WASHINGTON, DC — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s condemnation of cyber attacks and censorship is an important endorsement of a free global Internet, but just as important to ensuring the Internet’s contribution to democracy and economic growth is a commitment to consumer privacy, Consumer Watchdog said today.
“Too many online companies ignore a consumer’s right to control information gathered about their behavior on the Internet,” said John M. Simpson, a consumer advocate with the nonpartisan, nonprofit consumer group. “Consider Google; they track your every move as you use their services and surf the Web just so they can mine the accumulated data and serve up targeted ads.”
Consumer Watchdog said Clinton’s speech demonstrated the State Department is playing a key role in ensuring an open Internet globally, but said the Federal Trade Commission must act to ensure consumer privacy is guaranteed within the United States.
Clinton’s high-profile speech on Internet policy came after a recent incident in which hackers, widely believed to be tied to the Chinese government, gained access to Google and at least 30 other corporate computer networks. Google revealed the cyber attacks and said it would no longer self-censor search results on its China Internet search engine, Google.cn.
Cyber attacks and censorship undermine the free flow of information on the Internet and must be thwarted, Consumer Watchdog agreed. Equally important to a vibrant cyber economy, the group said, is that consumers are able to trust online companies not to abuse their privacy. Too often privacy guarantees are given short shrift in the drive for profits.
“For instance, Google tells us they are a technology company that wants to organize the world’s information and make it accessible,” said Simpson. “In analyzing Google’s every move we need to understand they are fundamentally an advertising business. Most of what they do is to maximize those revenues.”
Documents filed with the SEC show that 97 percent of the Internet giant’s revenue came from advertising in the third quarter of 2009. The documents show that 53 percent of its revenue came from outside the Unite States.
“Google was right to end its misguided self-censorship in the face of the Chinese cyber attacks and good for them,” said Simpson. “But while I’m concerned about the Chinese attacks, I’m even more concerned about the private data gold mine Google and other online companies have gathered about us, what they do with it and whom they share it with. Consumers must have control of what data is gathered, how it is used, how long its kept and whether it is even gathered.”
Meanwhile, the FTC is holding a series of roundtable discussions to discuss online privacy issues. The second in the three-part series is next Thursday in Berkeley, Ca. Read about the Privacy Roundtable.
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Consumer Watchdog, formerly the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights is a nonprofit, nonpartisan consumer advocacy organization with offices in Washington, DC and Santa Monica, Ca. Our website is: www.ConsumerWatchdog.org.