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Will Google’s Legal Woes Define How Far It Crossed The Creepy Line?

By , NETWORKWORLD.COM

Thu, Apr 14, 2011 at 10:03 am

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Consumer Watchdog’s scorecard is full of “evil” tally marks against Google. Some claim that Microsoft is spreading FUD, but legal woes facing Google seem to disagree that Google hasn’t crossed creepy line.

Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt described Google’s mindset as, “There is what I call the creepy line. And the Google policy about a lot of these things is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it.” There seems to be a growing global consensus that Google crossed way past the creepy line long ago.

The scorecard is full of “evil” tally marks against Google. There was a global-scale scandal from Google Wi-Spy privacy investigations, after Google had untruthfully claimed it only collected “fragments” of data from homes and had even filed a patent in 2008, which wasn’t published until 2010, that fits closely with what the Street View cars collected. Then this February, Consumer Watchdog called for hearings to determine why Google collected partial Social Security numbers from children for its Doodle 4 Google contest. The watchdog group has also called into question Google’s relationship with the NSA and if that relationship has both benefited and protected Google.

Congressman John Barrow recently sent out a letter about Google’s “deceptive and intrusive practices,” mentioning Google Buzz, Wi-Spy, and Doodle 4 Google and then requested the House Energy and Commerce Committee to launch investigative hearings into Google’s consumer privacy standards. Google has gone from “don’t be evil” to a possible antitrust investigation.

Consumer Watchdog’s Inside Google asked the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee to investigate Google twisting the truth to the government about its cloud computing service. “Making misrepresentations to government agencies, particularly involving security clearance, again shows the arrogance of Google engineers, who give little respect to civil society and its accepted rules of conduct. We again urge your committee to hold hearings.”

In the next post, Inside Google reported more trouble for Google coming from Los Angeles City Hall. “More than a year after the city awarded Google a $7.2-million contract to provide email for its 30,000 employees, Google has been unable to meet crucial security requirements, preventing nearly half of city personnel from moving to the new system.”

The City of L.A. filed this Notice of Deficiencies document [PDF] listing out the last-minute delays by Google despite promises to have the system installed. The L.A. notice to Google and its partner Computer Sciences Corp (CSC) stated, “These failures are wholly unacceptable to the City of Los Angeles. CSC and Google have repeatedly committed to meet particular deliverables on specific dates, only to reveal, at the last minute, that the set deliverables/dates will not be met. CSC and Google’s behavior goes beyond a mere failure to communicate in a timely manner, and instead, on several occasions, has risen to the level of misrepresentation.”

After an attorney for Microsoft all but called Google a liar for ‘misleading’ security claims made to the government, there are many comments on the Microsoft post claiming Microsoft is spreading FUD (fear, uncertainly, doubt) about Google. But the General Services Administration (GSA) that certified Google Apps Premier does not think that it covers Apps for Government. The Justice Department seems to calling Google out as well.

A Department of Justice report does basically state that Google lied about having the proper government security certification for its Google Apps for a Government product meant to run email and online collaboration services for the Interior Department. After an investigation, the DOJ found the product (which resulted in a multi-million dollar government contract) lacked a Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) certification. Google could possibly face a violation of the federal False Claims Act.

In the truth about Google Apps and FISMA, Google fired back and called Microsoft’s blog post “breathless.” Google denied wrongdoing, claiming that Google Apps for Government did not require a separate application and could be incorporated into its existing FISMA certification.

It’s quite possible that Microsoft is pleased as punch. Although MS used to dominate in all areas, people grew to dislike Microsoft after being “under the spotlight for antitrust, due to its market share and accusations of abusing its monopoly power.” The love affair that consumers have had for Google seems to be dwindling at a fast pace. The legal problems facing Google now may define where that “creepy line” is and just how far Google has crossed it.

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