Google claims its business philosophy is the simple, warm-and-fuzzy, “Don’t be evil.” But behind the scenes, the data-trolling and -selling operations the company perpetrates on end-users could hardly be considered noble; at best they might be called self-serving, and at worst a violation of privacy. And now, the corporate juggernaut is using its connections to a high-level lobbyist foundation to buy positive spin and government influence to protect one of its biggest cash cows.
The New York Times recently ran this article, defining Google+, Google’s social network hub that now acts as the backbone of its universal login services. It’s become the easiest method by which Google can track online behavior and commercialize marketing profiles of web users to online advertisers:
Google Plus may not be much of a competitor to Facebook as a social network, but it is central to Google’s future — a lens that allows the company to peer more broadly into people’s digital life, and to gather an ever-richer trove of the personal information that advertisers covet. Some analysts even say that Google understands more about people’s social activity than Facebook does.
The reason is that once you sign up for Plus, it becomes your account for all Google products, from Gmail to YouTube to maps, so Google sees who you are and what you do across its services, even if you never once return to the social network itself.
Google has a history of getting itself in hot water for tracking users’ information. It is currently embroiled in a wiretapping lawsuit in the 9th Circuit (in which it’s trying to seal court records), during which their lawyers have asserted positively that users have no reasonable expectation of privacy.
Without delay, Slate’s “Future Tense” blog counters the Times article, concluding that Google already knows everything about users, thus negating any reason to question collection of the data willingly shared by Google users.
Google has known who you are and what you were doing all along and has been tracking it. Plus is just the tip of an enormous data iceberg.
But there’s also an interesting disclosure at the bottom of the Slate piece:
Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University.
The New America Foundation (NAF) is a Google, Inc. beneficiary at the $250,000-$999,999 (wide gap) level. Google chairman Eric Schmidt (who also serves as chairman for the New America foundation) and his estranged wife Wendy give to NAF at the $1,000,000+ level. NAF is also listed on Google U.S. Public Policy’s Transparency disclosure page. Could it be a coincidence that a Slate project, funded by a foundation that’s a massive Google beneficiary, rushes to Google’s defense?
Meet Colleen Chien, senior advisor for intellectual property to the White House CTO at OSTP. She was appointed to the administration last year after she received a grant from NAF, while a professor at Santa Clara University Law School, to advocate against patent trolls, one of Google’s pet initiatives. One might question how Chien was awarded this position, until a picture of Chien’s collaborations with Google policy and Obama Administration advocates becomes clear. Ironically, this information is easily found via Google search.
Chien has chronicled her connection with Google, NAF, and the Administration though her social media presence. Until her final personal tweet announcing her position with OSTP, she regularly referenced President Obama’s push for patent litigation reform, an issue that Google has admitted is a huge cost and risk for them.
New patent fact #1 I’ll be presenting @ Princeton today: Google and Apple spent more on patents last year than on R&D.
— Colleen Chien (@colleen_chien) May 11, 2012
Chien’s academic associations and social media “likes” and “friends” read like a “Who’s Who” in Google data collection defense and Democrat campaign and policy architecture. Chien has authored papers with attorney/law professor Mark Lemley, who has represented Google, economist Richard Gilbert who assisted the FTC with its recent investigation of Google, economist Carl Shapiro, former Clinton and Obama Adminstration policy wonk, law professor Joseph S. Miller, formerly with the Antitrust Division of the US Department of Justice, law professor Ted Sichelman, former Zoe Lofgren staffer who helped co-author patent reforms in the America Invents Act, and patent attorney, Aashish Karkanis. This final paper was cited by Google in public comment submitted to the USPTO.
Not only does it appear that Google is funding Democratic campaigns, financially supporting the administration’s wonks with policy roles in areas of interest to Google’s bottom line, even when those wonks are already within Google’s sphere of influence, but the company is now buying media to push back on the powerful NYT, which is normally a bastion of progressive/Democratic thought pieces.
While Google’s concerns with patent litigation may very well be justified or altruistic, their connections with the Obama administration and its cronies would seem to indicate that it’s really just about protecting its own bottom line. And while Ms. Chien doesn’t appear to be directly connected to Google’s efforts to protect its data-mining operations, it is clear that Google is making a concerted effort to get people friendly to its own business interests (and, by inference, opposed to its competitors’) into positions of power within the Obama White House and Washington as a whole. And by using media outlets it directly funds to doctor its own image, it’s committing a serious ethical breach.