Jamie Court is eating lunch and talking about Google. Or rather, he’s speaking voluminously in a rat-a-tat of sentences about the Internet giant, between occasional fork-stabs of salad.
It’s four days before Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, is set to appear at a Sacramento press conference to announce the introduction of “Do Not Track Me” legislation in the California Senate.
If passed, the bill would be the first state law to stop online companies from tracking site visitors’ activities by using their browsers’ permission. The cute animal sites, the porno palaces and the Web pages that report on Kim Kardashian’s well-being now are being legally tracked and leveraged for advertisers by Google.
Consumer Watchdog has dogged Google since 2008 on a number of issues. Particularly galling to Court is Google’s massive collection of Internet users’ information obtained through unencrypted Wi-Fi networks, which he says is a violation of wiretapping laws.
“The reason we’ve been fighting Google is, this is a classic case of engineers not checking in about the rule of law, about social customs, about our mores of society,” says Court, who dubs the company “Engineers Gone Wild.”
Watchdog has its own tagline: “Expose. Confront. Change.” And Court, who has authored books such as The Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell, embodies it. He’s funny, ballsy, unrepentantly honest and unafraid of pissing off state legislators and other pols.
Evidently he never got the memo that, to effect legislative action, players make nice-nice. “It’s really hard to be in politics when you’re willing to tell the truth, because politicians hate being outed.”
In 2003, officials turned off his microphone during a California Senate hearing when he questioned whether a bill was about “good policy” or about ensuring campaign contributions.
That year he also sparred with then-Speaker Herb Wesson, who got the California Highway Patrol to investigate him after he published partial Social Security numbers of politicians who refused to vote for a financial-privacy bill.
Wesson, he says, “thought it was intimidation under the state constitution, which proved my point about how much they cared about their own privacy. Maybe they should care about ours, because I bought those Social Security numbers on the Internet for 26 bucks each. It’s a classic piece of hypocrisy.”
Court’s brash moves earned criticism but helped CW, founded by consumer advocate Harvey Rosenfield, to score some key legislative and other victories.
Consumer Watchdog targets corporate misbehavior, confronts politicians about campaign contributors and drives legislation on behalf of consumers. In January, the group was vocal in shaming Blue Shield into freezing life-threatening 86.5 percent increases in health insurance premiums.
Court says CW takes on issues that are supported by 70 percent or more of the public. And, he warns, “If [politicians] want to fight with public opinion, they won’t be politicians for very long.”
To quote Google’s tagline: Don’t be evil.