Tag Archives: President Obama

Google Has Too Much Influence In Washington And Abroad

 The same day the White House unveiled a proposal to give consumers more rights and privacy on the Internet – it was revealed that Google hired a government insider to head its lobbying efforts in Washington. Google revealed, in a statement released Thursday, that Susan Molinari, a former New York congresswoman and a once rising star in the Republican Party, will be the vice president for public policy for North and South America. She will be replacing Alan Davidson, who stepped down in November 2011.

Ms. Molinari, a Republican, was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1990, but stepped down in 1997. She worked in television for a period and has been a lobbyist since 1999. She is married to Bill Paxton, who was also a Republican representative from New York and is currently a lobbyist at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. Ms. Molinari has extensive ties to the Republican Party establishment, according to The New York Times. Over the years, she has donated a quarter of a million dollars to Republican candidates.

Just this past summer, Google hired an additional 12 lobbying firms to represent it – they did this after an investigation on breaches to user privacy was launched by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC). That FTC probe eventually resulted in Google paying out millions, admitting to violating the privacy of its users, and agreeing to a 20 year consent order in which the company will regularly file assessment reports with the FTC.

Google is one of the biggest spenders among corporate lobbyists – spending $9.7 million on lobbying in 2011, nearly double the amount the company spent the previous year (an increase of 88%).

Ms. Molinari’s appointment to her new job at the company is a calculated strategy by Google to try to win over Republican support at Congress. According to the newspaper, The Hill, Google has even also been working hard to get former Republican lawmakers to join the company as lobbyists.

Google obviously wants to control how Congress votes and passes its bills by making sure to strategically place Google employees to influence outcomes. By hiring people who already know how to skillfully navigate waters at Washington and who have influence over important people there, Google can make sure it sways things in its favor.

This is especially important for Google and its advertising partners, to completely stop or significantly water-down proposed and future legislation that gives Americans more rights over their online personal data. If laws that limit Google from collecting our personal data are passed, then this is a disaster scenario for the company. You have to remember that Google makes over 90% of its revenues from advertising! Any law that prevents Google from harvesting our personal information to sell to advertisers will result in huge losses for the company. Google will fight tooth and nail to halt any legislation that gives Americans more protections online.

Google has hired other Republicans over the years as well. Google is trying to distance itself from a perception that it’s too close to the Obama administration and, in general, the Democratic Party. Former CEO and current executive chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, has very close ties with the Obama administration. He is a major party donor to the Obama presidential campaign. In addition, Mr. Schmidt was a member of Obama’s transition advisory board and a member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. He had also been considered for several other positions, including a cabinet position within the Obama administration.

Over 80% of Google executives have donated money to support Obama and other democrats. This isn’t much different from how other Silicon Valley tech company workers spend their money. In 2008, the industry gave then-Senator Obama more than $9 million dollars to support his campaign for the presidency. This was three times what the industry raised for any other politician. It is expected that contributions for to Obama’s 2012 campaign will exceed that number and President Obama is depending on it. These Silicon Valley tech companies now spend more money to support Obama than Hollywood does. President Obama depends on Google and Google depends on President Obama.

The Daily Beast has a great article called “President Obama Courts Silicon Valley’s New Digital Aristocracy“, which discusses this further – click here

In a 2011 report, the advocacy group Consumer Watch compiled a report that details how Google benefits from close ties with the Obama administration. Consumer Watchdog received evidence to back their report through Freedom of Information Act requests – click here (PDF file)

According to the Washington Post reporter, Cecilia Kang, experts have said that lawmakers in Congress are suspicious of Google and feel that it has received too much favoritism from the White House. In response to this – Google is hoping that if it implants high-profile Republicans in Washington, it can start winning support in Congress. Already, there have been several bipartisan efforts made by several lawmakers to put more restrictions on Google and Google has already been grilled recently by a congressional committee made up of both Democrats and Republicans. If Google can divide Republicans by winning over some support of Republican representatives in Congress, the company can eventually conquer Congress. If successful, Google can destroy bills and/or render bills ineffective in helping the average Internet user by watering it down.

Google has already succeeded with this type of political manipulation in Britain. Privacy advocacy groups in Britain have recently accused Google of meddling to stop more stringent privacy laws. Google was able to convince a British government department to ask an independent regulatory authority to reverse its hard-line stance on Internet browser security. For further details on this - click here

So, how the heck was it possible for Google to convince the British government to do what it wanted?

Well, one major reason can be credited to a woman named Rachel Whetstone. If you recall, I first wrote about Ms. Whetstone a few days ago on my site when I gave you a breakdown of her ridiculous convoluted statement after the whole controversy surrounding Google deliberately circumventing privacy settings on Apple’s Safari browser – click here

Anyway, Ms. Whetstone, who is Google’s vice president of communications and policy, is married to Steve Hilton. Mr. Hilton is the Director of Strategy for the British Prime Minister David Cameron. Both Rachel Whetstone and Steve Hilton were godparents to Prime Minister Cameron’s eldest son (who sadly passed away three years ago at just 6 years of age).

Opposition parties have accused the British government with having too close ties with Google and a prominent Conservative entrepreneur has even called Google a parasite that drains revenue. There was also the infamous “review” of British IP laws, initiated by Prime Minister Cameron, and nicknamed by others as “the Google Review”. According to reporting by The Register in the UK,

“…it was introduced with a quote attributed to the Google founders by Prime Minister David Cameron. According to Cameron, the Google founders had said they could never have founded Google in the UK, because of copyright law here. There was one slight problem: the founders had never said anything of the sort, and the claim was finally traced to Google’s European public policy director Richard Sargeant – who had led the lobbying for reform of copyright in Google’s favor”

Google will do anything to wiggle its way into any government and influence any politician. If Google can influence politicians, it then can have influence on governments. Google can control the way laws are developed and it controls which laws to dump out completely. Google has enormous power and persuasion. A single company with this much international power and influence is a deeply concerning and, quite frankly, scary.

Call up your representative in Congress and tell them to not let Google control how they vote. If important, comprehensive, and stringent Internet privacy laws for Americans have any chance of succeeding in Washington –  it will be absolutely dependent on Google failing!

Susan Molinari’s tenure is slated to begin in mid-March with the official title of “Google’s vice president of public policy and government relations for the Americas.”

For more information:

The Register, “Labour targets Tories’ Google problem” – click here

The Hill, “Google hires former Rep. Susan Molinari to lead Washington office” – click here

The New York Times, “Google Gets a High-Profile Lobbyist” – click here

TPM, “Why Google Hired Former Rep. Susan Molinari” – click here

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Voluntary Internet Privacy Proposal Is A Day Late And A Dollar Short

 Yesterday, the Obama administration made a big announcement to help Internet users protect their data from third parties who collect it without your permission. The White House unveiled a consumer Privacy Bill of Rights proposal that is said to be intended to give online users back control of their personal data. Now, this might sound like great news at first, but don’t get too excited just yet. Let’s take a closer:

The Privacy Bill of Rights does not impose any immediate new obligations on online companies. President Obama said it was part of a broader plan to give Americans more control over how their personal data is used on the Internet.  It consists of seven basic protections consumers should expect from companies:

Consumers would have control over the kind of data companies collect, companies must be transparent about data usage plans and respect the context in which it is provided and disclosed. Companies would have to ensure secure and responsible handling of the data and be accountable for strong privacy measures. It also calls for reasonable limits on the personal data that online companies can try to collect and retain and the ability of consumers to access and ensure the accuracy of their own data.

The Privacy Bill of Rights has received the backing of major Internet companies, including Google. It has also received the backing of the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA), which represents over 400 media, marketing, and technology companies. The vast majority of advertisements you see on the Internet are from members of the DAA. Their involvement in this seems like a great thing, so far – but let’s keep digging…

The Obama administration wants the proposed Privacy Bill of Rights to function as a blueprint for future comprehensive legislation that can hopefully make it through Congress. Several online privacy bills have been introduced before and have failed to gain much traction over many years. Americans hardly have any protections online whatsoever – and don’t get me started with the lack of protections on mobile devices, which is even worse! By the way, in comparison, European data protection laws have been developed since the 1980s and are much more stringent.

In addition to the seven core principles of the Privacy Bill of Rights, the DAA has finally agreed to allow a ‘Do Not Track’ button to be added to browsers. The browser-based header will signal, to companies that gather your personal data, your preferences. If you indicate that you don’t want to be tracked, the DAA claims that they will respect your preference – to an extent.

But hang on a second!

This do-not-track button has been resisted for years by the DAA and Google – why the sudden change of heart? Excuse me for being suspicious about this, but why the heck would a known privacy violator like Google be all too eager to participate in this initiative to protect personal data? It doesn’t make sense, folks.

Remember, Google is the same company that is facing a 20 year consent order with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for violating the privacy of users; it is the same company that had to pay $500 million to the US government after being found aiding and abetting a con artist; it is the same company that just recently deliberately bypassed privacy settings on Apple’s and Microsoft’s browsers so that they can collect information of their users; it is the same damn company that refused to have this do-not-track button on their Chrome browser for years, while all the other major browsers adopted the do-not-track technology ages ago!

Now you expect me to suddenly buy into this believe that Google wants to do what is best for our privacy – a week before it is about to change its privacy policies so that it makes it easier to sell your personal data to advertisers? Please! I ain’t buying the garbage Google is selling – not a chance!

Julia Angwin, writer for The Wall Street Journal, brought up something important:

“The new do-not-track button isn’t going to stop all Web tracking. The companies have agreed to stop using the data about people’s Web browsing habits to customize ads, and have agreed not to use the data for employment, credit, health-care or insurance purposes. But the data can still be used for some purposes such as ‘market research’ and ‘product development’ and can still be obtained by law enforcement officers.”

So basically, what she is saying is that this do-not-track button is BS. It won’t do anything worthwhile. First of all, it is completely voluntary for the companies to adopt the do-not-track button and if they end up letting users opt-out of tracking, it isn’t going to stop the tracking. It will only limit the amount of personalized advertisements you see. For many these companies, whose sole business purpose it is to harvest your personal data and sell it, they will still see everything you do.

It was recently reported that the American retailing company Target was targeting pregnant women with creepy advertisements of things a pregnant woman might need. The only problem was that these pregnant women never informed Target about their pregnancy and were creeped out that Target not only knew they were expecting a child, but could actually freakishly guess the due date. When Target noticed that people were starting to get creeped out they decided to still send targeted advertisements, but made sure to not make it so obvious. A Target executive revealed to the New York Times:

“With the pregnancy products, though, we learned that some women react badly…then we started mixing in all these ads for things we knew pregnant women would never buy, so the baby ads looked random. We’d put an ad for a lawn mower next to diapers. We’d put a coupon for wineglasses next to infant clothes. That way, it looked like all the products were chosen by chance”

Target was able to do this because they matched customers with an ID number linked to their credit cards or other personal information. You can read more on this by clicking here.

Anyway, the point is that Google and those data analytics companies that say they will respect your information think you’re stupid. They think you won’t know better if they give you a useless button to pacify you, while they continue on doing what they have always been doing. And, unlike Target, the Internet is A LOT more invasive! The Internet is the Wild West, where there are basically no laws to protect you and it’s much easier to obtain personal information. At least Target only collects data on buying habits of customers from their own store – Google collects personal data of you everywhere on the Internet.

Mozilla Firefox, was the first browser to allow users to use a do-not-track button. Internet Explorer followed Firefox’s example soon after, and then Apple’s Safari joined. All major browsers had this functionality enabled, with the exception of Google’s Chrome browser. Mozilla executives released a statement yesterday saying that they were “encouraged” by the news of a Privacy Bill of Rights and felt proud to say that they were first to implement a do-not-track button. However, they made sure to say that while they feel optimistic about the move to increased privacy for users, they will avoid fully endorsing the proposed do-not-track button that the DAA says it will produce in about nine months:

“We want to continue to see Do Not Track evolve through the Internet’s rich tradition of open development and collaborative innovation. Do Not Track is too important to become a product of closed-door meetings rather than through open, multi-stakeholder efforts…If Do Not Track fails to materialize as a productive tool, we’ll look to develop other technical measures to ensure that users’ privacy preferences are respected”

This button will not result in anything good for users and Mozilla already pretty much knows it. This proposed do-not-track button might actually create more harm than good. If people assume that they are protected from tracking, when in actuality they are not, they will let their guard down. People will stop asking for more protections for their privacy online and on mobile devices – while, Google and the DAA will give each other a high-fives for pacifying the public. Phew! No more annoying privacy advocates giving them a hard time!

But not so fast, Google! We’re on to you!

We don’t need a watered-down, meet me halfway, a day too late and a dollar too short privacy bill of rights! We need real change! We need comprehensive and solid protections! We need to completely stop tracking, period; full-stop!

Here is something to think about: even though Mozilla Firefox was the first to implement a Do Not Track button for their users, only 18% of mobile users and only 7% of desktop users activated the functionality on Firefox. It was available for Firefox users for awhile now, and only a small percentage took advantage of it. And guess what – Google and the DAA are well aware of this fact. An opt-in button will not reach the masses, and a useless button will not go far enough to protect users.

When the White House made its announcement yesterday, the true winners were not vulnerable Internet users – the winners are Google and the DAA who were so giddy and self-congratulatory.

For more information, I highly recommend these articles:

  • The Wall Street Journal, “Web Firms to Adopt ‘No Track’ Button” – click here
  • The Washington Post, “Voluntary guidelines for Web privacy backed by Obama administration” – click here
  • Techcrunch, “Mozilla: Welcome Google and Obama, We Invented ‘Do Not Track’ A Year Ago” – click here
  • PCWorld, “Obama’s Internet Bill Of Rights Will Be Hard to Enforce: Here’s Why” – click here
  • PCWorld, “Universal ‘Do Not Track’ Button: A Recipe for Disappointment” – click here
  • Wired, “White House Privacy Bill of Rights Brought to You by Years of Online Debacles  – click here

 

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