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Google Watchdog Battle Heats Up

By NATIONAL JOURNAL ONLINE

Tue, Feb 24, 2009 at 10:43 am

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A battle between Internet giant Google and a Santa Monica, Calif.-based group that has been pressuring the company to enhance the privacy and security of its various Web applications appears to be getting bloodier. Earlier this month, Bob Boorstin, director of Google’s corporate and policy communications, wrote to the head of the Rose Foundation, which funds Consumer Watchdog, complaining the group launched "totally fictitious" attacks on his company. Most recently, Consumer Watchdog accused Google — absent any evidence and referencing "a rumored lobbying effort" in a press release — of trying to obtain permission to sell patient medical records.

"I am hoping that as you consider the activities of your grantees and whether to renew your commitments, you will take these kinds of activities into account and consider whether there might be better groups in which to place your trust and resources," Boorstin said in an email to Rose Foundation Executive Director Tim Little. Boorstin also asked Little’s permission to write to his board of trustees to highlight Consumer Watchdog’s activities. Little replied that his foundation "welcomes feedback and comment on all of its grantmaking programs" but noted the philanthropy has a longstanding policy of not interfering in its grantees’ work. He added that the foundation "believes that Consumer Watchdog is raising very fundamental questions about privacy over the Internet."

Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court wrote to Google CEO Eric Schmidt Monday arguing that his top executives must "have more important priorities than defunding a consumer group critical of your lack of privacy protections." In the letter, he laid out some observations about Google’s perceived "less than open corporate culture, its opaque public policymaking division and some suggestions for change and moving forward." Read previous posts about Google and Consumer Watchdog here and here as well as the email exchange between Boorstin and Little here and Court’s letter to Schmidt here.

Update: Late Monday, Boorstin issued a statement saying that Google routinely has meetings with groups that disagree with his company and has engaged for months with Consumer Watchdog, sending them detailed responses to their concerns about user privacy. The group’s recent actions, however, led Google to believe that "they are more interested in attracting media attention than in engaging in an open and honest dialog." Nonetheless, Boorstin said he made a mistake in sending information about the group’s activities to the Rose Foundation and he apologized. "Google supports the right of anyone or any institution to fund whatever group or project they choose," he added.

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