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Consumer Watchdog Lauds Clinton’s Call For Open Internet, Stresses Need For Online Consumer Privacy Safeguards

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Thu, Jan 21, 2010 at 10:13 am

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Consumer Watchdog Lauds Clinton’s Call For Open Internet, Stresses Need For Online Consumer Privacy Safeguards

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.

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This post was written by:

John M. Simpson

- who has written 350 posts on Inside Google.

John M. Simpson is a leading voice on technological privacy and stem cell research issues. His investigations this year of Google’s online privacy practices and book publishing agreements triggered intense media scrutiny and federal interest in the online giant’s business practices. His critique of patents on human embryonic stem cells has been key to expanding the ability of American scientists to conduct stem cell research. He has ensured that California’s taxpayer-funded stem cell research will lead to broadly accessible and affordable medicine and not just government-subsidized profiteering. Prior to joining Consumer Watchdog in 2005, he was executive editor of Tribune Media Services International, a syndication company. Before that, he was deputy editor of USA Today and editor of its international edition. Simpson taught journalism a Dublin City University in Ireland, and consulted for The Irish Times and The Gleaner in Jamaica. He served as president of the World Editors Forum. He holds a B.A. in philosophy from Harpur College of SUNY Binghamton and was a Gannett Fellow at the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Hawaii. He has an M.A. in Communication Management from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication.

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