Google’s Washington Influence Is Spreading, Some Say Too Much

Tue, Jul 13, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    This man is Andrew McLaughlin. A former Googler–he was their Head of Public Policy–he’s been hired by the Obama administration as the White House’s Deputy Chief Technology Officer, invoking the wrath [1] of a House Oversight Committee member in the process. Rep. Darrell Issa has written to Google to demand an explanation as to how McLaughlin could have “used his personal email account to engage in official business, including discussions on policy matters under his review with Google.”

    It’s not the first time that Google’s doings in Washington have hit the headlines–but perhaps it is the first time that Google is being attacked from all sides. Its lobbying spend for the first quarter of 2010–$1.3 million [2]–was released three months ago, and set on by Consumer Watchdog’s John Simpson. The non-profit, non-partisan organization has its own Inside Google website, which last week scored a hit on the firm via its data-collecting methods.

    The report claims that national security may have been compromised by “WiSpy snooping,” as a member of the Homeland Security Committee had a wireless network that “could have been breached by Google [3].” The organization wrote letters [4] (.pdf file) to Congressmen, including Jane Harman of the HSC, and described the breach as “one of the biggest wire-tapping scandals in U.S. history.”

    McLaughlin, whose appointment last month ruffled the feathers [5] of a lot of people, is not the first person to swap Mountain View for a view from the Hill. Ex Google employees include Sonal Shah, head of the White House Office of Social Innovation, and its director of citizen participation, Katie Jacobs Stanton is bouncing back [6] to the West Coast to head up Twitter’s international strategy. And of course there’s Eric Schmidt, who is an enthusiastic cheerleader of the FCC’s National Broadband Strategy [7], as well as one of Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

    There is a great deal of logic in using what is arguably the most successful U.S. firm in the world–one with a truly worldwide presence–in order to get the entire nation connected to superfast broadband. However, it depends which Google is present when they hand out the triple-A laminates for the White House.

    There’s the “Do No Evil” Google, the slogan it saddled itself with a decade or so ago. There’s the clumsy Google, the one that unwittingly picks up people’s data [8] while tootling around in its Street View cars, the one that buys a video sharing site without thinking of the pitfalls [9], the one that launches a smartphone [10] on the market without thinking of customer care [11], the one that rolls out its answer to Facebook (not without its own privacy issues) with a socking great security hole [12] in the middle of it. It could be described as awkward, typically geek behavior, but it’s not ill-intentioned.

    But John Simpson seems to imply a certain malevolence in Google’s actions, as if they might be working on more covert projects than merely getting the country hooked up to superfast broadband as quickly as possible. Will it involve the NSA and wiretapping [13]? There is no doubt that Google has a tendency to kowtow too quickly–witness this week [14]’s falling into line with the Chinese authorities after a censorship spat [15] that has rumbled on for most of 2010–but would it really make the mistake of doing it at the heart of the free world? Not, one would wager, if it wanted to stay at the top of the tree.

    A world where Bing search is number one? You couldn’t make it up.

    [Image via Joi [16]’s Flickr Stream]


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