Tag Archives: google

California DMV’s Autonomous Vehicle Regulations Must Protect Users’ Privacy

Driverless CarI was up in Sacramento today to call on the Department of Motor Vehicles to ensure that the regulations that they are developing to govern the use of autonomous vehicles – popularly known as driverless cars -will protect the operators’ privacy.

The company that will be most directly affected by the new autonomous vehicle regulations is Google, which is pioneering development of the robot-driven cars. The Internet giant was the driving force behind SB 1298, which charged the DMV with the task of developing the regulations and also rebuffed attempts to require privacy protections in the law.

However, it is not too late to implement privacy safeguards in this rulemaking and Consumer Watchdog called on the DMV to do so. Failure to act will mean substantial privacy risks from the manufacturers’ driverless car technology if there are not protections from what Google is best known for: the collection and use of voluminous personal information about us and our movements.

The DMV regulations must give the user control over what data is gathered and how the information will be used.  Merely stating what data is gathered with no explanation of its use is woefully inadequate. The DMV’s autonomous vehicle regulations must provide that driverless cars gather only the data necessary to operate the vehicle and retain that data only as long as necessary for the vehicle’s operation.  The regulations should provide that the data must not be used for any additional purpose such as marketing or advertising without the consumer’s explicit opt-in consent.

Without appropriate regulations, autonomous vehicles will be able to gather unprecedented amounts of information about the use of those vehicles.  How will it be used?  Just as we are now tracked around the Internet, will Google and other purveyors of driverless car technology now be looking over our shoulders on every highway and byway? Will the data be provided to insurance companies for underwriting purposes or to third parties that develop some kind of a driving score related to where and when individuals travel?  Will it be used to serve in-car advertisements or advertisements through other venues in the Google suite of products? Will it be used to track our movements and those of surrounding cars and mobile devices so that Google’s advertisers can better locate us?

Google is the aforementioned leader in driverless car research and is attempting to steer regulatory efforts in various states, especially California.  That’s why our concerns are so focused on the company. So I ask:  Why won’t Google endorse simple privacy safeguards for its self-driving cars?  I think there are two reasons.

First, Google’s entire business model is based on building digital dossiers about our personal behavior and using them to sell the most personal advertising to us.  You’re not Google’s customer; you are its product – the one it sells to corporations willing to pay any price to reach you.  Will the driverless technology be just about getting us from point to point or more about tracking how we got there and what we did along the way?

Second, computer engineers, who believe that more data is always better, are in charge at Google.  They may not know what they would use data for today, but they think they may someday find a use for it and don’t want any restrictions on them now.

Google is first and foremost an advertising company; 98 percent of its $38 billion in revenue comes from advertising, and the more personalized the marketing the better.  Indeed, Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt has said, “We don’t need you to type at all. We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about.”

John SimpsonWe all remember the last time Google deployed high tech vehicles around the world.  The result was Wi-Spy, the biggest wire-tapping scandal in history when the company’s Street View cars sucked up data from tens of millions of private Wi-Fi networks, including emails, health information, banking information, passwords and other data.  The company paid $7 million to settle the case brought by the state Attorneys General.  A class action suit is pending in federal district court.

Citing its “Don’t Be Evil” motto, Google claims it can be trusted with our information.  Facts show otherwise. The FCC released documents showing the Wi-Spy scandal was not a mistake or the work of one rogue engineer, as the company had claimed; but was part of the Street View design. The Commission fined Google $25,000 for obstructing its investigation.

The Federal Trade Commission imposed a $22.5 million penalty on Google for violating a consent agreement and hacking around privacy settings on Apple’s Safari browser, which is used on iPads and iPhones. Simply put, there is no reason to believe Google when it claims to be concerned about privacy.

Consumers enthusiastically adopted the new technology of the Internet.  What we were not told was that our use of the Information Superhighway would be monitored and tracked in order to personalize corporate marketing and make a fortune for companies like Google.  Consumer Watchdog supports driverless car technology and predicts it will be commonplace sooner than many of us expect.  However, it must not be allowed to become yet another way to track us in our daily lives.

Internet technology was implemented with little regard to protecting users’ privacy.  We are playing catch-up for our failure to consider the societal impact of a new technology.  The time to ensure that this new driverless car technology has the necessary privacy protections is while it is being designed and developed.   This is a concept known as “Privacy by Design.” It means privacy issues are considered from the very beginning and solutions are “baked in.” Trying to catch up after a new technology is developed and broadly implemented simply will not work.  The DMV should act to require that consumers must give opt-in consent before any data gathered through driverless car technology is used for any purpose other than driving the vehicle.

While we don’t propose to limit the ability of the cars to function by communicating as necessary with satellites and other devices, the collection and retention of data for marketing and other purposes should be banned. Unless strong protections are enacted in the new regulations, once again society will be forced to play catch-up in dealing with the impact of the privacy invading aspects of a new technology.



Posted by John M. Simpson, Director of Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project.  

Google’s Page Clueless When It Comes to Privacy Concerns About Glass

Google CEO Larry Page simply doesn’t get it when it comes to privacy concerns about the Internet giant’s new computerized eyewear, Google Glass.   He made that crystal clear at the annual shareholders’s meeting Thursday.

I made my annual trek to Mountain View  to attend the Internet giant’s shareholder meeting and pose some questions directly to Google’s top executives.  I said Glass is one of the most privacy invasive and Orwellian devices ever made because it allows a user to surreptitiously photograph or video us or our kids.  “It’s a voyeur’s dream come true,” I said, before noting the hypocrisy in unleashing a device that enables massive violations of everyone else’s privacy, but operating under rules that barred cameras and recording devices from the meeting. Take a look at a video from the meeting.

“Obviously, there are cameras everywhere, ” responded Page.  “”People worry about all sorts of things that actually, when we use the product, it is not found to be that big a concern.”

“You don’t collapse in terror that someone might be using Glass in the bathroom just the same as you don’t collapse in terror when someone comes in with a smartphone that might take a picture. It’s not that big a deal. So,  I would encourage you all not to create fear and concern about technological change until it’s actually out there and people are using it and they understand the issues.”

Page tried to compare the video cameras on ubiquitous smartphones with Google Glass.  That’s exactly the point.  There is a huge difference.  I don’t collapse in fear that I’ll be videoed in the bathroom by a smartphone camera precisely because it’s obvious that someone is using the camera.  I can politely ask them to stop, or escalate my protests as appropriate if necessary. Indeed, consider this satirical video, “Supercharge”, featuring Page and Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt if you don’t understand what I mean. It’s  obvious Schmidt is invading the privacy of the gentleman in the next stall.  Take a look at the video.  You’ll see what I mean.

It doesn’t work that with Glass and that’s what is so creepy. There’s an app that snaps a photo with a wink.  People have no idea that they are being photographed or videoed.  That’s what people are worried about and they want the ability to delete videos and photos from Google’s database when they discover their privacy has been invaded.

Page says we shouldn’t worry about “technological change until it’s actually out there and people are using it.”  He’s wrong.  You need to to think about the impact before the technology is implemented.  That’s what’s entailed in the concept of privacy by design, something that Google just doesn’t seem to get.

And here’s another point to ponder: As Google was holding its annual meeting, The Washington Post was breaking the details of NSA’s overreaching, intrusive snooping on users of some of the biggest Internet companies including Google with its PRISM program.  Can’t you imagine a billion Glass users and a billion winks and the data that would flow to NSA?

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Posted by John Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project.  Follow Consumer Watchdog online on Facebook and Twitter.

Trifecta — Patient Safety, Pollution Prevention & Privacy

Patient Safety Advocates What a week! Three big victories in California will keep us safer from dangerous doctors, toxic polluters and privacy invasions, but we only got there thanks to your support.

State Senator Curren Price and Assemblyman Richard Gordon proposed yesterday to strip the California Medical Board of its authority over physician discipline. The physician-run Board has let dangerous doctors keep practicing as investigations take years to complete. You joined us, and families who lost loved ones to reckless prescribing, when we called for a transfer of doctor investigations to impartial prosecutors at the Department of Justice.

Senator Price said it all when he told the LA Times he proposed cutting the Board’s power because, “I don’t want anybody else to die.” With your help we’ll keep the pressure on in Sacramento to make this reform a reality.

On Wednesday, the state’s top toxics regulator shut down the state’s largest battery recycler, Exide, for leaking lead, arsenic and other toxins into the surrounding community for more than two decades. The action came only after Consumer Watchdog exposed endemic failures at the Department of Toxic Substances Control to prevent pollution and punish serial polluters in our report, Golden Wasteland. Nevertheless, Californians could be on the hook for millions in clean-up costs because the DTSC never required the company to put money away for cleanup.

Carmen BalberRounding out this week’s trifecta was a rare reversal by Google on the privacy front: The internet giant quietly stopped sharing consumers’ private emails and addresses with app developers that use its Google Play store. The reversal came after a Consumer Watchdog complaint to the Federal Trade Commission and California Attorney General Kamala Harris that Google was not only violating consumers’ privacy, but violating its own agreement with the FTC not to share information without consumers’ permission.

And this breaking news: This morning, the Court of Appeal sided with us to reject Mercury Insurance’s attempt to throw out a case the company has delayed for nearly a decade. The suit would hold Mercury accountable for charging illegal broker fees to consumers. We are fighting that battle on a second front before an administrative judge in San Francisco right now.

So that’s really four big wins this week. Thanks for sharing them with us.

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Posted by Carmen Balber, Executive Director of Consumer Watchdog.  Follow Consumer Watchdog on Facebook and on Twitter.

Google Ending Privacy Breach Consumer Watchdog Targeted in FTC Complaint

Google Play

Google apparently is ending an egregious privacy breach involving people who buy apps from its Google Play store using Google Wallet to pay. Consumer Watchdog filed a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission with a copy to California Attorney General Kamala Harris about what Google was doing. The complaint  alleged that the Internet giant was violating its privacy policies and its “Buzz” consent agreement with the FTC.

Rep. Hank Johnson, D-GA, also questioned Google about what it was doing.  Google was sending to apps developers the name, email address and address of people who bought apps on Google play.  It tried to claim that the the information was necessary for the transaction, but that’s clearly not the case when talking about downloading an app from its app store. Neither Apple nor Microsoft provide such personal information about people who buy apps from their stores. Google’s response to Rep. Johnson, confirmed what Google was doing and actually showed it was unnecessary.  Consumer Watchdog sent a second letter to the FTC with a copy to California Attorney General Harris when Google answered Rep. Johnson’s letter.

On Tuesday WebProNews and DroidLife reported Google was addressing the concerns on a new Wallet Merchant Center it is rolling out and no longer sending the personal information about apps buyers.

I’m glad the change is coming, but I’ve got questions.

What role did the Federal Trade Commission or the California Attorney General’s office play in this change?  Why did Google only act when formal complaints were filed? Will there be fines?

John M. SimpsonGoogle has become a serial privacy violator.  You’ll remember that new sooner was the ink dry on the “Buzz” consent agreement than it was caught hacking around the privacy settings on the Safari browser used on iPhones, iPads and other Apple devices.  It ultimately cost Google a fine of $22.5 million, which is pocket change to a company that has annual revenue of around $50 billion. It’s like giving a $25 parking ticket to a person who makes $50,000 a year.

Google is simply figuring that fines are a cost — and a minor one at that — of doing business.  In case you missed it, on Monday Germany hit Google with a $189,225 for the Wi-Spy incident where its Street View Cars sucked up emails, URLs, passwords, account numbers as they snapped photos around the world.

In describing the fine The New York Times‘ Claire Cain Miller wrote:

Regulators in Germany, one of the most privacy-sensitive countries in the world, unleashed their wrath on Google on Monday for scooping up sensitive personal information in the Street View mapping project, and imposed the largest fine ever assessed by European regulators over a privacy violation.

The penalty? $189,225.

Put another way, that’s how much Google made every two minutes last year, or roughly 0.002 percent of its $10.7 billion in net profit.
It is the latest example of regulators’ meager arsenal of fines and punishments for corporations in the wrong. Academics, activists and even regulators themselves say fines that are pocket change for companies do little to deter them from misbehaving again, and are merely baked into the cost of doing business.

The fact Google is changing Google Wallet’s practices makes it clear Google violated the Buzz Agreement.   Google claims that it is taking privacy seriously now that it is operating for 20 years under the Buzz Agreement. It isn’t and the regulators aren’t holding Google’s feet to the fire.

The company’s executives need to be held to account in a meaningful way. I’ve always argued the way to get corporate executives’ attention is to hit them with jail time when they flout the law.  It’s not going to happen here, but a meaningful fine for the second Buzz violation sure would be nice.

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Posted by John M. Simpson, Director of Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project. Follow Consumer Watchdog online on Facebook and on Twitter.

Calling for Meaningful Wi-Spy Penalties Against Google

Google-FTC

Says State Attorneys General $7 Million Deal with Google Won’t Stop Company’s Serial Privacy Abuses

The $7 million deal announced today ending a multi-state investigation of the Google Wi-Spy scandal does virtually nothing to thwart the Internet giant’s repeated privacy violations, Consumer Watchdog said.  The public interest group said Google should pay an amount that would affect its profits.

In addition to the $7 million to be divided among the 38 states and the District of Columbia that were involved in the investigation, the settlement deal provides that Google will create an educational campaign that features a YouTube video to teach consumers about protecting privacy on Wi-Fi networks.

“Asking Google to educate consumers about privacy is like asking the fox to teach the chickens how to ensure the security of their coop,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director. “The educational video will also drive consumers to the YouTube platform, where Google will just gather more data about them for its digital dossiers.”

Read the settlement with the state attorneys general here.

Google has become a serial privacy violator, Consumer Watchdog said.  In the Wi-Spy case the company sucked up data including such things emails, passwords, and bank account numbers as its Street View cars photographed streets around the world.  Before that the company exposed personal information of it users when it launched its unsuccessful “Buzz” social network.  That privacy breach prompted a consent agreement with the Federal Trade Commission.  No sooner was the ink dry on the settlement, than Google violated it by hacking around the privacy settings on the Safari browser used on iPads, iPhones and other Apple devices.

“This settlement does nothing too stop Google as a serial privacy violator.  The company now has a long history of violating users’ privacy, lying about it, apologizing, promising not to do it again, sometimes making a token penalty payment and then moving on to the next violation,” said Simpson. “The $7 million penalty is pocket change for Google; it’s clear the Internet giant sees fines like this as just the cost of doing business and not a very big cost at that.”

Will Google Buy Its Way Out Of Trouble For A Mere $7 million?

Google

Reports were circulating in the tech press Friday that serial privacy violator Google is about to cut a deal with state attorneys general to close their investigation of the Wi-Spy scandal.

Remember what happened?  Google sent specially equipped cars to travel the highways and byways of the world snapping photos of everything they passed.  What Google did not say was that were also sniffing out Wi-Fi networks and sucking up private data on those networks.

They got passwords, account numbers and email messages, including in France a couple trying to arrange an extramarital affair.

When first confronted, Google executives denied sucking up the data.  Then they said it was all a mistake.  Then they said it was the work of a rouge engineer. Consumer Watchdog was among those to call on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate. The FTC did, but dropped the probe after Google essentially said, we’ll be nice.

John Simpson The Federal Communication Commission opened a probe ultimately fining Google $25,000 for hindering its investigation.  The FCC also found that the Wi-Fi snooping had been deliberate and that senior managers had been aware of it.  The FCC said it could not determine if the law had been broken because the engineer who designed the Wi-Fi snooping exercised is Fifth Amendment rights and declined to testify.

Google tried to spin the FCC probe by saying the commission found they had not broken the law. That’s not what happened; the FCC said they could not determine if the law had broken. A big difference.

Meanwhile, under the leadership of then Connecticut Attorney Richard Blumenthal, more than 30 state attorneys general launched their investigation of the incident, which is really the largest case of wire tapping in history.

It’s that state attorneys general probe that is reportedly about to be settled for $7 million.  That may sound like a lot, but it’s not even pocket change to the Internet giant, which made $10.7 billion profit on revenues of $50.2 billion in 2012. Divide the fine among the states and it comes out to about $230,000 for each.

I asked Susan Kinsman, spokesperson for Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen, now heading the investigation, about prospects for a deal.  She said, “I spoke to our attorneys for a status report. As we’ve stated before, the Google investigation is active and ongoing. I can’t comment about any prospect for a settlement.”

Nonetheless, there are enough sourced reports out there, focusing on the $7 million deal that it sounds like it’s accurate.  It was probably leaked on Friday by Google itself. That’s the way they usually play the PR game. By the time the settlement is officially announced it will be old news.

What’s important, by the way, is not the measly $7 million fine.  It’s understanding what’s really happening. Once again it looks like Google, the serial privacy violator, is buying it’s way out of a jam with what for the Internet giant is pocket change.

We’ll need to see what other provisions the settlement contains.  Will the state attorneys general give Google the same sort of pass that the FTC did when it allowed Google to explicitly deny it broke the law in the Safari hacking scandal and charged Google $22.5 million? What will happen to the data Google sucked up? Will there being any meaningful injunctive relief?  Given Google’s record of repeated privacy violations and of bamboozling regulators, I’m not optimistic that much of anything significant will emerge.

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Posted by John M. Simpson. John is a leading voice on technological privacy and stem cell research issues. His investigations this year of Google’s online privacy practices and book publishing agreements triggered intense media scrutiny and federal interest in the online giant’s business practices. His critique of patents on human embryonic stem cells has been key to expanding the ability of American scientists to conduct stem cell research. He has ensured that California’s taxpayer-funded stem cell research will lead to broadly accessible and affordable medicine and not just government-subsidized profiteering. Prior to joining Consumer Watchdog in 2005, he was executive editor of Tribune Media Services International, a syndication company. Before that, he was deputy editor of USA Today and editor of its international edition. Simpson taught journalism a Dublin City University in Ireland, and consulted for The Irish Times and The Gleaner in Jamaica. He served as president of the World Editors Forum. He holds a B.A. in philosophy from Harpur College of SUNY Binghamton and was a Gannett Fellow at the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Hawaii. He has an M.A. in Communication Management from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication.

When In Doubt, Speak Out

Jamie Court

A pro-consumer candidate to the Federal Trade Commission, who had the backing of the entire public interest community, really wanted the job. But this candidate didn’t want allies to go public for fear of alienating the White House. What happened?  Today POTUS hosed us and gave the keys to the FTC to corporate attorney Edith Ramirez.

The lesson: if you want to speak for the public, you have to speak publicly.

It’s just too easy to get caught up in the quagmire of worrying about alienating powerful people. Back channels and back room are the domain of those who want to turn their back on the public, not advocates for the public.

And the lesson, which came in healthy helpings this morning, can even be lost on those of us who typically have no control of our tongues.

Consider Ron Shinkman’s remarkable report today in Payer and Providers about the pathetic record of California Department of Managed Health Care Director Brent Barnhart.  We didn’t expect much from a former Kaiser lawyer Governor Brown appointed to regulate HMOs, but perhaps a healthy tongue lashing on the front end would have up-ended this record.

As Shinkman records:

Between 2009 and 2011, the Department of Managed Health Care issued nearly 1,000 enforcement actions against health plans, fining them nearly $9 million for a variety of misdeeds and demanding they take corrective actions to protect the interests of their enrollees.

But after Aug. 11, 2011, when Gov. Jerry Brown appointed former health plan lawyer and lobbyist Brent A. Barnhart to head the agency, enforcement actions dropped almost immediately. The DMHC issued only 74 such actions during the remainder of the year, compared to 433 in the portion of 2011 prior to his appointment – although an agency official said that number should be condensed.

In 2012, the DMHC issued 90 enforcement actions, well below its historical average dating back more than a decade. The most significant action of the year was taken not against a health plan, but against the Accountable Care IPA, a medical group that had been using non-physicians to make medical coverage determinations.

Moreover, financial penalties levied against the plans dropped dramatically in 2012. Last year, $451,000 in fines were issued, or just over $5,000 per enforcement action. That’s a stark contrast to 2010, when $2.2 million in fines were issued, an average of more than $20,000 per action. In 2008, fines exceeded $18 million, which included several significant enforcement actions against insurers.

New rule, or old rule remembered: When in doubt, speak out.

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Posted by Jamie Court, author of The Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell and President of Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing an effective voice for taxpayers and consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Visit us on Facebook and Twitter.

Europe’s Antitrust Chief Talks Tough On Google

European Union

Google may have only received a tap on the wrist from the Federal Trade Commission when the agency closed the U.S. antitrust investigation without taking action against the Internet giant for skewing search results to favor its services, but it’s looking increasingly likely that Google will face strong action on the other side of the Atlantic.

The Financial Times reports that Google will have to change the way it presents search results or face antitrust charges for “diverting traffic.” Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia told the newspaper:

“We are still investigating, but my conviction is [Google] are diverting traffic. They are monetizing this kind of business, the strong position they have in the general search market and this is not only a dominant position, I think – I fear – there is an abuse of this dominant position.”

Almunia has told Google that it must make changes to address European concerns or that it will face a formal statement of objections.  Late last year he warned that Google would have to offer remedies this month.

I think you can take Almunia’s strong statements Thursday to The Financial Times as a sign that the European Commission is serious.  While he says he’d prefer a settlement, European law gives the antitrust enforcer a huge stick.  After filing a formal statement of objections, the Commission  can impose a fine amounting to 10 percent of Google’s revenue or about $4 billion. That’s almost as effective to getting executives attention as sending them to the slammer. Unlike the FTC, the European Commission doesn’t have to make its case in Court.  It can simply impose the fine.

As The Financial Times headline read on one story about the situation, “EU Antitrust Chief Holds All the Aces.” Almunia hinted that the antitrust settlement may play out differently in Europe because the law is different.  It’s also true that the Internet giant’s dominance in search is even greater in Europe at 90 percent of the market than the 70 percent share it commands in the United States.

And there is still a strong possibility of meaningful action in the United States.  Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is actively pursing a case.  His staff has appropriately worked to obtain key Google documents that Google tried to claim were privileged and did not need to be turned over in response to Civil Investigative Demands. From all appearances the FTC staff was nowhere near as diligent in its investigation.

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Posted by John M. Simpson. John is a leading voice on technological privacy and stem cell research issues. His investigations this year of Google’s online privacy practices and book publishing agreements triggered intense media scrutiny and federal interest in the online giant’s business practices. His critique of patents on human embryonic stem cells has been key to expanding the ability of American scientists to conduct stem cell research. He has ensured that California’s taxpayer-funded stem cell research will lead to broadly accessible and affordable medicine and not just government-subsidized profiteering. Prior to joining Consumer Watchdog in 2005, he was executive editor of Tribune Media Services International, a syndication company. Before that, he was deputy editor of USA Today and editor of its international edition. Simpson taught journalism a Dublin City University in Ireland, and consulted for The Irish Times and The Gleaner in Jamaica. He served as president of the World Editors Forum. He holds a B.A. in philosophy from Harpur College of SUNY Binghamton and was a Gannett Fellow at the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Hawaii. He has an M.A. in Communication Management from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication.

Consumer Watchdog Asks FTC To Release Staff Report In Google Investigation

FTC

Says Action Necessary To Restore Faith in Agency As Effective Antitrust Enforcer

Consumer Watchdog today called on the Federal Trade Commission to release the 100-page staff report on the 19-month Google investigation as the only way to “restore a modicum of public trust in the Commission’s ability to serve as an effective antitrust enforcer.”

“I call on you to release the FTC staff report to help make clear what was behind the Commission’s otherwise unfathomable action,” wrote John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director in a letter to Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz and Commissioners Julie Brill, Edith Ramirez, Maureen Ohlhausen and Joshua Wright.

“Media reports suggest that the Commission’s tap on the Internet giant’s wrist was the result of a ‘calculated and expensive charm offensive,’ ” Simpson wrote.

Read Consumer Watchdog’s letter here.

“Put another way, by all appearances, the Internet giant played an insiders’ game and bought its way out of trouble,” Simpson wrote. “Perhaps, the Commission managed to ignore the charm offensive and decide the case on the merits.  Sadly, we cannot know the true situation because we don’t have the details of the 19-month staff investigation.”

Consumer Watchdog’s letter quotes articles in Politico and The New York Times about the Internet giant’s $25 million lobbying campaign and its efforts to cozy up to the Obama Administration and other Washington insiders. “It was a multiyear campaign focused on this very moment, knowing as the company grew these issues were going to come up,” Alan Davidson, Google’s former top lobbyist, told Politico.

Read the Politico article here.

Read The New York Times article here.

The best course of action, Consumer Watchdog said, would have been to file an antitrust suit and bring the case to trial. All the evidence would have been part of the public record.  In a November letter to the FTC Consumer Watchdog warned that a negotiated settlement would inevitably invite cynicism about the results.

Consumer Watchdog’s letter to the Commission today continued:

“Opting to avoid a trial and filing a formal consent agreement would at least have required a complaint, spelling out the violation. Instead you have settled for promises from a company that has a demonstrated record of repeatedly breaking its word.  And it’s not even clear what they did wrong.

“Your only chance of re-establishing the FTC’s credibility on its handling of the Google investigation is to release the 100-page staff report about the inquiry. Releasing the report would put the Commission’s decision in context.

“Moreover, the public has the right to know what the staff recommended and to understand the reasoning of the professionals who conducted the lengthy investigation and the quality of their work.  It could be possible that the staff botched the investigation and you were left with no other choice.  If the report contains Google trade secrets, they could be redacted.”

FTC’s Settlement With Google Fails To End Key Abuse

FTC-Google

Department of Justice, State Attorneys General Must Press To End Search Bias

The Federal Trade Commission’s settlement with Google fails to end its most anticompetitive practice, Consumer Watchdog said today and the public interest group called on the Department of Justice and state attorneys general to press forward to end the Internet giant’s monopolistic behavior in search results.

“Google clearly skews search results to favor its own products and services while portraying the results as unbiased. That undermines competition and hurts consumers,” said John M. Simpson, director of the group’s Privacy Project. “The FTC rolled over for Google.  They’ve accepted Google executives’ promises that they will change two practices without even requiring a consent agreement, but Google has a track record of broken promises.  Don’t forget, this fall the FTC fined Google $22.5 million for violating its most recent consent agreement. Why would the FTC take Google at its word?”

The new Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice Antitrust Division, William J. Baer, should make Google’s abuse of search a top priority, Consumer Watchdog said.

The FTC’s settlement does require a consent agreement regarding so-called Standards Essential Patents held by Google’s Motorola subsidiary.  Google is now required to license these patents to any company on “fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory” terms – known as FRAND terms.

“This will help ensure competition in the manufacture of smartphones and tablets,” said Simpson, “but that was never the heart of the issue. Biased search and Google’s favoring its own properties do real consumer harm. Google is the gateway to the Internet for most people. When Google rigs the game, we all suffer. They need to be stopped.”

Consumer Watchdog expressed concern that FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz, who is expected to step down from the commission soon, may have rushed to finish the investigation so it could be concluded under his chairmanship.

The nonpartisan, nonprofit public interest group noted that Google’s monopolistic business practices are under investigation by a number of state attorneys general including Texas, California, New York and Ohio. European Union competition officials are also investigating Google.