My vote for quote of the month on Google was “If Google can drop China, it can drop you.”

This profound razor-sharp insight was said by Howard Shelanski, speaking for himself, not the Federal Trade Commission, at the Free State Foundation’s annual conference at the National Press Club in Washington DC on Friday.

Mr. Shelanski is currently Deputy Director of the Bureau of Economics at the FTC, a former Chief economist at the FCC, and a widely respected economist and antitrust expert.

I am spotlighting his quote because it sheds light on the broader implications of the world censorship policeman role Google is asserting for itself in the world.

If Google is going to take the position that it unilaterally will withdraw access to its search engine from hundreds of millions of Chinese, if the Chinese Government does not do what Google tells it to do, it puts everyone else in the world on notice that Google has the power, interest and wherewithal to withdraw access to its search engine to anyone who might disagree with Google politically.

 

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Google postedGoogle’s Privacy Principles” for International Privacy Day and made a pretty sweeping official representation to the public in its announcement post:

  • We’ve always operated with these principles in mind. Now, we’re just putting them in writing so you have a better understanding of how we think about these issues from a product perspective.”
Is this a factually accurate and fair representation of Google’s past and current privacy practices?

If it is indeed a true statement:

  • Surely Google could produce (publicly or for the FTC) the internal training and communications documents/emails that ensured that new and existing Googlers actually have “operated with these privacy principles in mind” over the last decade.
  • Why did Google not share these principles when Privacy International ranked Google as worst in its 2007 world survey and classified Google as “hostile to privacy?
  • Why did Google not share these internal privacy operating principles in 2008 when California had to threaten to sue Google for not having a public privacy policy statement on its homepage for four years despite being required to by law?

Google also asserted that: “Like our design and software guidelines, these privacy principles are designed to guide the decisions we make when we create new technologies.

  • If these privacy principles were indeed like Google’s “design and software guidelines” that have been on Google’s site for several years, and by implication as important, why did Google not write them down until now?

Let’s consider this sweeping representation of Google’s privacy behavior from another perspective. If Google considers these privacy principles to be sound and defensible, and Google has “always operated with these principles in mind,” wouldn’t that suggest if Privacy International was right in 2007 in ranking Google as worst in the world in privacy, would that not still be true today?

Let’s now fact-check Google’s five privacy principles.

“1. “Use information to provide our users with valuable products and services.”

  • in a business context, Google primarily uses private information to better target advertising in order to charge higher prices and generate more revenues.
  • Google’s competitive advantage is that it collects, tracks, stores, and analyzes more private information than any entity in the world — by far.
  • Google’s famed “innovation without permission” approach to business means that Google does not ask users for permission to use their private information.
  • Privacy is not the default at Google, “publicacy” (the opposite of privacy) is the default.
  • The reason for this is simply control. If users were asked permission or given control over their information by Google, the user would be in control and not Google.
  • The reason Google does not ask for meaningful consent from users is that Google knows they could not get it and that if they could not take it like they do now, they simply couldn’t extract the prices they do from advertisers.
  • In a word, Google does not value users’ privacy, because at core, their model depends on publicacy, the exploitation of privacy without meaningful permission.

“2. Develop products that reflect strong privacy standards and practices.”

  • If these principles were longstanding and indeed “reflect strong privacy standards and practices” why did Google have such privacy uproars over:
    • Google’s automated reading of all gmails even those private emails of people that do not use gmail?
    • Google Earth’s display of the White House roof and other sensitive sites around the world?
    • Google StreetView’s pictures of peoples’ private property that prompted privacy outcries around the world? and
    • The Google Book Settlement, which still has no privacy protections for what people read like they do in libraries?
      • (These examples are illustrative and not exhaustive.)

    “3. Make the collection of personal information transparent.”

    • If Google was indeed operating under these privacy principles all along, why was it only in 2009 that Google created the Privacy dashboard, and their Data Liberation Front?
    • And if Google is so transparent with how they collect private information, why do major respected surveys by Consumer Reports and the Annenberg School strongly suggest that consumers are largely unaware with what Google and others are doing with their private information online?

    “4. Give users meaningful choices to protect their privacy.”

    • If the “dashboard” is supposed to be “meaningful choice,” why do Google’s privacy practices not also offer an on-off switch, a brake or a reverse?
    • If the Data Liberation Front is supposed to give users full portability “choice”, why did the user never have meaningful choice in whether Google collected the information in the first place?

    5. Be a responsible steward of the information we hold.”

    • If Google was truly a responsible steward of the information they hold, why do they collect, track and store more private information about more people in the world, private information that puts these users at enormous unnecessary privacy risk, if Google has a data breach, is hacked or is subpoenaed ( all of which have happened)?
    • A good steward would not collect and store private information in such volumes without a users meaningful knowledge that could put the user at enormous risk of loss, blackmail or prosecution.

    In sum, Google’s Privacy Principles are new and do not reflect how Google has operated over the last decade. As much as Google gives privacy lip service, Google actually remains the single biggest threat to Americans’ privacy.

     

    • Google has a publicacy business model built almost entirely on exploiting the use of private information without users’ meaningful consent or control.
    • Maybe the single biggest threat to Google’s business model would be if users actually were in control of their own private information and not Google.

    Publicacy vs Privacy Series:

    Part I: The Growing Privacy-Publicacy Fault-line — The Tension Underneath World Data Privacy Day

    Part II: Implications of User Location Tracking

    Part III: Extreme Publicacy — Does Privacy Stand a Chance?

    Part VI: Why FTC’s Behavioral-Ad Principles Are a Big Deal

    Part V: Privacy prevailed in Facebook’s privacy-publicacy earthquake

    Part VI: Do People Own Their Private Information Online?

    Part VII: Where is the line between privacy and publicacy?

    Part VIII: “Privacy is Over”

    Part IX: “Interventional Targeting? “Get into people’s heads”

    Part X: “Latest publicacy arguments against privacy”

    Part XI: “The Web 2.0 movement is opposed to the privacy movement.”

    Part XII: “No consumer control over the commercialization of their privacy?”

    Part XIII: “Does new Government cookie policy favor publicacy over privacy? ”

    Part XIV: “Google Book Settlement “absolutely silent on user privacy”

    Part XV: Yet more evidence of Google’s hostility to privacy

    Part XVI: Poll: Americans strongly oppose publicacy & expect online privacy

    Part XVII: FaceBook CEO throws privacy under the bus

     

If Congress and the Administration truly are focused on lowering unemployment and creating jobs, one of the easiest things they can do is tell the FCC to not kill potentially tens of thousands of jobs by preemptively regulating broadband Internet access to address a non-existent problem.

Kudos to the American Consumer Institute for an excellent study on the job-killing impact of a net neutrality industrial policy which would effectively chose competitive broadband companies as job losers and much smaller and less job-intensive netopolies as winners. (See summary of study here.)

 

It is amazing that with one hand, the FCC is working on a National Broadband Plan to allegedly help the nation advance economically, while its other hand is totally working at cross-purposes economically — pushing proposed net neutrality regulations that would kill jobs.

We will learn in the coming weeks/months whether the FCC appreciates the real world around them, a fragile economy, persistent high unemployment and underemployment, and less investment, or whether they operate in a bubble imagining that their actions can only have positive effects on the economy and not negative ones.

We also will see if the FCC cares about the economy, jobs, and unemployment, or if they view themselves as independent of, and shielded from such real world concerns.

 

 January 27, 2010

For Immediate Release

 

Contact: Scott Cleland

703-217-2407

Media@GoogleMonitor.com

GoogleMonitor.com Launches Today

Will spotlight Google’s lack of transparency and accountability

WASHINGTONA new web site designed to make Google more transparent and accountable launched today. GoogleMonitor.com is a crowd-sourcing site which will keep watch on the Web’s top watcher of everyone.

“Google is the most powerful company in the world, dominates the Web’s business model for information discovery and monetization, and watches most everything that happens on the Web,” Scott Cleland of Precursor LLC and GoogleMonitor.com’s publisher said. “Given all that un-checked power, Google has a dangerous dearth of transparency and accountability.”

GoogleMonitor.com is designed to be a watchdog site focused on Google, covering subjects including: competition/antitrust, privacy, security, intellectual property, transparency, neutrality, accountability, ethics, public policy and humor. Because Google’s dominance is global, the site will feature information from countries around the world.

“GoogleMonitor.com will organize the world’s information on Google and make it universally accessible and useful to those concerned about Google’s unaccountable power over the Internet,” continued Cleland. “Google has a one-way transparency policy, demanding free and open access to everyone else’s digital content and private information, while denying access to even the most basic information about its “black-box” algorithms and auctions. This powerfully reinforces Google’s rapidly expanding monopoly.”

GoogleMonitor.com features a “Got info?” button where people can contribute information to the site publicly. And if someone is afraid of retribution by Google, they can submit information confidentially.

“Google masks its unaccountability with its ‘innovation without permission’ credo, cleverly turning its vice of not asking for permission to use others’ content, property or private information, into a PR virtue,” concluded Cleland.

For more information visit www.GoogleMonitor.com

Google® is a registered trademark of Google Inc. GoogleMonitor.com is a wholly-owned subsidiary of

Precursor LLC (www.precursor.com), and is independent of, and not affiliated with Google in any way.

###

 

Unfortunately FreePress long ago chose to be the gutter’s beacon of low-road politics and not a shining beacon of high-road politics to emulate.

FreePress was unfortunately disingenuous in its Hill op-ed today, in saying “When is comes to Internet freedom, the United States of America can be a beacon to the rest of the world. But we must start at home.

If FreePress was genuine in believing that it is truly important to have a shining beacon of positive example for others to follow… why does FreePress not lead by example itself, and let its behavior and tactics in public discourse be a positive beacon for everyone else to follow?

It is tragic and ironic that right after FreePress said its high-minded rhetoric of being “a beacon to the world,” FreePress immediately dove into the gutter and proceeded to try and assasinate the character of an honorable thoughtful professional, Andrew Keen, exercising his free speech rights that FreePress claims to support, and demonize companies that also are standing up for their own consitutional rights of free speech and freedom from seizure of their property without just compensation. (Andrew Keen’s bookCult of the Amateur” is an Internet classic and a must-read, and was a strong precursor of the Internet’s dark side way before anyone else connected the dots.)

  • Is FreePress’ slash and burn, take no prisoners approach to public discourse supposed to be a shining beacon of the “neutrality” that FreePress wants everyone to strive towards?
  • Is incivility FreePress’ concept of what “Internet freedom” should be all about?

Why FreePress is so defensive and willing to dive into gutter political tactics is that they know they cannot prevail on the merits of the issue or if they stay within the boundaries of civil society and the rule of law.

FreePress is trying to sell a dystopian and Orwellian view of “Internet freedom” where government is the one that grants freedom and takes it away, which is in stark contrast with the U.S. Constitutional view that citizens have freedoms that the Government cannot take away.

According to the words of FreePress’ co-founders and leaders, FreePress is not about consitutional freedom of the press at all, as the brand strongly suggests. Read FreePress co-founders’ own words to learn FreePress’ public branding is blatant unfair representation of what it is all about.

  • FreePress co-founder and board member, Robert McChesney quoted” on government intervention in journalism: “Only government can implement policies and subsidies to provide an institutional framework for quality journalism…The democratic state, the government, must create the conditions for sustaining the journalism that can provide the people with the information they need to be their own governors.”
  • McChesney quoted in Monthly Review: Advertising is the voice of capital. We need to do whatever we can to limit capitalist propoganda, regulate it, minimize it, and perhaps even eliminate it.
  • Josh Silver, FreePress’ co-founder and Executive Director, proposes new federal taxes to fund more government-subsidized media:“Barring the creation of a trust fund, Congress must find a significant steady revenue stream that is not subject to annual appropriations. One such possibility is a tax of 0.5 percent of the purchase price for every home electronic device: multimedia players, cable and satellite set-top boxes, video game systems, televisions, etc. Those devices that entertain America would in turn be supporting programming to inform, educate and enlighten.”
We can only hope that someday, FreePress attempts to be an example worth following, and that they will actually stand for what the constitutional principle of freedom of the press is truly all about.