Consumer Watchdog Endorses “Focus On The User” Project

Website & “Widget” Demonstrate How Google Favors Its Own Services In Local Search Results

SANTA MONICA, CA – Consumer Watchdog today endorsed a new website, “Focus on the User” and a downloadable “widget” available on the site that demonstrates how Google favors its own services in local search results.

View the web site here:

“Consumer Watchdog endorses the ‘Focus on the User’ project as an important way to educate consumers and policymakers about Google’s unfair search practices,” said John M. Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy project.

The website explains how Google uses its Google+ service to skew results in the so-called “one-box” that highlights results from location-based services.

“Google is acting anti-competitively by abusing its dominant position in organic search to tie its vertical search products, depriving consumers of relevant results, stifling competition and impairing innovation,” the “Focus on the User” website says. “Consumers need to be able to access competitive sources of information from across the web; by tying its own vertical search products to organic search results, Google prevents this.”

Importantly, the “Focus on the User” website goes beyond rhetoric and offers a downloadable widget, “Focus on the User – local”, that was developed by computer engineers from Yelp and TripAdvisor. The widget is an extension for Google’s browser, Chrome and allows the user to click between a display based on organic search results and the skewed results offered by Google because it ties them to Google+. The widget gives best results if searches are done on one of Google’s European domains, such as or, because they do not display a “carousel” of location results, but rather a simple one-box.

“Consumers can see and understand what’s going on in real time,” said Simpson.  “It’s eye opening and is a valuable tool.”

Google has been under investigation by the European Commission for antitrust violations since 2010.  Earlier this year the Internet giant offered a third settlement proposal.  Over the summer significant objections to the proposed deal were raised and outgoing Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said further concessions from Google would be needed to reach a settlement.

The case won’t be closed before Almunia leaves office Oct. 31 and it will be taken over by incoming Competition Commissioner Margarethe Vestager, former Danish Economics Minister. She will decide whether a negotiated settlement can be reached or if a formal Statement of Objections – like an indictment – should be filed.  That could make the Internet giant liable for fines of up to about $5 billion.

HolidayCheck, Jameda and Fight for the Future also endorsed the “Focus on the User” project.


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Consumer Privacy Groups Stress Opposition To Settlement In Google Privacy Suit

SANTA MONICA, CA — Five consumer privacy groups today emphasized their continuing opposition to a proposed $8.5 million settlement in a class action suit against Google for privacy violations in the way it handled users’ search data because the chanel espadrilles proposed deal provides no benefit to class members.

In a letter to Judge Edward J. Davila, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), Consumer Watchdog, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, the Center for Digital Democracy and Patient Privacy Rights said:

“First, the proposed settlement fails to require Google to make any substantive changes to its business practices; second, it provides no monetary relief to the class; and third, the proposed cy pres allocations do not meet the Ninth Circuit’s requirements for alignment with the interests of class members.”

Read the groups’ letter here:

The final fairness hearing in the case, known as the Google Referrer Header Litigation, is before Judge Davaila on Friday in U.S. District Court in San Jose, CA.

“As the date of the final fairness hearing approaches, we respectfully urge you to address the ‘obvious deficiencies’ we identified in our letter to you last year,” the groups wrote.

Read the groups’ earlier letter here:

The five consumer privacy groups have also asked the Federal Trade Commission and the California Attorney General to oppose the settlement.

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Consumer Privacy Groups Urge Obama To Propose Strong Privacy Law

SANTA MONICA, CA — Consumer Watchdog has joined with six other consumer privacy organizations in calling for President Obama to propose strong privacy legislation in the groups’ comments on the White House report on “big data.”

“Enacting baseline privacy legislation that implements a strong and resonant Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights (CPBR) is the single most effective way to answer the public’s call for basic online privacy rights, ensure trust in the online marketplace, and create a level playing field for online businesses,” the groups wrote in their filing.

There are six key recommendations that a privacy law should include that would strengthen the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, the groups said.  They are:  Make it consequential; Fill in the blanks of the Fair Information Practice Principles (FIPPS); Recognize the real harms and significant risks; Carve out special protections for sensitive categories; and Implement practical solutions.

Read the groups’ joint letter to the the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration here:

The groups said that as the White House looks to its legacy, implementing a strong and comprehensive Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights “would be an iconic moment in American consumer protection.”

“The privacy bill should be a benchmark for modern consumer protection that respects Americans’ deep history of personal privacy in a technology context,” the groups said. “We believe that it’s preferable for the Administration to propose nothing, rather than a weak bill that does little to advance privacy protections.”

The letter concluded: “The proposal and enactment of strong consumer privacy legislation in the context of the CPBR is essential toward achieving the complimentary goals of protecting the privacy rights of consumers, maintaining consumer trust online and supporting business innovation.”

In addition to Consumer Watchdog the following organizations joined in the comments: American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Common Sense Media and Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.


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Google Spends $5 Million Lobbying In 2nd Quarter Leading 15 Tech, Communications Firms

Facebook Spending Up 100 Percent As Amazon Tops $1 Million For First Time

SANTA MONICA, CA — Google spent $5.03 million on lobbying in the second quarter of 2014, matching a company record and well ahead of spending by 14 other technology and communications companies, according to records just filed with the Clerk of the House of Representatives and analyzed today by Consumer Watchdog.

Google’s spending matched its record amount for a single quarter, which was set in the first quarter of 2012.  It was a 50 percent increase from $3.36 million in the second quarter of 2013.  Second quarter lobbying disclosure reports were due Monday night.

Facebook, which has substantially increased its Washington presence over the last two years, doubled down on its efforts to buy influence in Washington. It spent $2.12 million, an increase of 100 percent in 2014 from $1.06 million in 2013.  The amount was a slight decline from the first quarter of 2014 when the social networking giant spent $2.78 million.

“Power in Washington is all about who has the money and is willing to spend it,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director. “This group of powerful companies, led by Internet giant Google, is clearly willing to spend whatever the companies think necessary to buy the laws and regulations they want.”

Amazon set a company record for its spending, topping a $1 million in a quarter for the first time. Amazon spent $1.06 million in the second quarter of 2014, a 23 percent increase from $860,000 in 2013.

Google’s archrival Microsoft, which until recently had outspent Google on lobbying efforts, spent $2.34 million, a 21 percent decrease from $2.96 million in 2013.

“These lobbying disclosure statements don’t include payments to trade associations or the sort of ‘soft’ lobbying that has become a Google trademark – funds to think tanks and academic research centers,” noted Simpson. “When all that is factored in, the amounts are staggering. Policy making is no longer about what’s right; it’s all about the money.”

Here is a link to the Clerk of the House’s Lobbying Disclosure database:

Here are the second quarter lobbying amounts for the six other tech firms:
— Apple spent $840,000 in 2014, a 22 percent increase from $690,000 million in 2013.
— Cisco spent $720,000 in 2014, a 31 percent decrease from $900,000 in 2013.
— IBM spent $1.69 million in 2014, a 10 percent decrease from $1.88 million in 2013
— Intel spent $779,000.00in 2014, a 7 percent increase from $730,000 in 2013.
— Oracle spent $1.46 million in 2014, a 12 percent decrease from $1.66 million in 2013.
— Yahoo spent $770,000 in 2014, a 7 percent increase from $720,000 in 2013.

Here are second quarter lobbying expenditures for three telecommunications companies:
— AT&T spent $3.82 million, a 2 percent increase from $3.74 million in 2013.
— Sprint spent $728,365, a 12 percent increase from $652,546 in 2013.
— Verizon spent $3.47 million, a 6 percent increase from $3.27 million in 2013

Here are lobbying expenditures for two cable companies:
— Comcast spent $4.45 million, a 19 percent decrease from $5.47 million in 2013.
— Time Warner Cable spent $1.90 million, a 4 percent decrease from $1.97 million in 2013.

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Google Must Allow U.S. Users To Be Forgotten

Google today began removing some search results in Europe under the recently court-upheld “right to be forgotten.”  The Internet giant should offer U.S. users the same basic right to privacy.

In May the European Court of Justice ruled that a person has the right to request the removal of search engine links to information that is inadequate, irrelevant, no longer relevant, or excessive. The removal isn’t automatic if requested.  There needs to be a balance between the individual’s privacy and public’s right to know in making a decision to remove a link.

The information itself is not taken down from the Internet; only the link from a person’s name in a search result is removed if Google agrees with the request.  If Google disagrees, a person can appeal to his country’s data protection authority.

In what I consider an outrageous disregard for the privacy rights of its U.S. users, Google is only letting people be forgotten on its European sites like,, and

At the bottom of a European search results page for a person’s name Google offers this statement: ‘Some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe.”  The Internet giant also offers a link explaining the policy.

Despite what some people have claimed, the right to be forgotten isn’t about censorship.  It brings the real benefit of privacy by obscurity into the Digital Age.

Here’s what I mean:  Before the Internet if I did something foolish when I was young and foolish — and I probably did —  there might well be a public record of what happened. Over time, as I aged, people tended to forget whatever embarrassing things I did in my youth.  I would be judged mostly based on my current circumstances, not on information no longer relevant.  If someone were highly motivated, they could go back into paper files and folders and dig up my past.  Usually this required effort and motivation.  As a reporter,  for instance, this sort of deep digging was routine for me with, say, candidates for public office.  This reality  that our youthful indiscretions and embarrassments slipped from the general public’s consciousness  is privacy by obscurity.

The Digital Age has ended that. Everything — all my digital footprints — is instantly available with a few clicks on a computer or taps on a mobile device.

Now, the right to be forgotten will restores the balance in Europe that is provided with privacy by obscurity.  The right simply allows a European to identify links that are no longer relevant and ask for their removal.  It won’t always happen and when it doesn’t there will be an appeal process.

Americans deserve the same right. Google, which claims to care about privacy,  should be ashamed that it is not treating people on both sides of the Atlantic the same way.

Google’s Latest Deal Takes Spying Ability To New Heights

 Google’s latest planned acquisition will will take the Internet giant’s ability to spy on us and gather informationabout our activities to new heights — literally.

Last week Google said it would buy Skybox Imaging for $500 million, chump change for a company that is sitting on around $61 billion in cash. Skybox is building low cost satellites to orbit 185 miles above the earth’s surface that will provide high resolution satellite images.

Until last week satellite imagery where features less than two feet were visible was banned for commercial use in the United States.  The Commerce Department changed that rule, now allowing images with resolution as small as one foot. That’s small enough to show manhole covers and mailboxes. Google’s Skybox satellites will be even more revealing and intrusive than the images now availeable.

Here’s what Christopher Mims of The Wall Street Journal wrote about the deal:

And here’s what Skybox could allow Google to accomplish: Within a couple of years, when you want to know whether you left your porch light on or if your teenager borrowed the car you forbade her to drive, you might check Google Maps.

That’s because by 2016 or so, Skybox will be able to take full images of the Earth twice a day, at a resolution that until last week was illegal to sell commercially—all with just a half-dozen satellites. By the time its entire fleet of 24 satellites has launched in 2018, Skybox will be imaging the entire Earth at a resolution sufficient to capture, for example, real-time video of cars driving down the highway. And it will be doing it three times a day.

In announcing the acquisition June 10  Goggle was low-key about the benefits: “Skybox’s satellites will help keep Google Maps accurate with up-to-date imagery. Over time, we also hope that Skybox’s team and technology will be able to help improve Internet access and disaster relief — areas Google has long been interested in.”

The fact of the matter is that Skybox doesn’t even consider itself an imaging company.  They are all about the knowledge that can be gleaned from their images and data. Knowledge that is developed by snooping and spying, I’d say.

“We think we are going to fundamentally change humanity’s understanding of the economic landscape on a daily basis,” co-founder Dan Berkenstock told The Wall Street Journal.

Here is the sort of thing he’s driving at:  Back in 2010 an USB stock analyst figured out that by buying even the relatively low resolution satellite photos that were available of  Wal-Mart store parking lots, he could predict sales figures before the data was released.  Full lots mean lots of shoppers. Lots of shoppers mean more sales.

And there is industrial espionage that will directly benefit Google.  Suppose the Internet giant could could figure out when Apple was planning to release the next iPhone.  It could plan competitive strategy for its Android devices. With Skybox Google can see what’s going on.  The Taiwanese company Foxconn manufactures the iPhone. Measuring the density of trucks around the Foxconn plant reveals when a substantial number of devices are being brought to market.

“We’re looking at Foxconn every week,” Mr. Berkenstock told The Journal’s Mims.  Mims offered this assessment of Skybox’s future impact:

 “It’s the unpredictable applications that could be the biggest. Like GPS before it, which started out as a military-only system that required laptop-size receivers and now enables driving directions in every smartphone, Skybox’s images will inevitably lead to apps and services no one can envision—with unknowable disruptive potential.”

And he offers this note of caution:

A potential downside to the Skybox acquisition is that it could represent a new level of privacy invasion for everyday people. Google will be able to determine all sorts of things about us that might not have been discernible before. For example, is your home on a block with lots of trees? It turns out that correlates with household income. Or, how many cars do you own?

Google’s satellites won’t be powerful enough to pick out individual people. Yet since Skybox’s satellites get their visual acuity not from their optics—which are relatively primitive—but clever software, it’s possible they’ll become ever more keen-eyed even after they launch.

In a few years, when we look up at the sky, we’ll have to wonder: Am I being watched right now?

Consider the power Google will have when it combines what it knows from the satellite images with what he knows about our online activities and emails. In George Orwell’s 1984 government surveillance was ubiquitous.  “Big Brother is watching” citizens were reminded.  Orwell was right about surveillance.  What he didn’t predict was the extent it would be done by commercial entities.

Consumer Watchdog Warns DMV Not To Let Google Rush Driverless Car Deployment

SANTA MONICA, CA – Consumer Watchdog today warned the California Department of Motor Vehicles not to succumb to pressure from Google and others with a vested interest in developing “driverless cars” to rush to adopt regulations for the pubic use of the vehicles that are inadequate to protect our safety.

“We urge the DMV to follow a sensible and deliberate approach that would require adequate testing and time to analyze the test results,” wrote John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director, in a letter to DMV Director Jean Shiomoto.

Read Consumer Watchdog’s letter here:

The DMV has just published regulations that take effect Sept. 16 governing manufacturers’ testing of autonomous vehicles – “driverless cars” — on California highways. The department is now drafting regulations that will regulate the public use of the vehicles and expects to adopt them late in December.

“In the ideal rule-making process, regulations covering the public use of autonomous vehicles would not be adopted until they could be informed by the results of testing that was done under DMV regulation,” wrote Simpson. “Unfortunately the Legislature, under pressure from Google and the tech industry, required in SB 1298 that the regulations for both testing and public use be adopted by Jan. 1, 2015.”

Consumer Watchdog noted that the testing rules require reports explaining when and why a test driver had to take over operation of the car and the details of any accidents. The first such testing reports would cover the period from when a test vehicle received a permit – presumably Sept. 16 – through Nov. 30, 2015.  These reports would be due by Jan. 1, 2016.

Consumer Watchdog urged the DMV’s public use driverless car rules to include a provision that a driverless car must be tested for at least a year under DMV regulation and that at least six months be given to analyze the test results before a vehicle could be offered to the public.  Under Consumer Watchdog’s proposed regulation, the earliest time a “driverless car” could be approved for public use on California’s highways would be July 1, 2016.

“We call on the DMV to ensure the safety of the public is put well ahead of the self-serving agendas of the manufactures,” wrote Simpson.  “There can be no doubt that Google is pushing to deploy autonomous vehicles as fast as it can.  The Department of Motor Vehicles must not succumb to the Internet giant’s pressure.”

One of the key safety provisions of the testing regulations is the requirement that there must be a test driver in the driver’s seat who is capable of assuming control of the car if there is a problem, Consumer Watchdog said.

“Little more than a week after the DMV adopted the testing regulations, Google announced plans for a fleet of driverless cars that have no steering wheel, brake pedal or accelerator,” wrote Simpson. “There would be no way for an occupant to take control in an emergency; occupants would be captives of Google’s technology, completely at the Internet giant’s mercy.”


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Consumer Watchdog Praises EU’s “Right To Be Forgotten” Ruling As Privacy Victory

SANTA MONICA, — Consumer Watchdog today praised the highest European court’s ruling that people have a “right to be forgotten” and can have online search results linking to outdated, irrelevant information removed.

“This is a substantial victory for the right to privacy,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director. “I hope the online giants will follow the same policy in the United States.  If they don’t, we need legislation to require it.”

The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that a person could ask Google to remove data that could “appear to be inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant or excessive … in the light of the time that had elapsed.” The judges added that even accurate data that had been lawfully published initially could “in the course of time become incompatible with the directive.”

The case was brought by a Spaniard who was concerned that Google’s search results were linking to articles about debts he owed long after the case was settled.

Consumer Watchdog said the ruling would help restore the concept of “privacy by obscurity” to the digital age, restoring a balance between the right to know and privacy.

“Before the digital age, if I did something young and foolish, when I was young and foolish, people forgot about it as I matured. While the details might exist somewhere in a paper archive, you needed considerable effort and motivation to dig them up,” said Simpson. “Contrast that to the digital era; all that information that once would have been generally forgotten over time is available with a few clicks of a mouse.  The EU’s decision restores the natural balance by recognizing the right to be forgotten.”

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Consumer Watchdog Asks NY Joint Commission On Public Ethics To Remove Google’s Chairman Eric Schmidt From State’s Smart Schools Commission For Conflict of Interest

SANTA MONICA, CA – Consumer Watchdog today filed a formal complaint asking the New York Joint Commission On Public Ethics to remove Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt from the state’s Smart Schools Commission because of conflicts of interest that violate the state’s Public Officials Law.

“Schmidt’s Commission participation raises the appearance of impropriety, compromises the integrity of the Commission, and provides Schmidt and Google the perfect vehicle for Google to pursue state funds, improve Google’s reputation and position in the education market, and to do what is best for Google, instead of what is best for New York,” the nonprofit, nonpartisan public interest group said in its formal complaint.

“This is not the fox guarding the chicken coop, but rather the fox building the coop,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director. “The chickens in this case are children whose privacy Google has shown a consistent disrespect for, making Schmidt a doubly distressful choice for the Commission.”

Read Consumer Watchdog’s formal Complaint here:

Consumer Watchdog’s complaint charged that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s appointment of Schmidt to the three-person panel that will advise how to spend a $2 billion bond issue to bring technology to the state’s schools already violates three provisions of the Public Officials Law because it:

— Creates the impression that Schmidt can improperly influence decisions of the Commission.

— Raises suspicion among the public.

— Places Schmidt in an official position where he will not be able to exercise independent judgment in carrying out his duties.

“Additionally, if allowed to serve on the Commission, Schmidt will inevitably violate two more provisions of Section 74 because his role will make it impossible to (a) avoid using confidential information he acquires as a Commission member for personal benefit; and (b) refrain from taking official actions in which Google has at least some financial interest,” Consumer Watchdog’s complaint said.

Schmidt was appointed to the Commission on April 17 with Geoffrey Canada, President and CEO of Harlem Children’s Zone and Constance Evelyn, Superintendent of the Auburn School District in Cayuga County.  The bond act is scheduled to be on the ballot in November. When the Joint Commission finds a knowing violation of the Public Officials Law, it may order suspension or removal from office or a civil fine of not more than $10,000.

“This is not the case of an industry participant advising on general policy initiatives; instead, it involves Schmidt, the Executive Chairman of Google, advising on how to spend $2 billion on educational technology that Google offers in New York,” the complaint said.  “Schmidt and Google want to grow substantially Google’s education business in New York and elsewhere. Schmidt’s fiduciary duty to the private corporate interests of Google raises serious questions about his ability to act in the bests interests of New York instead of the best interests of Google.”

The complaint also noted that Google and Schmidt have an interest in limiting privacy protection for individuals and students, which is in conflict with New York’s student protection policy.

“Indeed, under Schmidt’s leadership Google has been repeatedly sanctioned or charged with privacy violations,” the complaint said.  It cited a $17 million multistate privacy settlement over Google’s unlawful online tracking of consumers and a $7 million multistate privacy settlement over Google’s unlawful collection of data from wireless networks nationwide as examples. In addition the complaint pointed to a record $22.5 million fine with the Federal Trade Commission.

The complaint noted that Schmidt’s serving on the Smart Schools Commission would not be the first time Schmidt and Google have ignored a clear conflict of interest to gain a business advantage.  “In August 2009, amid an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Competition, Schmidt was forced to resign his position on Apple’s Board of Directors due the conflict of interest inherent in serving on a direct competitor’s Board,” the Consumer Watchdog complaint said.

The complaint noted that Schmidt controls 5.5 percent of Google’s stock, worth more than $5 billion, was paid $19.3 million in 2013 and received a $100 million bonus in February. “Schmidt has more to gain from his interest in Google than from his participation on the Commission,” the complaint said.

Last month Consumer Watchdog sent a letter to Gov. Cuomo saying he should remove Schmidt from the Commission immediately given Google’s disregard for students’ privacy and the potential for self-dealing.

Read copy of the letter here:

Gary Reback, an attorney with Carr & Ferrel, in Menlo Park, CA., assisted Consumer Watchdog in preparing its formal complaint to the FTC.

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Glassholes Meet Up At West Hollywood Bar

Google’s privacy invading wearable computing device, Glass, has been taking a lot of well deserved hits lately, and the Internet giant seems to have launched a PR campaign to bolster the device’s plummeting image. Over the weekend Google sponsored “Glass Night Out” at various locations across the country.

Saturday night my colleague Evan King, decided to don Consumer Watchdog’s Glass and check out the local event, which was held at Vintage Enoteca in West Hollywood. The Internet giant described the campaign on its Glass Google+ page:

This Saturday night, you and Glass are going out! Explorers across the US are getting together to mingle, snack, and cheers for the first Glass Night Out.

In the words of +JR Curley, these events are part of a community initiative to have a formal Explorer meet up, team with local businesses, and help dispel Glass myths to all.

Check out the details here:

The event was billed as the “first of many #glasswelcomed and #glassnightout events.”

King tells me his impression of the event was that it was intended to dispel the notion that “Glass Explorers” — the folks who for the most part wrangled invitations and shelled out $1,500 to try Glass — are an out-of-touch, tech elite who frequently behave like, well, Glassholes.

King reports than we he got to the bar around 9 pm sporting Consumer Watchdog’s Glass (and no, I’m not going to say where we got the device), there were 10-15 “Explorers” more or less off by themselves in the back of the bar.

His analysis of what he saw was that while he observed no particularly outlandish Glasshole behavior, the group seemed to be an out-of-touch, tech elite.

I’m willing to concede that Glass might be useful in a few very special circumstances, but those uses are largely trumped by the device’s threat to privacy.  We’ve made two short videos showing, for example, how Glass can be used to surreptitiously record someone’s ATM pin number or how Glass invades privacy in a restroom.  Take a look at Consumer Watchdog’s study reviewing some of the device’s major shortcomings and pitfalls.

Washington Post tech reporter Hayley Tsukayama wore Glass for a week and wrote about the experience in an article, My Awkward Week with Google Glass. As she succinctly put it, “I’m wearing Google Glass. And I hate it.”

“Would I buy Google Glass?” Tsukayama asks rehtorically. “Not now, especially with that $1,500 price tag. The device has a lot of evolving to do before it’s ready for the world. The world has some evolving to do before it’s ready for Glass, too.”

I’m betting it will take a long, long time.  For now, simply just say no and don’t be a Glasshole.

Consumer Watchdog Backs 6 Policy Recommendations In White House Big Data Report

SANTA MONICA, CA — Consumer Watchdog today backed six broad policy recommendations outlined in the White House report on Big Data and praised the report for identifying potential dangers of discrimination and threats to privacy in what the report called “a world where data collection will be increasingly ubiquitous, multidimensional, and permanent.”

“I expected the White House team to focus on the benefits of Big Data and gloss over the very real threats to privacy and liberty it poses,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director. “Instead they clearly spelled out the dangers.”

The Big Data working group’s six policy recommendations are broad suggestions, Consumer Watchdog noted, and the real test will come in how the specifics are implemented.

“More than two years ago the White House released its Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights with great fanfare, yet little has come of it.  The administration hasn’t even offered baseline privacy legislation,” said Simpson. “I hope the Big Data report means the Administration is finally serious about doing something.”

The report, Big Data: Seizing and Preserving Values said Big Data tools could:

— Alter the balance of power between government and citizen.

— Reveal intimate personal details

— Lead to discriminatory outcomes.

In comments to the working group as it was gathering information, Consumer Watchdog wrote:

“The guiding principles for governing “Big Data” are straightforward: People must be able to know what information is gathered about them, how long it is kept and for what the information will be used.  They should, in fact, have control over whether their data is even collected in the first place.  People should be able to correct errors in data files about them and request the deletion of data not required to complete a business transaction they initiated.  Large data sets used for research purposes should be aggregate data that has been de-identified.”

Read Consumer Watchdog’s letter to the Big Data Working Group here:

Here are the Big Data Working group’s six policy recommendations:

— Advance the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights because consumers deserve clear, understandable, reasonable standards for how their personal information is used in the big data era.

–Pass National Data Breach Legislation that provides for a single national data breach standard, along the lines of the Administration’s 2011 Cybersecurity proposal.

— Extend Privacy Protections to non-U.S. Persons because privacy is a worldwide value that should be reflected in how the federal government handles personally identifiable information from non-U.S. citizens.

— Ensure Data Collected on Students in School is used for Educational Purposes to drive better learning outcomes while protecting students against their data being shared or used inappropriately.

— Expand Technical Expertise to Stop Discrimination because the federal government should build the technical expertise to be able to identify practices and outcomes facilitated by big data analytics that have a discriminatory impact on protected classes.

— Amend the Electronic Communications Privacy Act to ensure the standard of protection for online, digital content is consistent with that afforded in the physical world—including by removing archaic distinctions between email left unread or over a certain age.

Read the White House Big Data Report here:

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Google Stops Reading Students’ Gmail After Legal Questions Are Raised

Internet Giant’s Culture Shows Why Its Chairman Is Poor Choice As Government Advisor

SANTA MONICA, CA — Google said it will stop reading the Gmail accounts of 30 million students who use Google Apps For Education, spinning the announcement as “protecting students,” when in fact the change came only after questions were raised about the legality of the practice, Consumer Watchdog said today.

The flip flop makes clear Google’s ingrained culture of doing whatever it wants without asking permission and only backing down when confronted with possible violations of the law, the nonprofit nonpartisan public interest group said.

“Google executives are always pushing the limits and only back off when their hands are caught in the cookie jar,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director. “This is one reason why Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt is a terrible choice as a government advisor and why we’ve asked NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo to remove him from the Smart Schools Commission.”

While the Internet giant didn’t display ads to the students’ Gmail accounts, the data the company mined from their emails could be used to serve ads to them on other websites. The practice was revealed in a suit in federal court in San Jose. Last month Education Week magazine reported that such activity may violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a law that protects educational records. Read the report here:

Gov. Cuomo appointed Schmidt to the NY Smart Schools Commission earlier this month to advise on how to spend $2 billion to upgrade schools’ technology if voters approve a bond issue in November.  Schmidt is the only voice from the tech world on the panel.  The other two members are educators.

In letter sent to the governor Consumer Watchdog wrote that Cuomo should:

— Preclude Google from providing any of the new technology to the state’s schools given the conflict of interest created by Schmidt’s appointment.

— Remove Schmidt from the Commission immediately given Google’s disregard for students’ privacy and the potential for self-dealing.

Read Consumer Watchdog’s letter here:

Read Google’s announcement that it will stop reading students’ Gmail here:…


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Consumer Watchdog Calls On Gov. Cuomo to Remove Google Chairman Eric Schmidt From NY Smart Schools Panel And Block Company From Providing Tech To Schools

SANTA MONICA, CA — Consumer Watchdog, a national public interest group, today expressed deep concern about New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s appointment of Google Chairman Eric Schmidt to the New York Smart Schools Commission to advise the state on how to invest proceeds from the proposed $2 billion bond act and bring technology into classrooms statewide.

In letter sent last week to the governor, Jamie Court, president of the nonpartisan nonprofit group, and John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog Privacy Project director, wrote that Cuomo should:

— Preclude Google from providing any of the new technology to the state’s schools given the conflict of interest created by Schmidt’s appointment.

— Remove Schmidt from the Commission immediately given Google’s disregard for students’ privacy and the potential for self-dealing.

“It is entirely inappropriate for a top of executive of a company likely to be considered as provider of technology to advise the state on what technology to adopt. This is not the fox guarding the chicken coop, but rather the fox building the coop,” Court and Simpson wrote. “The chickens in this case are children whose privacy Google has shown a consistent disrespect for, making Schmidt a doubly distressful choice for the Commission.”

Read Consumer Watchdog’s letter here:

Consumer Watchdog’s letter cited a recent Education Week article outlining how Google data mines student’s data from its Google Apps for Education services, likely in violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). “Taking advice from the executive of a company engaged in such dubious practices is simply wrong,” the letter said.

Read the Education Week article here:

The Consumer Watchdog letter also noted a Washington Post article that explained how “The behind-the-scenes machinations demonstrate how Google — once a lobbying weakling — has come to master a new method of operating in modern-day Washington, where spending on traditional lobbying is rivaled by other, less visible forms of influence. That system includes financing sympathetic research at universities and think tanks, investing in nonprofit advocacy groups across the political spectrum and funding pro-business coalitions cast as public-interest projects.”

Read the Post article here:

“Schmidt, who by the way sits on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, is a master of inserting himself into positions where he can drive policy decisions in the direction that Google favors,” Court and Simpson wrote. “That is precisely what is happening with the New York Smart Schools Commission and such self-dealing must not be tolerated when it comes to the best interests of New York State’s children.”

Consumer Watchdog’s letter concluded:

“No one doubts the urgency of bringing technology into our schools.  We believe you should be commended for proposing the $2 billion bond that will go before New York voters in November. However, allowing one person from the gargantuan company that so dominates the Internet to play a primary role in shaping the policy is unfair and wrong.  We call upon you to block Google from supplying technology under the bond act should it be approved by the voters and for you to remove Eric Schmidt from the Smart Schools Commission immediately.”

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