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Now Even Google Says Don’t Be A “Glasshole”

4:49 pm in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

Looks like even Google is finally figuring out the innate privacy invasive properties of its wearable computing device, Google Glass. The Internet giant has posted a list of do’s and don’t's on its Glass website that tells “Explorers” — the first group of people to get access to Glass for $1,500 — how not to be “Glassholes.”

You’ll recall that Chairman Eric Schmidt once said it was Google’s policy to get right up to the “creepy line,” but not to cross it. It seems pretty clear that some Googlers have figured out that Glass has crossed the line and are attempting a rowback.

From the list of Do’s:

Ask for permission.
Standing alone in the corner of a room staring at people while recording them through Glass is not going to win you any friends (see Don’ts #4). The Glass camera function is no different from a cell phone so behave as you would with your phone and ask permission before taking photos or videos of others.

And here’s Google’s final point on the list of Don’t's:

Be creepy or rude (aka, a ‘Glasshole’).
Respect others and if they have questions about Glass don’t get snappy. Be polite and explain what Glass does and remember, a quick demo can go a long way. In places where cell phone cameras aren’t allowed, the same rules will apply to Glass. If you’re asked to turn your phone off, turn Glass off as well. Breaking the rules or being rude will not get businesses excited about Glass and will ruin it for other Explorers.

You may have seen that Virgin Atlantic staff who greet “Upper Class” passengers — the airline’s name for First Class– as they arrive at Heathrow Airport are now sporting Glass purportedly to offer them information on such things as the weather at their destination.

How long do you think it will be before they are recording and videoing arriving passengers and maybe even linking it to facial recognition technology? Just, what we need, right? First Class “Glassholes.”

Posted by John Simpson, Privacy Project Director at Consumer Watchdog.

Consumer Groups Reject Proposed Google Antitrust Settlement With European Commission

2:49 pm in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

GoogleopolyConsumer groups on both sides of the Atlantic have objected to Google’s proposed European antitrust settlement, which relies heavily on labeling Google’s own services and on showing links to rivals in its search results, Consumer Watchdog said today.

“Consumer welfare is the ultimate test of any antitrust settlement. Google’s proposed Commitments fail to meet this standard,” wrote John M. Simpson, director of the U.S.- based public interest group’s Privacy Project in comments filed with the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Competition. “Labeling does nothing but obscure the results of Google’s anticompetitive abuses. It does not resolve the fundamental issue of search manipulation.”

Simpson continued:

Google has developed a substantial conflict of interest. It no longer has an incentive to steer users to other sites, but rather to its own services. It is becoming even more effective at this and has a greater incentive to engage in manipulation now that it is merging data collected across all its services. The only way to deal with this conflict is to remove it. There needs to be a separation of Google’s different services and assets. At a minimum any remedy must insist that Google use an objective, nondiscriminatory mechanism to rank and display all search results – including links to Google products.

BEUC, The European Consumer Organization stressed the importance of search neutrality in its comments to DG-Comp:

It is important that Google is obliged to use an objective, non-discriminatory mechanism to rank and display all search results, including any links to Google products. We therefore call upon the European Commission to ensure that the non-discrimination principle is the starting point of the remedies.

Read Consumer Watchdog’s comments here (.pdf).

Read BEUC’s Comments here (.pdf).

After more than a year’s antitrust investigation by the European Commission, Google offered changes in its practices that it hopes will answer the Commission’s concern that Google is unlawfully favoring its own services in its search results. Other concerns expressed by the Commission are that Google appropriated content from other websites without permission, forced publishers to obtain most online ad services from Google and hindered advertisers’ ability to transfer campaigns across platforms.

The Commission has been “market testing” – taking comments from competitors and the public – on Google’s proposed deal for the last month. This week the Commission extended the deadline for comments until June 27 and Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said it is likely Google will be asked to do more.

Consumer Watchdog said there are “fundamental flaws” in Google’s proposed Commitments and noted the proposed remedy is based on two principles. First is labeling – Google must identify its own results that it is favoring. Second is the idea of presenting links to rival services.

“Neither of these proposed solutions gets to the heart of the problem. They will not restore a competitive search marketplace that will serve the interests of consumers. Google’s conduct has severely damaged competition, leaving consumers with less choice and facing higher prices,” wrote Simpson. “The Commission must insist on remedies that as much as possible restore the market position of Google’s rivals – one possibility could be requiring the preferencing for some period of time the search result listings of rivals over Google Shopping or Google Places.”

Consumer Watchdog continued:

Ultimately the solution must be based on the non-discrimination principle. Because Google is the gateway to the Internet for so many people, it has an obligation to honor the concept of search neutrality. Google must hold all services – especially its own – to exactly the same standards, using the same web crawling, indexing, ranking, display and penalty algorithms. A demand for this even-handed treatment of all services including Google’s in the display of search results has a precedent in the regulation of Computerized Reservation Systems, which were prevented from favoring the parent air carrier on the system.

Allowing Google to continue promoting its own services and demoting those of rivals, but requiring Google to label its own services does nothing but enshrine the uncompetitive status quo. In fact the results manipulation would continue and labeling could well have the undesired outcome of making Google’s services even more prominent and attractive to consumers. Consumers would have a far less effective choice of other services because these services would be less visible. The Commission must insist on true objectivity and search neutrality in Google’s results.

BEUC’s comments written by Augusta Maciuleviciute, Senior Legal Officer and Konstantinos Rossoglou, Senior Legal Officer, warned that Google’s proposal to offer links to rival services does nothing to stop Google from squeezing out competitors:

On the contrary, Google will now be able to profit not only from the traffic it diverts from competitors, but also from the new possibilities to charge them for the inclusion among the rival links. By requiring Google rivals to pay a price for their links, Google will be granted the right to monetize its anticompetitive behavior. It will have the incentive to provide links to the rivals who pay the most and not those who provide the best or most relevant results according to consumers’ search queries.

Consumer Watchdog said another obvious failure of the proposed settlement is the limited number of Google domains to which the Commitments would apply. The proposal only covers European Economic Area domains such as www.google.at, www.google.be, www.google.cz, etc. Consumer Watchdog noted that the home page of each of these EEA Google search domains has a clear link to www.google.com. “Many Europeans click on this link and use www.google.com for their searches, yet the proposed Commitments do not apply to this important part of Google’s business,” wrote Simpson.

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.

Google Ending Privacy Breach Consumer Watchdog Targeted in FTC Complaint

12:40 pm in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

Google PlayGoogle apparently is ending an egregious privacy breach involving people who buy apps from its Google Play store using Google Wallet to pay. Consumer Watchdog filed a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission with a copy to California Attorney General Kamala Harris about what Google was doing. The complaint alleged that the Internet giant was violating its privacy policies and its “Buzz” consent agreement with the FTC.

Rep. Hank Johnson, D-GA, also questioned Google about what it was doing. Google was sending to apps developers the name, email address and address of people who bought apps on Google play. It tried to claim that the the information was necessary for the transaction, but that’s clearly not the case when talking about downloading an app from its app store. Neither Apple nor Microsoft provide such personal information about people who buy apps from their stores. Google’s response to Rep. Johnson, confirmed what Google was doing and actually showed it was unnecessary. Consumer Watchdog sent a second letter to the FTC with a copy to California Attorney General Harris when Google answered Rep. Johnson’s letter.

On Tuesday WebProNews and DroidLife reported Google was addressing the concerns on a new Wallet Merchant Center it is rolling out and no longer sending the personal information about apps buyers.

I’m glad the change is coming, but I’ve got questions.

What role did the Federal Trade Commission or the California Attorney General’s office play in this change? Why did Google only act when formal complaints were filed? Will there be fines?

John M. SimpsonGoogle has become a serial privacy violator. You’ll remember that new sooner was the ink dry on the “Buzz” consent agreement than it was caught hacking around the privacy settings on the Safari browser used on iPhones, iPads and other Apple devices. It ultimately cost Google a fine of $22.5 million, which is pocket change to a company that has annual revenue of around $50 billion. It’s like giving a $25 parking ticket to a person who makes $50,000 a year.

Google is simply figuring that fines are a cost — and a minor one at that — of doing business. In case you missed it, on Monday Germany hit Google with a $189,225 for the Wi-Spy incident where its Street View Cars sucked up emails, URLs, passwords, account numbers as they snapped photos around the world.

In describing the fine The New York Times‘ Claire Cain Miller wrote:

Regulators in Germany, one of the most privacy-sensitive countries in the world, unleashed their wrath on Google on Monday for scooping up sensitive personal information in the Street View mapping project, and imposed the largest fine ever assessed by European regulators over a privacy violation.

The penalty? $189,225.

Put another way, that’s how much Google made every two minutes last year, or roughly 0.002 percent of its $10.7 billion in net profit.
It is the latest example of regulators’ meager arsenal of fines and punishments for corporations in the wrong. Academics, activists and even regulators themselves say fines that are pocket change for companies do little to deter them from misbehaving again, and are merely baked into the cost of doing business.

The fact Google is changing Google Wallet’s practices makes it clear Google violated the Buzz Agreement. Google claims that it is taking privacy seriously now that it is operating for 20 years under the Buzz Agreement. It isn’t and the regulators aren’t holding Google’s feet to the fire.

The company’s executives need to be held to account in a meaningful way. I’ve always argued the way to get corporate executives’ attention is to hit them with jail time when they flout the law. It’s not going to happen here, but a meaningful fine for the second Buzz violation sure would be nice.

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

Google’s Privacy Chief Is Stepping Down

1:16 pm in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

Google's WatchingGoogle’s privacy chief, Alma Whitten, is stepping down the Internet giant confirmed Monday. Since word of her departure came out on April Fools’ Day many folks probably thought this was part of the company’s annual elaborate pranks like its “announcement” of a new service called “Google Nose.”

I mean how many of you actually thought Google even had a privacy chief?

Whitten, an engineer based in London (now that’s a location convenient to its Mountain View Headquarters) took the position in 2010 about six months after the Wi-Spy scandal was uncovered and as Google was reaching a consent agreement with the Federal Trade Commission for invading users’ privacy when it launched the ill-fated Buzz social network.

Well, about all that happened on Whitten’s watch was that Google became a confirmed serial privacy violator. No sooner was the ink dry on the Buzz Consent Decree with the FTC, than Google was caught hacking around privacy settings on Apple’s Safari browser, which is on iPads and iPhones, and lying about its practices on the Google website. Google was fined $22.5 million by the FTC, pocket change to the Internet giant.

John SimpsonAlso on Whitten’s watch Google was fined $25,000 for obstructing the Federal Communications Commission’s investigation of Wi-Spy and just settled for a paltry $7 million with 38 states attorney general who were investigating. They’ve also got to make a YouTube video telling people how to improve Wi-Fi network security and have a Privacy Day for employees. That’s like asking the fox teach the chickens about how to make the coop safe.

It was also on Whitten’s watch that Google combined its privacy and data collection policies across its services without asking users’ consent first. European data protection officials led by the French are still investigating and action is likely this spring.
Whitten intends to stay on the job through June — not that it makes much difference to users — until her successor Lawrence You takes over.

I guess it makes sense a certain amount of sense that this got announced on April Fools’ Day. Privacy at Google is a joke. Google’s executives view the taps on the wrist the Internet giant has received for privacy violations as nothing more than the cost of doing business.

John M. Simpson is director of Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project. Follow Consumer Watchdog online on Facebook and Twitter.

Beware of Google’s Mouthpieces About Google Glasses

1:54 pm in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

Borg - Google Glasses

There are two ways to look at Google Glass, the eyeware-spyware the Internet Goliath is releasing later this year. Glass half full: it services us for convenience. Glass half empty: it services the corporation by allowing our eye glasses to record every public and private moment that goes into a digital profile in the cloud so Google can serve us up to the corporations that want to reach us.

In other words, are we wearing Google Glasses or are Google Glasses wearing us?
There’s no question that the privacy ramifications are catastrophic. Peeping Toms, child predators, and sadistic X-s will have the ultimate tool for chaos. The corporation has the ultimate tool to map our behavior so it can sell to our addictions, cravings and weaknesses almost as we are experiencing them. Walk by the bar and the Heineken pops onto your Glass.

Absent the “Do Not Track” standard Google opposes, the company will have a digital warehouse of private and public moments that inform it and any corporation willing to pay top dollar about exactly who we are and what we do. Google has the ultimate drone to map humanity for commercial gain in the guise of an Iphone you wear.
So it’s shocking to hear Jonathan Zittrain, co-founder of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard, a “contributor” to Marketplace radio, use an example on that show this morning that turns the Glass question toward protestors being able to prevent police abuse at a rally. Berkman is a major recipient of big bucks from Google, an important omission in the interview.

In some Google-jitsu, Zittrain said that people aren’t worried about Google spying on them, but us spying on each other.

“It’s not data collected by Google that will make people nervous,” Zittrain said. “But what other people will collect.”

Really?

That’s not what Consumer Watchdog’s polling says. Americans don’t want corporations tracking them. Google doesn’t want or respect a “Do Not Track” option for the public. That option to delete data is ever more critical if Google is going to collect the living images our life in its cloud and we cannot hit delete.

You’re likely to hear a lot of First Amendment voices weigh in for the Glass half-full theory in the coming days and months. Google spreads a lot of its money to civil libertarians who agree that Google’s data shouldn’t be subject to government subpoenas. But the truth is Google’s use of the data will in the end be more dangerous than the government’s, if we allow it to own the videos of our lives. That’s because its mission is commercial. History has taught us the drive for profit respects no social mores, ethical customs, or rule of law.

Glass opens a Pandora’s box for society that will forever change it unless the public gets the right to hit delete and turn on its “Do Not Track Me” option. If the video of our lives is allowed to live in Google’s cloud, life itself will forever be diminished by the commercial takeover of our vision. Who will program what our children see in their Glasses? Will the price of finding a map be the programming of mindless consumption? Will we see what Google doesn’t want us to see?

If Google gets control of what we see it can program how we see it. That is serious cause for the public to fear regardless of Google mouthpieces say.
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Originally Posted on the Huffington Post on March 14, 2013. 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.

Will Google Buy Its Way Out Of Trouble For A Mere $7 Million?

8:40 pm in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

Google

Reports were circulating in the tech press Friday that serial privacy violator Google is about to cut a deal with state attorneys general to close their investigation of the Wi-Spy scandal.

Remember what happened? Google sent specially equipped cars to travel the highways and byways of the world snapping photos of everything they passed. What Google did not say was that they were also sniffing out Wi-Fi networks and sucking up private data on those networks.

They got passwords, account numbers and email messages, including in France a couple trying to arrange an extramarital affair.

When first confronted, Google executives denied sucking up the data. Then they said it was all a mistake. Then they said it was the work of a rogue engineer. Consumer Watchdog was among those to call on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate. The FTC did, but dropped the probe after Google essentially said, “We’ll be nice.”

John Simpson The Federal Communication Commission opened a probe ultimately fining Google $25,000 for hindering its investigation. The FCC also found that the Wi-Fi snooping had been deliberate and that senior managers had been aware of it. The FCC said it could not determine if the law had been broken because the engineer who designed the Wi-Fi snooping exercised his Fifth Amendment rights and declined to testify.

Google tried to spin the FCC probe by saying the commission found they had not broken the law. That’s not what happened; the FCC said they could not determine if the law had been broken. A big difference.

Meanwhile, under the leadership of then Connecticut Attorney Richard Blumenthal, more than 30 state attorneys general launched their investigation of the incident, which is really the largest case of wiretapping in history.

It’s that state attorneys general probe that is reportedly about to be settled for $7 million. That may sound like a lot, but it’s not even pocket change to the Internet giant, which made $10.7 billion profit on revenues of $50.2 billion in 2012. Divide the fine among the states and it comes out to about $230,000 for each.

I asked Susan Kinsman, spokesperson for Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen, now heading the investigation, about prospects for a deal. She said, “I spoke to our attorneys for a status report. As we’ve stated before, the Google investigation is active and ongoing. I can’t comment about any prospect for a settlement.”

Nonetheless, there are enough sourced reports out there focusing on the $7 million deal, that it sounds like it’s accurate. It was probably leaked on Friday by Google itself. That’s the way they usually play the PR game. By the time the settlement is officially announced it will be old news.

What’s important, by the way, is not the measly $7 million fine. It’s understanding what’s really happening. Once again it looks like Google, the serial privacy violator, is buying its way out of a jam with what for the Internet giant is pocket change.

We’ll need to see what other provisions the settlement contains. Will the state attorneys general give Google the same sort of pass that the FTC did when it allowed Google to explicitly deny it broke the law in the Safari hacking scandal and charged Google $22.5 million? What will happen to the data Google sucked up? Will there being any meaningful injunctive relief? Given Google’s record of repeated privacy violations and of bamboozling regulators, I’m not optimistic that much of anything significant will emerge.
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Posted by John M. Simpson. John is a leading voice on technological privacy and stem cell research issues. His investigations this year of Google’s online privacy practices and book publishing agreements triggered intense media scrutiny and federal interest in the online giant’s business practices. His critique of patents on human embryonic stem cells has been key to expanding the ability of American scientists to conduct stem cell research. He has ensured that California’s taxpayer-funded stem cell research will lead to broadly accessible and affordable medicine and not just government-subsidized profiteering. Prior to joining Consumer Watchdog in 2005, he was executive editor of Tribune Media Services International, a syndication company. Before that, he was deputy editor of USA Today and editor of its international edition. Simpson taught journalism at Dublin City University in Ireland, and consulted for The Irish Times and The Gleaner in Jamaica. He served as president of the World Editors Forum. He holds a B.A. in philosophy from Harpur College of SUNY Binghamton and was a Gannett Fellow at the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Hawaii. He has an M.A. in Communication Management from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication.

Consumer Watchdog Mobile Application Goes Live with 5-Star Rating

3:53 pm in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

Karl Rove

Karl Rove, Hyundai and Elizabeth Warren Can Go In “The Dog House” With Consumer Watchdog’s New Free App That Lets iPhone Users Create Meme-Like Images

Leading Consumer Group Offers Alerts, News & Expression In 5-Star Rated App

Consumer Watchdog’s new five-star rated app gives iPhone and iPad users a way to complain, stay informed and be engaged on the top consumer issues of the day. A popular feature, the “Consumer Watchdog Dog House,” allows consumers to take a photo with their phone and satirize or applaud a politician, company or product and share it with their networks.

Hyundai“Consumer Watchdog Mobile is a great new way to express your thoughts on the election. Think Super PACs poisoned the election? Now you can take a picture with your phone and put them in an actual Dog House. Win a ballot initiative fight for marriage equality? Announce it to everyone you know with the Dog House Daily Times,” said Carmen Balber, Washington DC Director for Consumer Watchdog.

The free Consumer Watchdog Mobile application can be downloaded from the Apple App Store or by clicking this link

Consumer Watchdog Mobile features:

1) Live updates of Blogs, News, Videos and Podcasts – Stay up-to-date on breaking consumer protection news and ongoing Consumer Watchdog campaigns.

Elizabeth Warren

2) Real-time Consumer Complaints – Report problems and complaints as they occur, and view others that match your own.

3) Mobile Action Center – With weekly Consumer Watchdog actions, contact a member of Congress or email a corporate CEO on the go.

4) Consumer Watchdog Dog House – Satirize a politician, company or faulty product and share it on social media. Nine meme-like templates let you literally put a politician in the Dog House, set corporate executives’ “pants on fire” or point out a lobbyist who’s swimming in cash.