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Google employee’s misleading testimony prompts Consumer Watchdog to call for Wi-Spy hearing

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Thu, Nov 11, 2010 at 11:18 am

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Google employee’s misleading testimony prompts Consumer Watchdog to call for Wi-Spy hearing

CEO Schmidt Should Go To Washington Under Oath

SANTA MONICA, CA – Consumer Watchdog today asked the House Energy and Commerce Committee to hold hearings into Google’s Wi-Spying because a ranking employee of the Internet giant gave testimony that contradicted known facts about the company’s massive privacy invasion.

In a letter to Rep. Henry Waxman, (D-CA) chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Rep. Joe Barton, (R-Tex) ranking member, the nonprofit, nonpartisan public interest group said a Congressional hearing is necessary even though the Federal Communications Commission said it is investigating.

“CEO Eric Schmidt and Alma Whitten, director of privacy for engineering and product management, should testify under oath to provide the America public with the answers it deserves,” wrote Jamie Court, Consumer Watchdog president and John M. Simpson, director of the group’s Inside Google project.

“The best venue to get a full explanation under oath of what happened and its implications for a company whose entire business is based on gathering information about its users, is a Congressional hearing,” the letter said. “Google has demonstrated a troubling pattern of changing its story in public statements as it has offered explanations of why it gathered private data from wireless networks.  Moreover, it is clear that Whitten, who mentioned Google’s Wi-Spying in Congressional testimony this summer, gave a written statement that contradicted the facts.”

Read the letter here: http://insidegoogle.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/LtrWaxmanBarton111110.pdf

Whether Whitten’s written testimony was a deliberate attempt to mislead or if it was inadvertent must be determined, Consumer Watchdog said. “Whitten’s actions must be examined closely because in its effort to revamp its image and portray itself as a company concerned about consumers’ privacy, Google has promoted her to director of privacy for engineering and product management,” Court and Simpson wrote.

Here is what happened: On July 27, Ms. Whitten, then Google’s lead privacy engineer, testified to a Senate Commerce Committee hearing about online privacy. She said that there was an “absence of any breach of personal data” as a result of the Wi-Spying activities, in which Google’s Street View cars gathered information from private wireless networks. However, based on an investigation by the French National Commission on Computing and Liberty it was already clear in June there had been a breach of personal data.

“Google CEO Eric Schmidt should also be questioned under oath about the scandal,” Court and Simpson wrote.  “As chief executive he is ultimately responsible for the Internet giant’s approach to privacy.  He should have to explain what he means when he says Google’s policy is to go ‘right up to the creepy line.’ We suspect that such a cavalier attitude toward consumers’ privacy has much to do with creating the culture that encouraged Google’s Wi-Spy intrusions.”

The letter said Consumer Watchdog was pleased with the announcement from the Federal Communications Commission that it is investigating whether Google’s actions broke federal wiretap laws.  It added that the ongoing coordinated probe by 38 state attorneys general should reveal any state laws that the Wi-Spy activity broke. Nonetheless, a Congressional hearing is necessary, Consumer Watchdog said. It is the best venue to get a full explanation under oath of what happened and its implications for consumers is a Congressional hearing.

Consumer Watchdog has been working to protect consumers’ online privacy rights and educate them about the issues through its Inside Google Project. The goal has been to convince Google of the social and economic importance of giving consumers control over their online lives. By persuading Google, the Internet’s leading company, to adopt adequate guarantees, its policies could become the gold standard for privacy for the industry, potentially improving the performance of the entire online sector.

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Consumer Watchdog, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan consumer advocacy organization with offices in Washington, DC and Santa Monica, Ca.  Consumer Watchdog’s website is www.ConsumerWatchdog.org. Visit our new Google Privacy and Accountability Project website: http://insidegoogle.com

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This post was written by:

John M. Simpson

- who has written 349 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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One Response to “Google employee’s misleading testimony prompts Consumer Watchdog to call for Wi-Spy hearing”

  1. Sarah Says:

    America”n” public. John did you read this: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-11748346

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