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Google is committed to openness — for everybody else

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Tue, Mar 30, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    Google is committed to openness — for everybody else

    Google continues to demonstrate that when comes to a commitment to openness and transparency the Internet giant is really talking about holding others to that standard, certainly not itself.

    It’s an involved legal tale as you’ll see in what follows, but once again shows Google doesn’t bother to apply its high-falutin’ principles to its own behavior.

    The latest example is the case of Bob Tur, the independent Los Angeles broadcast journalist, who first used helicopters to cover breaking news and was the first to televise a high-speed police chase. You might remember him from the infamous O.J. Simpson "low-speed chase."

    He was also the first to sue YouTube for copyright infringement, even before Google owned the popular video site.  Tur’s action was combined with a suit brought by the English Football Association Premier League and may become a class action suit.  In a separate, but related case, Viacom is seeking $1 billion in its infringement suit against YouTube and Google.

    As part of of the legal maneuvering  Google and YouTube executives were deposed under oath, but the transcripts were sealed.  Even though thousands of pages of documents were made public in the case on March 18,  Google continues to insist the depositions of CEO Eric Schmidt, Co-Founder Larry Page and YouTube founder Chad Hurley remain secret. What are they hiding?

    An enterprising reporter for online news site CNET, Greg Sandoval, managed to obtain at least a portion of Schmidt’s deposition last fall.  As Sandoval revealed, in the deposition Schmidt had acknowledged Google paid an inflated price for YouTube — $1 billion more  than Google estimated it was actually worth.

    Google’s attorneys charge it was Tur who leaked the deposition to CNET last year.  The leaked documents were the subject of a hearing Friday in U.S. Court in Manhattan before Judge Louis Stanton. Many of the documents relating to the leak were officially unsealed Friday, but they still aren’t available on the court’s online document system.

    Tur’s attorney, Seymour Fagan of Los Angeles, calls Google’s claim "egregious and false accusations."  He adds that Google’s charge is "riddled with accusations not supported by the evidence and deliberately fails to inform the court of exculpatory evidence reported in forensic studies."

    However, Judge Stanton has apparently decided there’s enough to warrant going further and will let Google’s lawyers file a motion seeking sanctions against Tur. The judge then would hold a separate jury trial on whether Tur had leaked the documents. If the jury finds he had, then Tur’s case could be dismissed.  The actions by others would continue.

    At Friday’s hearing Google and YouTube’s attorney, Andrew Schapiro indicated he’d be interested in having CNET reporter Sandoval testify if there were a trial about the leaked documents.

    Here’s what’s wrong with this picture.  If you’re committed to "openness and transparency" depositions from your top executives would never have been kept secret. Even if they had been sealed, when the rest of the documents were released on March 18, the depositions would have been made public as well.  Finally, if you’re committed to openness, you don’t harass reporters about their sources. You certainly don’t haul them into court.

    Unless you’re Google.  Then you do what is expedient and urge everyone else to do what’s right. I haven’t checked lately; maybe that’s the new definition of "don’t be evil."

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    This post was written by:

    John M. Simpson

    - who has written 414 posts on Inside Google.

    Contact the author

    2 Responses to “Google is committed to openness — for everybody else”

    1. Chris Says:

      Depositions of top executives are sealed because they contain more than just information about ‘what happened’. They would contain confidential financial information, product development plans and cycles, etc.. For instance I would almost guarantee that Google TV, which was just announced, was a part of the conversation since that now seems to have been part of the goal of acquiring youTube.

      As a privacy advocate I would think you would understand the need for some privacy in matters related to finances and corporate planning. Or should all of Google’s competitors be given a competitive advantage?

      Secondly, if Tur is guilty (which he may very well not be, but this case will determine), why are journalists allowed to release private, sealed court documents with no repercussions?

      Journalists shouldn’t be held to any of the privacy restrictions that Google is required to uphold? Looks like Journalists are “committed to openness — for everybody else”…

    2. Hugh Says:

      John, exposing *confidential* documents to the public like that is never okay, as a privacy advocate you should know that.

      Or do you advocate privacy only when it serves you?

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