Consumer Watchdog Backs Senate Data Broker Accountability and Transparency Act

SANTA MONICA, CA – Consumer Watchdog today backed the Data Broker Accountability and Transparency Act, saying the legislation would require accountability and transparency for data brokers who collect and sell personal and sensitive information about consumers.

The bill, S. 668, was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senators Edward J. Markey, (D-Ma.) Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.)

“The bill would shine a necessary light on the murky world of data brokers who profit by selling information about us we often don’t even know they have, hold them accountable and give consumers meaningful protection and control over their data,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director.

Read a copy of the bill here: http://www.markey.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/2015-03-04-Data-Brokers-Bill-Text-Markey%20.pdf

Other public interest groups supporting the bill besides Consumer Watchdog include US PIRG and the Center for Digital Democracy.

The Data Broker Accountability and Transparency Act would:

— Allow consumers to access and correct their information to help ensure maximum accuracy.

— Give consumers the right to stop data brokers from using, sharing, or selling their personal information for marketing purposes.

— Empower the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to enforce the law and promulgate rules within one year, including rules necessary to establish a centralized website for consumers to view a list of covered data brokers and information regarding consumer rights.

“Data brokers seem to believe that there is no such thing as privacy,” said Sen. Markey, a member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

“I believe Americans have a fundamental right to privacy, including the right to determine whether information about their personal lives should be available for sale to the highest bidder,” said Sen. Franken, the top Democratic on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law.

“Consumers have little, if any, way of knowing what information is being stored or to whom it is being sold. This legislation safeguards personal privacy and security in our everyday lives,” Sen. Blumenthal said.

“This legislation would protect consumers by allowing them to take control of their personal information, while preventing data brokers from distributing or selling this data,” said Sen. Whitehouse.

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14 Consumer Groups Outline Shortcomings In White House Privacy Legislation; Letter To President Pledges To Work With Administration, Congress To Craft Strong Bill

SANTA MONICA, CA – Consumer Watchdog today joined 13 other public interest groups in a letter to President Obama outlining the shortcomings of the draft Consumer Privacy Bill Of Rights Act and pledging to work with the Administration and Congress to strengthen the bill.

“In 2012, you released your vision of the founding principles of consumer privacy — the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. Many of us hope that your principles, once implemented in legislation, will form a powerful framework to protect Americans’ fundamental right to privacy,” the 14 groups wrote in their joint letter. “Unfortunately, the discussion draft released last Friday falls short of that promise.”

Read the groups’ letter here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/ltrobamagroups030315.pdf

“The bill envisions a process where industry will dominate in developing codes of conduct,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director in a separate statement.  “The bill is full of loopholes and gives consumers no meaningful control of their data. Even the Federal Trade Commission says they have concerns that the draft bill does not provide consumers with the strong and enforceable protections needed to safeguard their privacy.”

Read the draft Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights Act here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/legislative/letters/cpbr-act-of-2015-discussion-draft.pdf

The groups applauded the Administration’s expressed willingness to work with them to improve the draft bill, but added:

“Nevertheless, substantial changes must still be made for the legislation to effectively protect Americans’ right to privacy. The bill should provide individuals with more meaningful and enforceable control over the collection, use and sharing of their personal information.  The bill should uphold state privacy laws and afford stronger regulatory and enforcement authority to the Federal Trade Commission.”

The groups said the draft Consumer Privacy Bill Of Rights includes these shortcomings:
— The bill does not adequately define what constitutes sensitive information, nor provide consumers with meaningful choices about this data.
— The bill does not protect large categories of personal information. It’s unclear if the bill protects geolocation data, and there are broad exceptions for business records, data “generally available to the public,” and cyber threat indicators.
— The bill gives companies broad leeway to determine the protections that consumers will receive.  Most of the bill’s protections apply only if a company identifies a risk of harm; other rules apply only if the company determines that certain processing is inconsistent with context.

−− The bill lets companies retain data indefinitely for investigations into certain types of crimes, without placing clear limits on data retention for that purpose.
−− The bill contains a broad exception for unreasonable uses of data that are supervised by self-regulatory Privacy Review Boards.

−− The bill does not give the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) adequate resources and strong enough standards to review what could be hundreds of proposed Codes of Conduct and Privacy Review Boards.

−− The main avenue for public participation is through Multistakeholder Processes that have, to date, brought few benefits for consumers—and that are often dominated by industry.

— The bill does not guarantee consumers meaningful access to and the ability to correct most sets of records held by data brokers.

— The bill fails to improve privacy protections for information about children and teens. The Privacy Bill of Rights section does not treat information about minors as sensitive information that deserves heightened protection, in contrast to existing law and FTC policy.

−− The bill prevents private citizens and state Attorneys General from taking meaningful action to protect privacy. The bill limits fines from the FTC in a way that would not deter large companies from significant privacy violations.

— The bill preempts strong state laws (with some exceptions), including many that give citizens the ability to defend their privacy rights in court. It does this without creating new protections that are clearly better.

“We still firmly believe that an overarching privacy law is critical to protect consumers and build trust in our digital world,” the groups’ letter concluded. “We will continue to work with Congress and your administration to craft a bill that creates strong, meaningful protections for consumers. We look forward to those discussions.”

In addition to Consumer Watchdog, the following signed the letter to President Obama: Center for Democracy and Technology, Center for Digital Democracy, Alvaro Bedoya of the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law (Affiliation for identification purposes only), Common Sense Media, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation, National Consumers League, New America’s Open Technology Institute, Public Knowledge, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and  U.S. PIRG.

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Consumer Watchdog Calls On FCC Not To Back Down From Regulating Google And Other “Edge Provider” Connections To Internet In Wake Of Lobbying By Internet Giant

SANTA MONICA, CA – The Federal Communication Commission should protect consumer privacy and regulate connections between the Internet and so-called “edge providers,” like Google, when the agency begins regulating broadband service like a public utility, Consumer Watchdog said today.

An FCC fact sheet about Chairman Tom Wheeler’s plans to reclassify broadband service said he intends to give the Commission authority “allowing it to address issues that may arise in the exchange of traffic between mass-market broadband providers and edge providers.”

Google lobbied the FCC, according to a filing last week, saying “the Commission should not attempt to classify a ‘service that broadband providers make available to ‘edge providers.’”

“Google is too big a goliath to escape FCC scrutiny of how it connects to the Internet,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director. “Google is two-faced. They’ve actively cultivated the public image of supporting net neutrality, but when the new rules would directly affect them, Google works behind the scenes to kill them.”

The Commission is expected to approve new rules at its meeting Thursday that would ensure net neutrality – the idea that all data traveling on the Internet is treated equally. Broadband service would be reclassified as a telecommunications service under Title II of the Communications Act and regulated like the phone company.  The FCC would “forbear” from enforcing provisions off the Act that are no longer in the public interest because of changes in technology.

Read the FCC factsheet here: https://www.fcc.gov/document/chairman-wheeler-proposes-new-rules-protecting-open-internet

Read Google’s filing about it lobbying here: http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/comment/view?id=60001019059

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Google Right To Be Forgotten Report Self-Serving Publicity Stunt, Consumer Watchdog Says; Group Says Privacy Right Should Be Adapted For United States, Not Just Europe

SANTA MONICA, CA – A Google-commissioned report advising that the Internet giant implement the right to be forgotten only in Europe is little more than a self-serving publicity stunt, Consumer Watchdog said today, adding that the important privacy protection should be implemented in the United States.

“The right to be forgotten is an important privacy protection in the digital age. It’s not censorship; it merely gives people some control over access to irrelevant information about them from the past,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director.  “Instead of trying to limit its scope, Google should be working to adapt the policy for the United States.”

In May the European Court of Justice ruled that a person has the right to request the removal of search engine links to information that is inadequate, irrelevant, no longer relevant, or excessive.  The removal isn’t automatic if requested. There needs to be a balance between the individual’s privacy and public’s right to know in making a decision to remove a link.

Since May Google has only implemented the ruling on European Internet domains like Google.ie, Google.co.uk, Google.fr and Google.de. The advisory panel endorsed – though not unanimously – Google’s approach.

The Google panel’s recommendation and Google’s implementation are at odds with the position of the Article 29 Working Party, the organization of all European data protection authorities. The group has said the right should be applied to all Google Internet domains, including Google.com.

In its Transparency Report Google says it has received evaluated 769,858 URLS for removal and removed 257,973 or 40.3 percent of them. Here is an example of a link Google says it removed: A woman requested the removal of a link to decades-old article about her husband’s murder, which included her name. Google removed the link from search results for her name.

Read Google’s Transparency Report about links removed here: https://www.google.com/transparencyreport/removals/europeprivacy/?hl=en

“As Google’s own examples clearly show, removal won’t always happen, but the balance Google has found between privacy and the public’s right to know demonstrates the company can make the right to be forgotten work,” wrote Simpson. “Americans deserve the same right to be forgotten.  With Google’s repeated claims to care about privacy, the company should be ashamed that it’s not treating people on both sides of the Atlantic the same way.”

Read the Google Advisory Council right to be forgotten here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1UgZshetMd4cEI3SjlvV0hNbDA/view?pli=1

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Google Spends Record $16.83 Million On 2014 Lobbying, Topping 15 Tech And Communications Companies; Facebook, Amazon, Apple Also Post Records

SANTA MONICA, CA – Google spent a record $16.83 million on lobbying in its efforts to influence federal regulators and lawmakers in 2014, just ahead of Comcast’s reported $16.80 million, according to records filed with the Clerk of the House and analyzed today by Consumer Watchdog.

Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan nonprofit public interest group, monitors the lobbying disclosure reports of 15 tech and communications companies. Facebook, Apple and Amazon also set corporate records for the amount they each spent.  The 15 companies spent a total of $116.62 million on lobbying in 2014, a 3 percent decrease from a total of  $120.28 million in 2013.  Six of the 15 companies increased their 2014 spending, while the rest cut back from 2013 levels

“It’s important to understand just how much money these companies are throwing around in Washington to buy the policies they want,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project Director. “Policymaking is now all about big bucks, not big ideas.”

Here is a link to the Clerk of the House’s Lobbying Disclosure database: http://disclosures.house.gov/ld/ldsearch.aspx

Google spent $16.83 million on lobbying in 2014 compared with $14.06 million in 2013, a 20 percent increase. Google’s fourth quarter lobbying expenditure was $3.78 million, a decrease of 5 percent from $3.98 million, in 2013.

Microsoft, Google’s archrival, which used to regularly outspend the Internet giant, spent roughly half of what Google spent. Microsoft reported spending  $8.33 million, a decrease of 20 percent from $10.49 million spent on 2013 lobbying.  Fourth quarter lobbing expenses were  $2.25 million compared to a $2.77 million, a 19 percent decrease from 2013.

Facebook, which has substantially increased its Washington presence over the last three years, posted another company record in its effort to influence policymakers.  Spending soared 45 percent to $9.34 million from $6.43 million in 2013.  Fourth quarter spending was $1.99 million compared to $1.48 million, an increase of 39 percent.

Amazon also posted a company record its disclosure forms show. It reported lobbying expenditures of $4.74 million, a 37 percent increase from $3.46 million in 2013. Fourth quarter spending was $1.67 million vs. $960,000, an increase of 74 percent.

Apple, too, is increasing its Washington activities. It spent $4.11 million in 2014, a record and a 22 percent increase from $3.37 million spent in 2013.  Fourth quarter spending was $1.19 million vs. $990,000 a 20 percent increase.

Here are the 2014 lobbying amounts for five other tech firms:

— Cisco spent $2.35 million in 2014, a 25 percent decrease from $3.12 million in 2013. Fourth quarter spending was $310,000 vs. $890,000 a decrease of 65 percent.

— IBM spent $4.95 million in 2014 a 30 percent decrease from $7.06 million in 2013. Fourth quarter spending was  $1.15 million vs. $1.90 million, a decrease of 39 percent.

— Intel spent $3.80 million in 2014, a 13 percent decrease from $4.39 million in 2013. Fourth quarter spending was $980,000 vs. $1.45 million vs., a decrease of 32 percent.

— Oracle spent $5.83 million a decrease of 3 percent from  $5.99 million in 2013.  Fourth quarter spending was $1.66 million vs. $1.60 million, an increase of 4 percent.

— Yahoo spent $2.94 million in 2014, an increase of 6 percent from $2.78 million in 2013. Fourth quarter spending was $740,000 vs. $720,000, an increase of 3 percent.

Two of three telecommunications companies decreased their spending on lobbying, while one increased expenditures in 2014:

— AT&T spent $14.56 million, a 9 percent decrease from $15.94 million in 2012. Fourth quarter spending was $3.06 million vs. $3.64 million, a decrease of 16 percent.

— Sprint spent $2.99 million, a 9 percent increase of from $2.75 million in 2013. Fourth quarter spending was $772,658 vs. $716,887, an increase of 8 percent.

— Verizon spent $11.22 million, a decrease of 17 percent from $13.44 million in 2013.  Fourth quarter spending was $2.97 million vs. $3.46 million, a decrease of 14 percent.

Here are 2014 lobbying expenditures for two cable companies:

— Comcast spent $16.8 million in 2014, a 10 percent decrease from $18.71 million in 2013.  Fourth quarter spending was $5.03 million vs. $4.78 million, a 5 percent increase.

— Time Warner Cable spent  $7.83 million in 2014, a 6 percent decrease from $8.29 million in 2013.  Fourth quarter spending was $2.2 million vs. $2.49 million, a decrease of 12 percent.

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Consumer Watchdog Welcomes Death Of Google Glass, Says Internet Giant Should Not Offer “Glass 2.0” Until Privacy Issues Are Solved

SANTA MONICA, CA – Consumer Watchdog today welcomed Google’s announcement that it would stop selling Google Glass, its privacy invasive wearable computing device and said the Internet giant should not offer a new version until privacy issues are solved.

“Google Glass may have appealed to a bunch of socially clueless ‘Glassholes’ who were oblivious to our privacy rights, but the device fulfilled no real consumer need,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director. “I’m only surprised it took them so long to kill the program as we know it.”

Last April the nonpartisan, nonprofit public interest group issued a report that found Glass inappropriate for the broad consumer market and urged consumers not to buy the device. Read the Consumer Watchdog’s Glass report here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/goolgeglassreport041414.pdf

Noting that Google said the company still hopes to offer a revised version of Glass, Consumer Watchdog said a Glass 2.0 must include privacy protections. The key problem with the wearable device, Consumer Watchdog said, is that it allows a user to easily make surreptitious and intrusive video recordings.

“Simply put, it is a perfect stalker’s tool,” said Simpson. “It’s difficult to see how they solve that.”

Consumer Watchdog’s April study offered this analysis: “While the device might be useful in a few narrow specialized circumstances, Google Glass is inappropriate for the broad consumer market. It threatens the privacy of both people whose images are captured unbeknownst to them and the user of the device.  It can distract the user at critical moments, perhaps when driving, posing a safety hazard. As Google itself acknowledges, Google Glass can pose health risks in some circumstances.  It can easily be used for improper and even criminal purposes.  It is a stalker’s delight and our tests of the device demonstrated how easily it could be used to surreptitiously capture a person’s PIN when they use an ATM.”

“Glassholes wanted the device because they thought it made them look cool,” said Simpson. “Now even Google gets that it didn’t.”

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Consumer Watchdog Warns Obama Not To Undercut Strong State Data and Privacy Laws

SANTA MONICA, CA – Consumer Watchdog today welcomed President Obama’s attention on consumer privacy and data breach issues, but cautioned that legislation he proposes must not provide weaker protection than is already offered by some state laws.

“It’s good that the president has re-focused on privacy and data security issues, but it would be terrible his proposals preempt stronger state laws and offer less protection.” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director. “Any national consumer privacy laws should be a floor, not a ceiling. States must be allowed to enact stronger measures.”

In speech at the Federal Trade Commission Obama said he would propose the Personal Data Notification and Protection Act that would set a 30-day data breach notification standard as well as the Student Data Privacy Act law that would prohibit tech companies from selling data collected from students or using it to sell ads.

Obama also said the Commerce Department will offer legislation within 45 days that would implement the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, first unveiled by the White House two years ago.

Details of the president’s initiatives were not immediately available.

“We’re concerned that in an effort to achieve bipartisan action there is a real possibility of passing loophole-laden legislation that actually makes things worse,” said Simpson.

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Privacy Alert: Consumer Watchdog Urges Public to ‘Opt Out’ of Cal INDEX Electronic Health Information Exchange

Ten Questions Blue Cross & Blue Shield Must Answer Before Patients Agree To Share Medical Records, Says Consumer Watchdog

SANTA MONICA, CA – Consumer Watchdog today urged consumers to opt out of the new electronic health information exchange, Cal INDEX, that is being set up by Blue Cross and Blue Shield until key questions about patient privacy are answered.

The nonpartisan, nonprofit public interest group added that the best way to protect privacy when sharing patient information is an opt-in approach.

The California Integrated Data Exchange — Cal INDEX – is an electronic health information exchange that is collecting patient records from healthcare providers and health insurers to allow them to share patients’ health information.

Consumers’ medical information is already being collected by Cal INDEX from Blue Cross and Blue Shield, but the organization has not yet made its privacy policy public, or clearly disclosed to the public how their medical information will be used.  Recently the two insurers have been notifying policyholders by mail and email that they have a right to opt out of having Cal INDEX share their records.

“If the exchange will do so much to benefit our health care, Cal INDEX should make that case and ask us to opt in,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project Director. “Instead, Blue Cross and Blue Shield are telling enrollees they can opt out during the busy holiday season when we are all distracted.  Worse, Cal INDEX fails to clearly explain its privacy protections and how it will operate. Consumers can’t make an informed decision based on what they’ve said so far.”

Consumer Watchdog said that while a comprehensive medical record exchange may ultimately help patients, the exchange must be transparent about its purposes before people agree to share their medical records.  Below are ten questions that must be answered before consumers can reasonably be expected to make a decision about what to do:

— What is Cal INDEX’s privacy policy and when will that policy be available to patients whose information is already being collected by Cal INDEX?

— Will I be able to see everything Cal INDEX collects on me?

— What providers submit patient information to the Cal INDEX network, and who has access to that information?

— If I opt out of Cal INDEX, but my medical provider is a participant, is my data still collected by Cal INDEX even if other providers can’t access it?

— Can I correct my Cal INDEX record if it is wrong?

— If I opt in and later change my mind, can I have my data removed from Cal INDEX?

— Can I choose which medical providers may share my information, and which may not, to protect medical information I do not want shared?

— Will my medical information be available to anyone other than my medical providers and insurance companies?

— What will health insurers do with my records? If I am covered by one insurer, will another insurer have access to my information?

— Will health insurance companies use the medical records on Cal INDEX for any purpose other than to provide my medical information to my medical providers?

“No consumer yet has enough information to decide whether to opt into Cal INDEX,” said Simpson. “The best privacy protection for now is to opt out.  You can always opt in when they make it clear what the benefits and protections will be.”

Cal INDEX is being set up with $80 million in seed money from Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of California. The insurers’ money will fund it for three years, with subscribers footing the bill after that.

Blue Shield and Blue Cross announced creation of the health information exchange to create a comprehensive collection of electronic patient records including clinical data from healthcare providers and health insurers. Cal INDEX says it will allow physicians, nurses and hospitals throughout the state to share patients’ health information and will provide them with the tools to help them give their patients the safest, highest-quality care possible. Cal INDEX says the exchange will help avoid possible duplicate procedures, cut medical costs, and provide data for medical research.

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Consumer Watchdog Urges European Parliament To Approve Call To Break Up Google

SANTA MONICA, CA – Consumer Watchdog today urged the European Parliament to pass a resolution calling for the break-up of Google to end the Internet giant’s monopolistic dominance, a remedy that the U.S. public interest group proposed more than four years ago.

The Parliament is expected today to take up a motion calling for the unbundling of search engines from a company’s other commercial services.

“It’s long been clear that Google uses its search results to unfairly advantage its own services,” said John M. Simpson, Director of Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project. “We proposed the break-up remedy to the U.S. Department of Justice in April 2010.”

While the European Parliament doesn’t have the power to break up Google, Consumer Watchdog said passage of the resolution would increase pressure on the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, to take a tougher line on Google in its antitrust investigation of the company or through the introduction of laws to curb Google’s reach.

Under former Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia there were three proposed settlements of the Commission’s four-year antitrust probe of Google, all of which were determined to offer inadequate remedies.

Incoming Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager is deciding what to next.

“The Commission should file a formal Statement of Objections,” said Simpson. “Breaking the Internet giant up into different companies according to the different lines of business is the way to go. We called for this back in 2010 and the need to do it has become even clearer as Google’s power has increased.”

Consumer Watchdog said letters on Tuesday from senior U.S. lawmakers expressing alarm about the European Parliament break-up resolution missed the point.

“Google got itself into this jam by its arrogant abuse of its tremendous power. I’m glad Europe’s parliamentarians see how dangerous Google is and are speaking out about it,” said Simpson. “U.S. consumers would be better served if our senators and congressmen did so too, instead of carrying Google’s water.”

Read Consumer Watchdog’s April 2010 news release here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/newsrelease/consumer-watchdog-calls-justice-department-launch-antitrust-action-against-google-includ

“Such action could include breaking Google Inc. into multiple separate companies or regulating it as a public utility,” Consumer Watchdog’s 2010 letter to the Justice Department said. “Google exerts monopoly power over Internet searches, controlling 70 percent of the U.S. market.  For most Americans – indeed, for most people in the world – Google is the gateway to the Internet. How it tweaks its proprietary search algorithms can ensure a business’s success or doom it to failure.”

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Consumer Watchdog Praises European Parliament’s Call To Break Up Google

Public Interest Group Proposed This Plan To End Search Dominance 4 Years Ago

SANTA MONICA, CA – Consumer Watchdog today praised an expected call from the European Parliament to break up Google to end the Internet giant’s monopolistic dominance, a remedy that the public interest group proposed more than four years ago.

The Financial Times first reported today that the European Parliament is expected to call for the break-up next week.  The newspaper said the motion, if passed as expected, would “increase political pressure on he European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, to take a tougher line on Google, either in its antitrust investigation into the company or through the introduction of laws to curb its reach.”

The FT reported that its reporters had seen a draft motion that calls for the “unbundling [of] search engines from other commercial services.”

“It’s long been clear that Google uses its search results to unfairly advantage its own services,” said John M. Simpson, Director of Consumer Watchdog’s privacy project. “We proposed the break-up remedy to the U.S. Department of Justice in April, 2010.”

Read Consumer Watchdog’s April 2010 news release here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/newsrelease/consumer-watchdog-calls-justice-department-launch-antitrust-action-against-google-includ

“Such action could include breaking Google Inc. into multiple separate companies or regulating it as a public utility,” Consumer Watchdog’s 2010 letter said. “Google exerts monopoly power over Internet searches, controlling 70 percent of the U.S. market.  For most Americans – indeed, for most people in the world – Google is the gateway to the Internet. How it tweaks its proprietary search algorithms can ensure a business’s success or doom it to failure.”

There have been three proposed settlements of the European Commission’s ongoing antitrust investigation of Google, all of which were determined to be inadequate.

“The Commission should file a formal Statement of Objections,” said Simpson. “Breaking the Internet giant up into different companies according to the different lines of business is the way to go. We called for this back in 2010 and the need to do this has become even clearer as Google’s power has increased.”

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Automakers’ Privacy Principles Offer Little Real Protection, Consumer Watchdog Says

SANTA MONICA, CA – Consumer Privacy Protection Principles just released by two automakers’ trade associations do little to protect consumers’ sensitive data that is increasingly collected by modern cars and trucks, Consumer Watchdog said today.

“The broad principles based on the Fair Information Practice Principles (FIPPs) — transparency, choice, respect for context, data minimization, and data security — sound good, but the rest of the document that explains how they will be implemented reads like it was written by lawyers paid by the word to obfuscate the issues, rather than make them clear,” said John M. Simpson, director of the nonprofit, nonpartisan group’s Privacy Project. “It is full of loopholes.”

Consumer Watchdog said a positive aspect of the release of the principles by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of Global Automakers is that the manufacturers are finally acknowledging that modern vehicles collect a tremendous amount of sensitive personal information that threatens consumers’ privacy.

Read the automakers’ principles here: www.automotiveprivacy.com

“The auto manufacturers want to claim this loophole laden self-regulatory code means that there is no need for real regulations with penalties to protect consumers,” said Simpson. “Instead, the automakers’ principles show what happens when the fox writes the rules governing the henhouse. Drivers need real privacy protection, backed by the law. I hope this woefully inadequate document prompts policymakers to act.”

Consumer Watchdog applauded the automakers pledge that they won’t turn over geo-location information to law enforcement agencies without a warrant, but beyond that found little meaningful protection or choice for consumers. “They pledge not to use your data for marketing without permission, but it looks like they plan to keep profiles on you for just about any other purpose,” said Simpson.

The principles’ data security provision is troublesome, Consumer Watchdog said.  The provision says, “Participating members commit to implementing reasonable measures to protect covered information against loss and unauthorized access of use.”  It defines reasonable measures to “include standard industry practices. Those practices evolve over time and in reaction to evolving threats and vulnerabilities.”

“Put that into plain English and it translates to:  We commit to do what we’re doing now.  If there’s enough pressure and criticism we may do more in the future,” said Simpson.

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Moffett Field Lease Deal Wrongly Rewards Google Execs’ Longstanding Abuse

SANTA MONICA, CA – NASA’s just announced lease agreement with a Google subsidiary to manage Moffett Federal Airfield wrongly rewards the Internet giant’s executives for longstanding abuses at Ames Research Center, Consumer Watchdog said.

NASA claimed the lease would save the agency approximately $6.3 million annually in maintenance and operation costs and provide $1.16 billion in rent over the initial 60-year lease term.

“In fact the lease gives Google unprecedented control of a federal facility to use as its own playground,” said John M. Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project.

Last December a NASA audit found that the jet fleet owned through a company called H211 by Google Chairman Eric Schmidt and Co-Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin received an unwarranted discount worth up to $5.3 million on jet fuel purchased from the government while basing their fleet of corporate jets at Moffett.

“This is like giving the keys to your car to the guy who has been siphoning gas from your tank,” said Simpson. “It is unfairly rewarding unethical and wrongful behavior.  These Google guys seem to think they can do whatever they want and get away with it – and, sadly, it looks like that is true.”

Google has said it plans to test its driverless cars at Moffett, which would enable it to escape California regulations requiring that such vehicles must have a driver capable of taking over control.

In December NASA Inspector General Paul Martin wrote:

“Specifically, we calculated that since inception of its lease H211 paid approximately $3.3 million to $5.3 million less in fuel costs that it would have paid to buy fuel at market rates compared to the amount it paid DLA-Energy. We also found that H211 received a significant discount on fuel for its many non-NASA-related flights to which it was not entitled. While this arrangement did not cause an economic loss to NASA or DLA-Energy, it did result in considerable savings for H211 and engendered a sense of unfairness and a perception of favoritism toward H211 and its owners. Accordingly, we recommend that NASA explore with the company possible options to remedy this situation.”

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Google Spends $3.94 Million On 3rd Quarter Lobbying; Comcast Spends $4.23 Million; Facebook Lists $2.45 Million As Amazon Sets Record Of $1.18 Million, Reports Show

SANTA MONICA, CA – Google spent $3.94 million lobbying the federal government in the third quarter, off from its record $5.30 million in the previous quarter, but up 17 percent from $3.37 million in the comparable period in 2013, according to records just filed with the Clerk of the House of Representatives and analyzed today by Consumer Watchdog.

Of 15 tech and communications companies’ lobbying spending monitored by Consumer Watchdog only Comcast, which is seeking approval for a $45 billion deal to acquire Time Warner Cable spent more than the Internet giant, reporting lobbying costs for the third quarter of $4.23 million.  Nine of the 15 companies monitored trimmed their expenditures compared to the third quarter of 2013.

Facebook spent $2.45 million, topping $2.12 million spent in the second quarter, but not quite matching their record $2.78 million spent in the first quarter.  Third-quarter spending by the social network in 2014 increased 70 percent from $1.44 million in 2013.

Amazon set another company record for its spending, $1.18 million, spending more than $1 million in a quarter for the second time.  Amazon’s lobbying outlay was a 51 percent increase from $780,000 in 2013. Amazon spent $1.06 million in the second quarter of 2014.

Google’s archrival Microsoft, which until recently had outspent Google on lobbying efforts, trimmed its outlay to $1.66 million, decrease of 26 percent from $2.23 million in 2013.  It was also below second quarter spending of  $2.34 million.

“These lobbying disclosure statements don’t include payments to trade associations or the sort of ‘soft’ lobbying that has become a Google trademark – funds to think tanks and academic research centers,” noted Simpson. “When all that is factored in, the amounts are staggering. Policymaking is no longer about what’s right; it’s all about the money.”

(Update: Sena Fitzmaurice, Comcast’s vice president for government communications, called to explain that a portion of trade assocaition dues, based on the lobbying done by the association, such as the National Cable and Telecommunications Assiciation, is in fact included in Comcast’s total reported lobbying amount. The figure is not broken out anywhere, but the trade association reports what it spent on lobbying. NCTA spent $3.81 million on lobbying in the third quarter, House disclosure records show.)

View the Clerk of the House’s Lobbying Disclosure database here: http://disclosures.house.gov/ld/ldsearch.aspx

Here are the third quarter lobbying amounts for the six other tech firms:
— Apple spent $1.01 million in 2014, a 4 percent increase from $970,000 in 2013.
— Cisco Systems spent $730,00 in 2014, an 18 percent decrease from $890,000 in 2013.
— IBM spent $850,000 in 2014, a 28 percent decrease from $1.18 million in 2013.
— Intel spent $810,000 in 2014, a 23 percent decrease from $1.12 million in 2013.
— Oracle spent $1.20 million in 2014, a 12 percent decrease from $1.36 million in 2013.
— Yahoo spent $730,000 in 2014, a 16 percent increase from $630,000 in 2013.

Here are third quarter lobbying expenditures for three telecommunications companies:
— AT&T spent $3.47 million, a 19 percent decrease from $4.30 million in 2013.
— Sprint spent $706,343, a 2 percent decrease from $718,096 in 2013.
— Verizon spent $2.91 million, a 4 percent decrease from $3.04 million in 2013.

Here are lobbying expenditures for two cable companies:
— Comcast spent $4.23 million, a 6 percent increase from $3.98 million in 2013.
— Time Warner Cable spent $1.80 million, an 8 percent decrease from $1.96 million in 2013.

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