Consumer Watchdog calls for investigation of Google

The group asks Congress to check on Google's 'cozy' relationship with the Obama administration

Consumer Watchdog, an advocacy group largely focused in recent years on Google's privacy practices, has called on a congressional investigation into the Internet giant's "cozy" relationship with U.S. President Barack Obama's administration.

In a letter sent Monday, Consumer Watchdog asked Representative Darrell Issa, the new chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, to investigate the relationship between Google and several government agencies.

The group asked Issa to investigate contracts at several U.S. agencies for Google technology and services, the "secretive" relationship between Google and the U.S. National Security Agency, and the company's use of a U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration airfield in California.

Federal agencies have also taken "insufficient" action in response to revelations last year that Google Street View cars were collecting data from open Wi-Fi connections they passed, Consumer Watchdog said in the letter.

"We believe Google has inappropriately benefited from close ties to the administration," the letter said. "Google is most consumers' gateway to the Internet. Nonetheless, it should not get special treatment and access because of a special relationship with the administration."

Consumer Watchdog may have an ally in Issa, a California Republican. In July, he sent a letter to Google raising concerns that White House Deputy Chief Technology Officer Andrew McLaughlin, the former head of global public policy for Google, had inappropriate e-mail contact with company employees.

A Google spokeswoman questioned Consumer Watchdog's objectivity. Some groups have questioned the group's relationship with Google rival Microsoft, and Consumer Watchdog's criticisms of online privacy efforts have also exclusively zeroed in on Google, with the group rarely mentioning Microsoft, Facebook and other Web-based companies in the past two years.

"This is just the latest in a long list of press stunts from an organization that admits to working closely with our competitors," said the Google spokeswoman.

But Consumer Watchdog gets no funding from Microsoft or any other Google competitor, said John Simpson, consumer advocate with the group. "We don't have any relationship with Microsoft at all," he said. "We don't take any of their money."

Consumer Watchdog has decided to focus on Google's privacy practices because the company's services serve as a gateway to the Internet for many people, Simpson said. If the group can push Google, "without a doubt the dominant Internet company," to change its privacy practices, other companies will follow suit, he said.

"Google's held itself to be the company that says its motto is, 'don't be evil,' and they also advocate openness for everyone else," he said. "We're trying to hold them to their own word."

Consumer Watchdog, in January 2009, suggested that Google was preparing a lobbying campaign asking Congress to allow the sale of electronic health records. Google called the allegations "100 percent false and unfounded."

In September, Consumer Watchdog bought space on a 540-square-foot video screen in New York's Times Square, with the video criticizing Google's privacy practices.

In April, Consumer Watchdog officials called for the U.S. Department of Justice to break up Google. They appeared at a press conference with a representative of the Microsoft- and Amazon.com-funded Open Book Alliance.

Consumer Watchdog's latest complaints about the relationship of Google and the Obama administration are outlined in a 32-page report.

The paper questions a decision by NASA allowing Google executives to use its Moffett Federal Airfield near Google headquarters. Although H211, a company controlled by Google top executives, pays NASA rent, they enjoy access to the airfield that other companies or groups don't have, Simpson said.

The paper also questions Google contracts with the U.S. Department of Defense and other agencies, suggesting that, in some cases, Google contracts were fast-tracked. The paper also questions Google's relationship with the U.S. National Security Agency and calls for the company to be more open about what consumer information it shares with the spy agency.

When asked if other companies, including broadband providers, should disclose what customer information they share with the NSA, Simpson said they should, too.

"I understand the NSA is a super-secret spook organization," he said. "But given Google's very special situation where it possesses so much personal data about people, I think that there ought to be a little more openness about what precisely goes on between the two."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags U.S. National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationU.S. Department of DefenseGovernment use of ITConsumer WatchdogAndrew McLaughlinU.S. National Security AgencylegislationBarack Obamainternetsearch enginesDarrell IssaGoogleMicrosoftJohn Simpsongovernment

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Grant Gross

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?