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Consumer Group Lampoons Google CEO Over Privacy Issues

By , COMPUTERWORLD

Fri, Sep 3, 2010 at 4:46 pm

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Takes out Times Square ad satirizing Eric Schmidt

Consumer Watchdog, a group that has been a sharp critic of Google’s privacy practices in the past, is at it again.

The Santa Monica, Calif.-based consumer advocacy group has placed an ad on a 540-square-foot digital display in New York’s Times Square to promote an animated video on YouTube that depicts Google CEO Eric Schmidt as an ice cream truck driver secretly spying on children.

The 15-second plug is scheduled to air 36 times a day through Oct. 15 and is designed to highlight Google’s “tone-deafness to privacy,” said John Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog.

The video, titled “Don’t Be Evil?” was spurred by what the group claims is Google’s disregard for privacy issues as evidenced by its collection of personal data through its Street View cars and its decision to make private Gmail contacts publicly available on its social networking application Buzz.

By satirizing Schmidt in one of the busiest public squares in the nation, Consumer Watchdog also hopes to draw attention to the broader need for Google and others to stop gathering personal information without user consent, Simpson said.

The goal is to raise public awareness of the need for an online “Do Not Track Me” list that would work in a manner similar to the Federal Trade Commission’s Do Not Call list, he said.

“There seems to be a great demand among the population for serious and meaningful privacy controls” that curb online tracking, Simpson said. There also appears to be a growing receptiveness within Congress for such legislation, he said.

According to Consumer Watchdog, a poll that was conducted on its behalf by Grove Insight, showed that 80% of Americans support a Do Not Track Me List and 86% favor options that would allow them to stop anyone from tracking their online searches and purchases.

Google officials have downplayed Consumer Watchdog’s criticism against the company as being unfair and attention-seeking.

In a brief statement, a Google spokesman dismissed Consumer Watchdog’s campaign.

“We like ice cream as much as anyone, but we like privacy even more,” the spokesman said, “That’s why we provide tools for users to control their privacy online, like Google Dashboard, Ads Preferences Manager, Chrome incognito mode and ‘off the record’ Gmail chat.” All of these tools can be accessed by users at google.com/privacy, he added.

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