Standing up to Google’s heavy-handed pressure

I was in Washington, DC, last week to attend EPIC’s Champion of Freedom Awards Dinner. One honoree in particular prompted the cross-country trip: The Rose Foundation.

EPIC — the better known acronym for the Electronic Privacy Information Center — has been focusing attention on civil liberties and privacy issues since 1994.  We joined with them recently to complain to the Federal Trade Commission about Facebook’s most recent privacy intrusions.

Tim Little, Rose’s executive director, represented the charitable foundation at the  dinner.  The program explained the reason for the award:

“The Rose Foundation also confronted powerful companies that tried to terminate funding for some of the Foundation’s grantees.  The Rose Foundation did not waiver and maintained support for independent research and advocacy.”

Well, just so you know, the powerful company trying to mess with funding was Internet giant, Google, and the grantee was Consumer Watchdog. We had received a $100,000 grant from Rose to fund our Google Privacy Project. Bob Boorstin, one of the top executives in Google’s Washington lobby shop, didn’t like a news release we issued.  He sent emails to Little suggesting we not be funded.  Little rebuffed him and sent us the email exchange, which we released.

Last fall, I was in Washington to testify about Google before the House Judiciary Committee.  Boorstin’s boss, Alan Davidson, was in the audience. During a break he tried to make up and we chatted a bit. He said we should make a point of talking more frequently.

I told him that was difficult to do when Google executives were trying to get our funding yanked.  He told me that Boorstin had admitted he was wrong and had apologized. I agreed that he had been quoted in the media as saying he was wrong to have intervened and that he was sorry.

But, I stressed, I always understood that if you were sincere about an apology you made sure you actually delivered it to the parties you had wronged.  I told Davidson that neither Consumer Watchdog nor the Rose Foundation had heard anything from Boorstin.

I asked  Little at the EPIC dinner if he had ever received an apology from Boorstin.  I bet you’re shocked, just shocked, to learn that both of us are still waiting.

The Rose Foundation took an important, principled stance against a corporate giant accustomed to throwing its weight around and getting its way. It set a high standard for all charitable foundations and provided a glimmer of hope for those of us who want to end corporations’ stranglehold on our democracy. I was delighted to be able to help honor them.

Published by John M. Simpson

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.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.