Tag Archives: White House

Is It Legally Impossible To Go After Google Over Privacy Violations?

English: Gavel

Yesterday, I informed you that Google is facing a lot of legal trouble. When Google deliberately bypassed browser security of Apple Safari users, the company has been hit with countless lawsuits. Many Apple users are furious with Google for exposing them to spying and collecting their personal data without their permission. You can’t blame them for wanting to get some legal assistance to send a Google a clear message that privacy is a fundamental right you just can’t violate.

However, it seems like these people have an uphill battle. What Google did is wrong and despicable, but it will be extremely difficult to go after them legally. First of all, Google is a massive company with deep pockets and it’s heavily surrounded by lawyers. In addition, past legal cases have shown that courts often don’t do anything about breaches of online privacy. There have been people who sued Internet companies before and majority of them end up losing. The law isn’t currently on the side of the average user because the law doesn’t recognize online privacy as it should! Americans are completely vulnerable to these Internet companies and they can’t even seek protection from their courts of justice!

I read an excellent and informative article by Gerry Silver, a lawyer who specializes in IT litigation. In his article, titled “’Do Not Track’ – Online Privacy Litigation Now and in the Future”, Mr. Silver admits that people who seek court relief to tackle online privacy concerns are pretty much wasting their time. The courts do nothing about Internet companies, like Google, harvesting our personal data and using it for their own purposes – whatever it may be.

People have tried various ways to seek out some sort of justice from the courts to protect their online privacy – but it has all resulted in limited to no success.  Lawsuits have been filed claiming that Internet companies violated various laws, most commonly including:     

  • The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act
  • The Wiretap Act
  • Stored Communication Act
  • Deceptive Act or Practice/ Unfair Competition Statutes
  • Trespass to Chattels
  • Contract-Based Claims
  • Right of Publicity Claims

 Many of these claims against the Internet companies fail because the courts force victims to prove their personal data has significant monetary value. They can’t claim damage on personal data because it doesn’t have real value apparently. Often times these third-parties that track you all over the Internet are not considered uninvited intruders – even though they steal your personal data without your full consent, they are off the hook if a website’s terms of service give them permission.

Many people don’t even know that there are hundreds of tracking companies that steal their personal data all the time. This collection of data is done completely without the permission of users and the vast majority of people are in the dark about tracking on the Internet to even voice their concerns against it.

It’s a real shame that the courts can’t really do anything about online privacy because the laws don’t go far enough. People have nowhere to turn but to pressure their representatives in government to pass comprehensive legislation that gives Americans more rights over their personal data. Mr. Silver writes that the new consumer online Privacy Bill of Rights (unveiled by the White House last month) is a good first step in getting Americans the desperately needed help to fight back against Internet companies – but it doesn’t go far enough.

“The institution of the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights and legislation arising therefrom may provide users with more control over what personal data companies collect and how they use it… However, Internet companies will still be able to use the information as part of their own market research and product development. Also, future compliance with the “Do Not Track” button appears to be voluntary at this point, meaning advertisers or other Internet companies may decide to attempt to override it.”

The White House proposal is still in its early stages, but if this proposed consumer Privacy Bill of Rights amounts to nothing meaningful for Americans then it won’t change the lack of support shown to victimized Americans and the dismal situation in the courts. More Americans will still go through lengthy and expensive legal tug-of-war with these Internet companies and Americans will always end up losing. Currently, Internet companies have everything in their favor and Americans simply don’t have enough protections.

English: Author: Irish Tug of War Source: (OWN)

Put the pressure on government representatives to act in favor of the average Internet user. Let them know that you’re serious about your online safety and that your personal data is yours alone. Privacy is not a privilege, it’s a right! The Internet companies and Google are ripping us off. They are taking, stealing, and milking us dry of our personal data! Say NO!  People need to care enough to make changes in government, then the government will make necessary legal changes, this will result in a safer Internet for all!

The Apple users suing Google have a strong case against Google – and their case differs from the typical Internet privacy related cases. Google actually used code to deliberately trick their browser into accepting tracking cookies, this code allowed Google to bypass the security setting of their browser which was set to prevent third-party tracking. Apple users had no idea this had happened to them until it was exposed by The Wall Street Journal’s report last month. This is an obvious violation of privacy and it has gone too far! Hopefully, these Apple users suing Google can ultimately triumph! It’s a difficult thing to do, but you gotta keep fighting from all angles until we finally breakthrough.

For more information:

Gerry Silver, “Do Not Track – Online Privacy Litigation Now and in the Future” – click here

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Google Has The Ability To Know More About You Than Your Closest Friends

Big Brother 2001 (UK)

Hey – can you do something for me?

Can you guess a number? No, c’mon, just do it…guess the amount you think you’re potentially worth to Google per year. It’s really interesting to find out how much Google values you and what your sticker price is.

I’ll leave you to ponder on that for a bit, while you continue reading.

I hope you know that Google’s products and services are not “free”. The company loves to fool users into thinking that they can use Google at no cost to them whatsoever. Well, newsflash: you are paying to use Google.

Sorry to break it to you, but you pay Google by giving the company your personal data. Google couldn’t care less about your dollars – please! Keep the change, no thank you!

They rather have your personal information so that they can then sell that information to third parties (i.e. advertisers) for huge profits. Google’s business model is largely advertising based; they make over 90% of their revenues from advertising. You’re not Google customer, you’re Google product.

Google’s new privacy policy, which took effect on the first of March, means that you’re a much more attractive product to advertisers than ever before. Why is that? Well, that because advertisers can now access even more information about you than ever before – and the more information advertisers can gather to know exactly who you are, the more they are willing to pay Google.

There is now this mutated form of advertising which tailors and specifically targets ads at you. Advertisers believe that consumers will be more likely to purchase something from them if consumers receive ads directly related to what they assume you would want to buy. They can deduce what your interests are by analyzing the private information you hand over to Google, and don’t think twice about. Google is on a mission to create “the faceless web” and you unknowingly help out to accomplish that mission by signing up to Google services.

Google knows a heck of a lot of information about you already. This new privacy policy will open the flood gates so that they can extend their greedy hands to violate your privacy even more. Now that Google can combine all your information from all of Google’s services, they are creating a clearer image of you. You can no longer separate your YouTube identity from your Gmail identity, and you cannot separate your Gmail indentity from the searches you plugged into Google’s search engine. Everything will be combined together.

Think of it this way: Google previously could only see your leg here, your arm there, and your head somewhere else – without ever matching them up with one another or cross-checking. With its new privacy policy, Google can now shine a spotlight on your entire body and see you completely. You’re totally naked to Google now – there is no more hiding, no more fragmentation of your identity, and no more privacy.

In January, the European Commission decided that it was time to overhaul its already stringent data protection laws. They felt that they needed to do this because their laws needed an update. As we move deeper into the 21st century and technology continues to rapidly change the way we live our lives – laws occasionally need to be kept up to speed and renewed.  One of most important plans to their updated privacy laws is something called the “right to be forgotten”.

This right will allow users to demand Internet companies (such as Google) to permanently delete their personal data when requested to do so. This right is designed to give Internet users back control of their personal data. Google, as you might have already guessed, is against this. They will lie to your face and tell you they are in favor of it, but they’re really not. The only think they will be in favor of is a watered down version of this legal right in hopes of rendering it completely useless.

Europeans take their privacy very seriously, but Americans are exposed to privacy violations. There are barely, and I mean barely, any laws to protect Americans online. For crying out loud, companies are not even required to post a privacy policy for their websites. Americans are desperately in need of something like the European initiative. A “right to be forgotten” law would help Americans enormously.

Let me tell you of a man named Richard Falkenrath. He used to work at the White House as a special assistant to the President and has expertise in cybersecurity and counter-terrorism. In a piece he for the Financial Times, he spoke very honestly about the dangers of using Google’s services and the need for a right to be forgotten law for Americans. He writes,

“I learnt to appreciate the power of electronic data integration as a White House counterterrorism aide, working to enhance government electronic surveillance powers. But Google, by gaining the consent of its users in the form of a quick tick, has secured the power to build an electronic surveillance apparatus that far exceeds anything the Bush administration tried to do.”

I don’t know about you, but this a chilling statement. He continues,

“My support for [the right to be forgotten]…comes from my recent experience as a parent. Last year my children’s school shifted to a system called “Google Apps for Education”. It works brilliantly, and cost the school little or nothing. But as Google’s policy makes clear, even though the school retains ownership of the students’ content and may demand its deletion, Google intends to integrate data derived from students’ school activities with data from any of its other digital services – and use this to make money. Forever.”

Earlier, I wrote more about how some schools (kindergarten all the way up to college) are putting their students’ privacy in jeopardy by implementing Google Apps for Education into their systems. To read more on that – please click here.

Mr. Falkenrath stresses that in order for a right to be forgotten law to be truly effective it needs to also demand that metadata be permanently deleted. It isn’t enough to just get rid of email messages, photographs, or videos from Google’s servers – but, in addition, Google needs to delete the underlying information embedded into all those larger data. Metadata is basically data about data. So a photograph’s metadata may include – when the photo was taken, who it was taken by, at what location, what camera was used, what was the exposure, etc.

This metadata is just as revealing as the actual larger data it’s describing. You can deduce a lot from metadata.

“In counterterrorism, metadata often give us the crucial first lead that allows deeper scrutiny. In commerce, metadata make huge databases indexable, searchable, connectable, useful and valuable. Google’s privacy policy, like those of many internet companies, stresses the protections it affords customers’ content, but treats metadata as business records it can retain and manipulate indefinitely”

Google has the ability to create a digital identity for you that is uniquely tied to you. Your online fingerprint is all over Google and each time you use Google you give more of yourself away!

So…have you guessed how much you’re worth to Google?

Well, according to new research by privacy experts, you are potentially worth as much as $5000 per year to Google. The personal data Google gradually builds about you over time forms your identity. The more precise the identity is, the more valuable you are. Google is raking it in – to the tune of $40 billion yearly. Ka-CHING!

To help you wrap your head around everything, I’ll leave you with this excellent video (at the very bottom of this post). It’s produced by Michael Rigely, a San Francisco based graphic designer. His fascinating video shows how the personal data Internet companies collect of us is utilized to paint a perfect portrait of us. The cloud of information knows more about us than what our closest friends know. A real eye-opener:

For more information:

Financial Times, “Google must remember our right to be forgotten” – click here

CNET, “How to prevent Google from tracking you” – click here

SmartMoney, “Who would pay $5000 to use Google? (You)” – click here

Washington Post, “New privacy policy lets Google watch you — everywhere” – click here

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US Federal Trade Commission Chairman Gives Candid And Revealing Talk About Google

Yesterday, the chairman of the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Jon Leibowitz, was a guest on the C-SPAN show “Newsmakers”. He was interviewed by Brendan Greeley, writer for Bloomberg, and Juliana Grunwald, a writer for National Journal.

It was a very interesting interview and Mr. Leibowitz revealed many things that I will share with you in a moment. First of all, I have to acknowledge how wonderfully Brendan Greeley performed. He was prepared with tough questions to ask the chairman. I thought he did a great job making sure he could get the most out of the chairman.

The interview was about 30 minutes long and here are the highlights (a link to view the interview video is located at the bottom of this post):

  • 04:00 – “We called for more transparency because nobody reads online privacy notices…”  – Jon

This is so true. Nobody reads them.

  • 04:20 – “…choice because consumers should have the right not to have their information collected…your computer is your property…people should have the right not to have their information collected particularly about sensitive issues.” - Jon

Again, very true! It’s our personal data and our property. Google should have no right to profit off and sell our personal data to advertisers without our explicit consent

  • 04:53 – “There seems like there’s two buzz words here and I’m gonna try to see if we can explain both of them. There’s self-regulatory, which is what the industry is pushing…and then there’s a word that kept on showing up in the White House report which was stakeholder approach…it doesn’t seem like the two of those are gonna work very well together. You have the industry taking care of itself and you have the White House suggesting that you get industry plus private watchdog groups plus Congress getting together to figure out the best approach…it seems like Washington is where the stakeholder goes to die.” - Brendan

Right on, Brendan! Self-regulation is absolutely nonsense and ineffective. How can you let Google and the advertising companies police themselves? It doesn’t make sense. This whole Privacy Bill of Rights proposal that the White House eventually wants to make law will not amount to much if Google and its advertising minions are allowed to dominate the upcoming negotiations to fully develop this bill. An independent body needs to keep an eye on Google.

  • 11:16 – “I’m not too sure many people will opt-out. I happen to like getting, you know, ads that relate to the things I’m interested in – so we sense is not too many people will opt-out” – Jon

Jon! Jon! Jon! What are you thinking?? You don’t mind getting creepy targeted ads? You don’t mind these tracking companies spying on everything you do on the web so that they can analyze the perfect ad for you? This is ridiculous.

I have written on here before about a store that sent baby ads to a pregnant teenage girl before her parents even knew she was pregnant – click here

There was also an article where a man said he rather have his daughters spied on by tracking companies so that they can target ads for them, rather then his daughters seeing random ads that could potentially include…heaven forbid…a Viagra commercial! Kids see random ads all the time on television, magazines, and on billboards – I don’t think it’s going to damage your children. Forfeiting your child’s privacy to prevent them from seeing irrelevant ads for their age group and gender is really pathetic – click here

But Jon is correct on one thing – people do not opt-out when the opt-out of tracking option is not the default setting. It’s not that people want to be tracked, it’s because people don’t know better. The fact is that many people don’t change the default settings of their web browser. They also don’t look around to make sure their privacy and security settings are set to its maximum level. Google and their advertising minions know this fact already.

  • 12:14 – “Other than saying that [Google] have been clear and that it’s a very binary and somewhat brutal choice that they’re giving consumers…I can’t say much more and I’ll just leave it at that, but we’re aware.”Jon

Exactly. Google is telling its users that they have to either take it all or leave it all. There is no middle option. First of all, they need to tell users the whole truth about why they’re changing their privacy policies – which is to make it easier to sell your information to advertisers. Then they need give users an option to opt-out of this data harvesting. Shame on Google!

  • 12:20 – “‘Binary and brutal was plenty’” – Brendan

Ha!

  • 12:23 – “Perhaps too much” – Jon

Nope. You’re just being honest.

  • 12:26 – “You’re suggesting that they be more explicit about what they do and I wonder if they were completely upfront…about what they are doing with your information whether there would be a market at all. I wonder if I would sign up for a service that said ‘in exchange for this free way to get in touch with your family and friends we’re going to sell information about you’. In a way, they are misrepresenting what their fundamental purpose is” – Brendan

Again, excellent job Brendan. Google is definitely lying to its users. Google is not changing its privacy policies to simply give you a better experience. It is changing it to make it easier to sell your personal data to advertisers. Google makes over 90% of its revenues from advertising. You are not Google’s customer, you are Google’s product.

Now, Google says that they don’t “sell” your private information to advertisers, they simply “share” it. Google thinks we’re stupid, ha-ha. Selling….sharing…whatever…a distinction without a difference.

  • 12:46 – “I’m not sure everybody is selling information about consumers” – Jon

Jon! Jon! Jon! What are you saying? Selling….sharing…a distinction without a difference!

I got the impression that Jon was hinting at something here, almost like he was trying to say that another company sells your information even more than Google – that other company being Facebook. That’s only because Facebook is a social networking site that requires you to share a lot more personal information about yourself. But Google launched Google Plus last summer and said that its own social networking site will now be an “extension” of Google itself. In addition, unlike Facebook, Google has multiple services all over the web and it has multiple tracking devices all over the web. Google’s tracking devices are on millions of websites. So enough of the “pick between the lesser of two evils” game – just protect our privacy!

Afterwards Brendan asked him if it would be possible to have a ratings system for privacy policies, something similar to the ratings system for movies and television shows.  Jon replied back saying that the advertising industry can come up with that system themselves and that it might not be such a bad idea. But then, Brendan replied back pointing out it wouldn’t be taken seriously because, again, that would be self-regulation. You need an independent body to check these things.

  • 14:28 – “It does seem like we’re still talking about a self-regulatory approach” – Brendan

I know! Enough with this self-regulation nonsense. It does not work!

  • 15:19 -“I also think, speaking for myself not the commission…privacy legislation has a place and if we could come up with… a comprehensive balanced, Congress could, set of guidelines….that would be probably a good thing” – Jon
  • 17:12 – “This is not a year Congress is going to pass a lot of legislation…but it is a year we should be working on privacy and so the best way to do it is….government using its bully pulpit and pushing very hard for the best self-regulatory standards” – Jon

Even though self-regulation won’t do anything to really protect Americans online, you just have to settle for less because Congress cannot pass a new law during an election year…well, doesn’t that suck? But we’re not going to settle for less. We don’t want to give Americans a false sense of security!

  • 20:00 – “It feels like Do Not Track is an answer to a browsing habit that’s about 3 years old in the sense that more and more people get their information over the Internet through apps and through their mobile devices…how do you keep the FTC from always fighting abuses that are 3 years old.”  – Brendan

Yet again, excellent job Brendan!

  • 20:45 – “We’re not a regulatory agency. We’re an enforcement and policy agency, so it’s harder for us to set up rules in advance, so…you’re right…it’s a tricky question…responding to how do we make things better going forward as opposed to correcting mistakes a few years ago…we try our best using the tools that we have” – Jon

Um…okay….thanks?

A few minutes later, between 22:50 -23:19, Brendan asks an important question about the differences between how the United States protects its citizen’s online privacy versus how the Europeans do it. Europe has very stringent laws in place to protect privacy.

Then, between 23:45 – 24:31, Jon admits that the European system emphasizes regulation and the American system emphasizes enforcement. He then claims that both systems essentially want to protect their people equally and that he doesn’t think the American system is that far behind Europe as some people like to believe.

It’s funny that Jon claims that the American and European systems are essentially equal, but then he admitted earlier that the American system falls short due to a lack of regulation!

Then, in around 24:40, Juliana brings up the “right to be forgotten” plan that the European regulators are now working on to implement that will give Internet users the right to demand Internet companies delete all personal data about them when asked to do so. She then asks if this should be an idea the United States should seriously consider as well.

In response to this question, in between 24:51 -25:55, Jon rambles on about how children need to be protected because they are the most vulnerable, but he fails to really answer the question. Keep in mind that – although it is absolutely important to protect children and it’s nice to bring that up and all – BUT there are already federal laws in place to protect children under 13. Older children and adults have absolutely no real protections online whatsoever! The European “right to be forgotten” will give everybody, young and old, their privacy back! All Americans are vulnerable.

Then, around 26:25 – 26:54, Brendan brings up another great point. He says that independent watchdog groups like The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) play a very valuable role. He says that EPIC almost functions as a regulator for the FTC because when they bring up complaints to the FTC that is when the FTC starts to finally take action (as they did with Google’s first attempt at social networking called Google Buzz, which launched in 2010).

  • 26:55 – “I do think that they perform an enormously valuable role…we want the best information we can from the smartest people who think about these issues” – Jon

They do, indeed. Thank goodness for these groups!

For a video of the full interview, you can watch it on C-SPAN’s website – click here 

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Americans Need To Take A More Prominent Role To Protect Their Browsers Against Google’s Tracking

The Obama administration’s consumer Privacy Bill of Rights initiative is a very small step to a desperately needed legislation to comprehensively protect Americans from Internet tracking. Currently Americans have hardly any protections against irresponsible websites and tracking companies. The United Sates is one of the few developed countries in the world where there are no real restrictions on the Internet. In fact, websites are not even required to have privacy policies and they are free to collect just about any private information of Americans to their heart’s content- real names, credit card information, online buying habits, what websites you visited, what you “liked”, your location, your computer information, etc.

So when the White House unveiled the online privacy proposal many were optimistic, including myself. Many are still optimistic that after the Commerce Department finishes meeting with tracking companies, Internet companies such as Google, and consumer advocacy groups that some real change will come out of all this.

But are we just kidding ourselves? Should we really expect real and comprehensive protections to come out these meetings? Do you really think Google (which makes over 90% of its revenues from advertising) and those tracking companies will really allow stringent legislation to pass? I sure do not think so.

There have been attempts to have laws passed for years and they have resulted in nothing so far. In fact, bipartisan members of the US Senate have already introduced privacy protection bills before, including Democrat John Kerry and Republican John McCain. Kerry said,

“Since the 1990s, Congress has been talking about this issue and complaining about abuses but doing little to stop them. Instead of continuing the now monthly exercise of publicly scolding companies, we need to make Congress establish common sense rules of the road that protect consumers.”

He is so correct! It’s definitely common sense to want to protect vulnerable Americans from spying and intrusive data harvesting. Yet, something so obvious is so difficult to accomplish. Why is that?

Of course, much of it has to do with Google’s intensive lobbying. I wrote more on this in a past post – click here

Just last May, Google sent a strongly worded letter to the California State Senate opposing that state’s plans to introduce a stringent Social Networking Act bill.

And now, all of sudden, Google has a change of heart when it supported President Obama’s consumer privacy bill? It’s obviously because Google knows that the bill won’t change anything significantly. It’s all a public relations ploy to pacify Americans to make it look like they will get real protections – not a chance.

Jules Polonetsky, director of the Future of Privacy Forum and former chief privacy officer of DoubleClick (the now Google owned online advertising company) said,

“I think there are a lot of companies that have been concerned by the recent litigation and constant criticism who see this as an opportunity to be at the table and help shape solutions. There have been opt-out options that have been around for 10 years. They run, roughly, at about a 1% opt-out rate. ‘Do Not Track’ isn’t going to make more people opt-out. You still have to go in and adjust the settings and most of us don’t want to bother with it. What it will do is actually make that setting work…if we try to solve all of the privacy issues for the whole industry, we’ll probably be arguing for the next 50 years.”

Google and the tracking companies know that there is mounting pressure for better security on the web and now they think that it would be best if they are allowed in the conversation to produce tough laws – this way, they will have opportunity to not only look good to the public but also have the chance to significantly water-down any privacy bill.

Remember that the proposed privacy plan unveiled by the White House is strictly voluntary. Companies can reject it if they want to, but most won’t because they don’t want to look too bad in front of the public. Once they accept to abide by the bill, they will have to stick by it or face punishment by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for deceptive practices. But the FTC, as noted by EPIC, has so far failed to punish Google for violating its consent order. The FTC doesn’t really have much weight.

Also, remember that the proposed Do Not Track feature will not block tracking. All it does is that it will signal to tracking companies that you wish to not be tracked. However, the tracking companies can still track you and see what you do – they just won’t give you personalized advertisements and make it as obvious to you. They will still have ability to track you under what they call “market research”.

The Do Not Track proposal is at minimum a way to share your preference with tracking companies and Google – but it’s also a dangerous false sense of security.

The best things you can do for yourself right now is the following:

1. Use a secure browser – one that has good default settings that protects your security and privacy. It’s good if a browser has anti-tracking functionality and if it blocks third-party cookies from being set on your browser. Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Safari do great jobs. According to PC Magazine, Internet Explorer 9 has the best anti-tracking tools available – click here

2. You need extra protection for your browser. Get an anti-tracking add-on downloaded to your browser that blocks tracking, full-stop. These anti-tracking add-ons will give you a list of exactly who is attempting to track you and they will block them immediately. They don’t just ask tracking companies to respect your preferences, the add-on will immediately go right in and block tracking anyway – no questions asked. I wrote about this before – click here

3. Block cookies! Make sure your browser is set to block third-party cookies. The privacy advocacy group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), has six steps to help protect you better. Step 4 illustrates how you can make sure cookies are blocked on your chosen browser – click here

4. If you use Google’s web browser (Chrome) or toolbar – immediately go and uninstall it right now. Of all the major browsers, Google does the least to protect you against tracking. In fact, Google doesn’t even have an anti-tracking functionality on its browser – the only major browser on market which fails to do so. Asking Google to protect you from tracking is like asking the fox to guard the henhouse.

 5. Finally, you have to proactively fight for your rights! That means you can’t let Google and the tracking companies dilute the important conversations that will be happening in the coming months, which could eventually lead to comprehensive privacy legislation for all Americans. If you let Google dominate the conversation and lobby their way out of real protections for Americans, you will let Google win. You need to actively participate in this struggle by writing and calling up your state representatives in government and the White House. Say that you want real protections, not just feel good stuff!

For more information, please read these articles:

Computerworld, “Obama online privacy plan faces challenges” – click here

Bloomberg, “Obama Web Privacy Framework Boosts Chances for Rules With Teeth” – click here

Time, “Why Google and Others Are On Board with Obama’s Privacy Bill of Rights” – click here

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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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Europeans Increasingly Rejecting Google Due To Lack Of Privacy

The Article 29 Working Party, an independent group which represents 27 data protection authorities from the European Union, and an executive from the European Commission told Google to stop what they are doing to harvest personal data of Google users.

The European privacy groups want to examine Google thoroughly before they can give it any approval. In a letter to the CEO of Google, Larry Page, this is what the group wrote:

“Given the wide range of services you offer, and the popularity of these services, changes in your privacy policy may affect many citizens in most or all of the EU member states,”

“We wish to check the possible consequences for the protection of the personal data of these citizens in a coordinated way,”

“In light of the above, we call for a pause in the interests of ensuring that there can be no misunderstanding about Google’s commitments to information rights of their users and EU citizens, until we have completed our analysis.”

Viviane Reding, who is in charge of data protection for the European Commission, fully supports the investigation of Google to make sure that the company complies with their laws to protect Europeans from violations against their privacy and their personal information.

The European Commission takes privacy very seriously. In fact, they recently set out plans to adopt more effective, comprehensive, and stringent polices to protect the data of individuals. Some steps they want to implement are to give users the ability to demand Internet companies, such as Google, to not sell their personal information to advertisers. They also want companies to delete all data they have of people completely if asked to do so because people should have the “right to be forgotten”.

European countries have already been banning Google. The Norwegian public sector agencies have been banned from using any Google applications due to concerns that personal data of citizens is in serious jeopardy. In 2011, a town in Denmark banned Google applications from being used in schools because of privacy concerns. The German government has taken steps to secure its data from Google and France is particularly worried about leaving its classified information on Google computers.

Europeans are especially concerned about the Patriot Act in the United States, which demands that companies operating within America are to hand over all information to the government if asked to do so. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, an American organization which fights to protect the rights and freedoms of Internet users, estimates that Google is subpoenaed thousands of times a year. You will never know that your personal data has been given away to government agencies because Google does not have to tell you.

Just how creepy does it get? Well let me give you three examples: last summer a British soccer star named Rio Ferdinand visited the White House and snapped some photos of himself with White House staff. He later posted it on Twitter and within a mere few seconds the photos vanished. This is what the soccer star tweeted after his photos were removed: “Whoa….some1 has got into my phone + taken down my pics off twitter….this is deep…is jack Bauer in Washington?!”  He went on to tweet this, “Training just done in DC….feels kinda weird…feel like I’m being watched by some undercover jack Bauer type dudes…phone hacked into” . Read about the full story here

In another incidence, which happened just a few weeks ago, two British youth were detained by US Border agents because before their arrival one of them posted something on Twitter that was misconstrued as a threat to the United States. It’s all so ridiculous, amusing, and scary at the same time. It’s just another example that everything you do is being watched closely. You can read the rest of what happened by clicking here

And finally, a member of parliament of Iceland named Birgitta Jonsdottir had her personal information on Twitter accessed by the US government because of her involvement with Wikileaks. You can read the full story here

Twitter was forced to hand over this information but, to give the website the credit it deserves, it seems like they were resistant to this violation of privacy against people but had to comply with US laws.

Google on the other hand is a lot more secretive and knows a lot more information about users. I love what a McGill University student wrote in a student newspaper about Google when she called the company “the biggest of the Big Brothers”. You can read about it here

 Google’s chairman Eric Schmidt has said this in the past:

“If you have something you don’t want anybody to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place”

He is absolutely correct – maybe people should seriously think twice about using Google services. The Europeans have already thought long and hard about it and they banned Google in many areas of their life.

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