corporate junkets.

A growing fleet of jets and helicopters stand ready to ferry the company’s top executives near or far, for business or pleasure, for vacations or schmoozing, including at least three wintertime trips to the Caribbean and a trip by Google chief executive Eric Schmidt to the Cannes Film Festival. Humanitarian groups, by contrast, have been denied access to the airport.

When a deal between NASA and top Google executives to use the base was first disclosed in 2007, it called for only four jets to use the base. But newly released government records show that the Google executive fleet has now grown to six jets and two helicopters, while at least 40 Google employees hold security badges at the base and all of the planes are supplied with Department of Defense jet fuel.

The deal was originally struck between Google and NASA in the name of scientific research by the Google fleet. But NASA documents show that precious little research has occurred. According to a set of emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, a fighter jet bought by Google executives in 2008 to perform the research was still being reviewed for air-worthiness in mid-2010.

Meanwhile, flight records show that the other jets parked by Google executives at the NASA field are often used for junkets, vacations and schmoozing. These include at least three wintertime trips to the Caribbean and a trip by Google chief executive Eric Schmidt to the Cannes Film Festival, where he hobnobbed with Mick Jagger and Hollywood stars.

The report, “Lost in the Cloud: Google and the US Government,” is drawn from records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and interviews. It found that Google’s ambitious quest for influence with the government is starting to pay off. Among other issues raised by the report are:

• Google’s close ties with the Obama White House have raised concerns about possible special treatment or conflicts of interest at the Department of Homeland Security, the US Patent & Trademark Office, the Federal Communications Commission and NASA.

• Officials at both DHS and the FCC have raised pointed concerns about weak privacy protections in Google products and whether Google’s well-documented difficulties with privacy protection could create big problems for federal agencies that use its services. Nonetheless no-bid contracts have been given to Google.

• A secretive relationship with the National Security Agency. The search giant has a legitimate need to cooperate with the government’s mammoth and secretive code breaking agency in its efforts to defend the integrity of US computer networks. But NSA also has legal power to force Google to hand over the private information of its users. How Google executives handle this potentially conflicted relationship is largely unknown: neither Google nor the NSA are talking.

Consumer Watchdog has forwarded the report to Rep. Darrell Issa and asked the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to investigate the findings.

When Americans are feeling the pain of a tight economy and government cuts, they deserve to know that one of America’s richest corporations isn’t getting any special deals from its special relationships with the White House.

“Several executive agencies have responded in a severely guarded and limited fashion to Freedom of Information Act requests on significant issues involving Google that the public deserves to know more about,” John Simpson and I wrote in a letter to Issa. “In addition, there has been insufficient federal action on Google’s “Wi-Spy” debacle in which its Street View cars gathered private data from Wi-Fi networks in more than 30 countries.

This is the largest wire tapping scandal in world history by one of America’s biggest and most powerful corporations, yet there has not been a single hearing on Capitol Hill. We respectfully submit that Google CEO Eric Schmidt should be asked to testify under oath so that the American public learns the truth about Wi-Spy.

For a company so committed to making all our information open for the all world to see, Google has been anything but transparent about its corporate dealings. Eric Schmidt may have stepped down from the CEO’s seat last week, but he needs to be shown the witness chair in Congress. Americans deserve answers and nothing other than Congressional hearings will produce them.

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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.

Schmidt Out Of Google’s CEO Office, But Is Privacy In?

3:37 pm in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

Google CEO Eric Schmidt will be leaving the CEO’s office and founder Larry Page will be stepping in. The question is whether this is a signal from the Internet Goliath that Schmidt’s missteps and misstatements about online privacy are no longer company policy.

Consumer Watchdog’s satirical video pointed out many of Schmidt’s bloopers and was viewed by over 400,000 people online.

It’s not likely Google will embrace the “Do Not Track Me” mechanism suggested recently by the FTC, nor abandon its business model of collecting as much data about us as possible to serve us up to the highest paying advertiser. Nonetheless there could be subtle changes in the Page era that put our privacy back in the minds of Google engineers.

When Page and Co-founder Sergey Brin started Google, they envisioned a company that was more socially conscious and responsive than most corporations. That outlook was famously expressed by Google’s unofficial motto, “Don’t be evil.” In recent years, under Schmidt’s leadership, the motto had become a popular punch line for a joke. Now consumers know how Google has tracked them across the Internet, stole information from private Wi-Fi networks with its street-view cars, and turned private e-mail addresses on Gmail accounts into public social networks on its Buzz service.

During Schmidt’s watch, Google committed one of the largest privacy breaches ever, when its Street View cars sucked up private data from Wi-Fi networks in 30 countries around the world. The Wi-Spy debacle is under investigation by the FCC and is also the subject of a probe by more than 30 states attorneys general. Congress still needs to put Schmidt under oath and let the American people hear all the details of the scandal.

Schmidt may be out of the CEO’s chair in April, but he still needs to be in the witness chair in Congress. Perhaps today’s news makes it a little more likely that he will be called forth and sworn to testify in Washington DC one day soon.

Taking The “Do Not Track Me” Fight To Google In Times Square

10:34 am in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

2010-09-01-IGBannerTimesSquareBBoard.jpg

Right now, running twice an hour in Times Square, there’s a 540 sq. ft. animation of Google CEO Eric Schmidt giving little kids free ice cream and secretly gathering their personal information. It’s promoting a one minute, avatar-style animated short titled Don’t Be Evil? that can be watched at InsideGoogle.com.

Do you want Google or any other online company looking over your shoulder and tracking your every move just so it can increase its profits? Consumers have a right to privacy. They should control how their information is gathered and what it is used for. This is a huge issue for the American public, and government is in a position to deliver a solution easily and quickly. The president and Congress just need to find the will.

Consumer Watchdog is satirizing Schmidt in the most highly-trafficked public square in the nation to make the public aware of how out of touch Schmidt and Google are when it comes to our privacy rights and to make a case for national privacy reform.

Schmidt is out of control. When questioned about privacy, he has said, "If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place." Recently, he suggested children could change their names when they got older if they wanted to escape what was embarrassing and public in their online lives.

We think there should be another way to protect the public’s online privacy: a ‘Do Not Track Me’ list that prevents Google or any other Internet company from tracking your every move online.

Google’s motto is "Don’t be evil," but recent actions reveal that the Internet giant has lost its way. Google has collected massive personal data from Wi-Fi networks through its Street View cars, made private Gmail contacts publicly available on Buzz, and done a complete about-face on net-neutrality, joining with Verizon in calling for toll lanes on the Internet.

Google poses a serious threat to our privacy, and this animation is meant to put a spotlight on the need for Congress to enact a national ‘Do Not Track Me’ list. You can sign the petition to tell Congress to create such a list here.

A ‘Do Not Track Me’ list would prevent online companies from gathering our personal information, just as Congress had the Federal Trade Commission create a Do Not Call list to prevent intrusive telemarketers from invading consumers’ privacy.

Privacy protection is overwhelming popular. 80% of Americans support a ‘Do Not Track Me’ list according to a recent InsideGoogle.com poll.

Creating a ‘Do Not Track Me’ list would be an easy win for a president in search of populist victories. The concept is gaining traction in DC, and the Federal Trade Commission is rumored to be taking up the issue this fall.

Google has shown a complete lack of proportion and perspective about our privacy. It’s time for the government to step in and set Google and other online companies straight. Privacy is personal, not business, and it must be respected. A "Do Not Track Me" list would be an inexpensive gift that the public will remember in the mid-term election and beyond.

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Posted by Jamie Court, author of The Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell and the 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.