Consumer Group Seeks Google, White House E-Mails

Thu, Apr 1, 2010 at 11:37 am

    Consumer Watchdog said today it filed a Freedom of Information Act request for copies of e-mails traded between the White House’s Deputy Chief Technology Officer and Google Inc., his former employer.

    Andrew McLaughlin, previously the Mountain View search company’s chief policy executive, unwittingly revealed his exchanges with former colleagues when the Google Buzz service launched in February, according to a story this week by Breitbart’s Big Government.

    His Google Profile Page, like that of millions of other Gmail users, included a default list of “followers” automatically selected by the service based on the contacts he e-mailed or chatted with the most in the past. The list, which was visible to those followers, featured at least 28 Google employees, including senior lobbyists and lawyers at the company, the blog reported.

    “The appointment was troubling when it was announced, but signs that McLaughlin is continuing a cozy relationship with his former employer while serving in the top White House Internet policy job are even more disconcerting,” said John Simpson, consumer advocate for Consumer Watchdog, in a statement. “The public has a right to see exactly what sort of messages have been exchanged with his former employer and colleagues.”

    Of course, much of this communiation may simply have been a person keeping up with former co-workers. It’s also possible some of the contacts popped up based on McLaughlin’s correspondence while still at Google, as Buzz picked up the most frequent contacts over time, not just in the weeks before the launch.

    Privacy groups widely criticized Google after the introduction of the service, arguing the default setup could inadvertently aid stalkers, jeopardize journalist sources or reveal one’s psychiatrist.

    “Maybe now that Google’s own privacy and that of a former executive have been compromised, the company will finally understand that privacy matters to consumers,” Simpson added.

    Google took quick steps to address many of the initial complaints about Buzz, replacing the auto-follow feature with auto-suggest within four days of the launch, among other changes.

    “When we realized we’d unintentionally made many of our users unhappy, we moved quickly to make significant product improvements to address their concerns,” a spokesperson said.

    In addition to revealing McLaughlin’s followers, Breitbart’s Big Government also displayed a series of communications he had with Google staffers about Buzz via Buzz.

    Here’s one exchange:

    “Google exposes the people you e-mail most, by default, to the world. That violates my sense of expectations — I expect the list of people I e-mail most to be kept private.”

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